By Grace Ma
Apr 28, 2021
IN AN ERA WHERE TRAVEL IS CURTAILED, Singapore’s fine-dining establishments are making a roaring trade, especially Japanese omakase restaurants. This phenomenon is not surprising, considering that Expedia’s 2021 Travel Trends Report put Tokyo as the second most searched-for travel destination for Singaporeans in 2021 (the first being the local choice of the Lion City, of course).
In the past year, at least six new omakase restaurants have either opened or reopened in new premises — from quaint shophouse hot spots to swanky five-star hotels. Thinking of snagging a seat at one next week? You should have made that reservation at least two months ago.
At this level, some standards are a given: fresh seasonal ingredients flown in several times a week, deft knife skills yielding identical sashimi cuts, crockery so elegant we want to steal them home, and a philosophical décor that pays homage to the sacred art of the Japanese omakase experience. All of this plus personality in spades and an extra (tiny-plated, perfect-bite) helping of je ne sais quoi awaits at these three of the most enjoyable omakase experiences in Singapore right now.
Hashida Singapore has had three previous homes. At its latest, a 257-square-meter space on Amoy Street, the journey to spectacular edomae sushi begins at the torii gated entrance leading into three distinctly designed private dining rooms lining a stone-paved hallway. The 12-seater Ei (moon) carves an ethereal air with an undulating moonscape ceiling; the Hiba wood-clad, eight-seater Bi (preserving tradition) harkens to the first Hashida restaurant in Tokyo; and the coziest seven-seater Ou (sakura) brims with cozy vibes with a built-in kitchen and wall beams made with 200-year-old wood from an ancestral house in Kyoto.
Chef-owner Kenjiro “Hatch” Hashida and his team of expert chefs not only serve up divine morsels, but also imbue the atmosphere with a conviviality that comes with relationships cultivated since the restaurant’s launch in 2013 (one guest at my counter has dined with them a whopping 150 times).
Culinary finesse is defined in a sakura-leaf wrapped glutinous rice mochi with sea bream in clear dashi sauce and an umami rice bowl of Hokkaido king crab, light creamy uni and generous lashings of plump ikura. Equally hard to beat is the sushi euphoria of lightly vinegared rice, which is the perfect foil to the likes of bluefin tuna and charcoal grilled barracuda. Add the latest Mizubasho sake collection, including the crisp Pure Sparkling sake that’s a world first in using the traditional champagne method, and you have all the reasons why Hashida’s customers keep returning.
hashida.sg; lunch menu from S$120; dinner menu S$350
Once a member of Cuppage Plaza’s Japanese enclave, Kappo Shunsui has upgraded to a sleek home at Hong Kong Street with a new head chef, the Fukuoka-born Shimuta “Shim” Kunihiko at its helm. A single floral stalk marks the nondescript entrance, which opens up to 13 counter seats surrounding an island stage flanked by two digital screens and a Kamidana shrine.
“I want diners to walk away remembering the overall dining experience and the joy that they felt while dining at Kappo Shunsui, rather than just the food,” says chef Shimuta. And remember it all we do. The 11-course kappo dinner begins with bubbles atop our mizkan liquor welcome drinks, blown using a Flavor Blaster gun that looks like it would be more at home in a cocktail bar. An A5 Miyazaki slab sizzles on a hot plate before being set ablaze with a brandy shot. The meal ends with Shimuta whipping up a deliciously creamy sesame ice cream in a huge cauldron amid a cloud of liquid nitrogen smoke.
But it’s not just theatrics without substance. A beautiful hassun (seasonal platter) of appetizers from fried ice fish and sea bream roe to tiger prawn with bamboo shoot fish cake teases the taste buds, the signature clear owan (soup) of Saga abalone, Kumamoto bamboo shoots and fresh raw Miyagi seaweed warms the heart and soul, and the binchotan-seared kinmedai with uni is a flavor dream. Nectar comes in more than 100 forms, including premium sake labels such as Juyondai and an Aramasa “No. 6” using the oldest yeast distributed in Japan.
kapposhunsui.sg; dinner menu S$380 with additional S$150 for a five-sake pairing
The first inkling that Masaaki is not your typical omakase restaurant comes from the soft pink Gucci wallpaper with dancing cranes in the lobby juxtaposed against the cloud-like washi sheets suspended from the ceiling. But once you’re at the 12-seat sushi counter carved from 250-year-old hinoki wood, ebony chopsticks in hand, and facing an open rustic stone charcoal hearth, the Nippon feels all come rushing in. Opened last November, the restaurant uses only Japanese ingredients—from fruits and vegetables to the water for cooking the rice.
Chef Masaaki, who has opened restaurants in Tokyo and worked in the U.S. before settling in Singapore, is the playful maestro that adds vivacity to an already enrapturing culinary repertoire (“Are you nervous?” he jokingly asks the Hokkaido king crab used in our appetizer. “I’m nervous!”). A conventional chawanmushi (egg custard) gets a textural lift with shirako (milt) and uni; a secret nigiri sauce enhances an otoro sushi; and instead of the liver topping a kawahagi (filefish) sushi, it is placed under the fish in direct contact with the warm rice to coax out the oils—“It may look nicer on Instagram the other way, but I care more about the taste,” Masaaki tells me.
Their stock of 15 to 20 sake brands include ultra-premium labels such as Juyondai and the Niizawa Zankyo Super 7 Junmai Daiginjo, where the rice is polished to just seven percent of its original size for an amazingly light and delicate structure.
sushimasaaki.com; lunch menu from S$180; dinner menu from S$280