Singapore never lacks of good Japanese restaurants such as Tetsuya, Shiraishi, or Aoki. The quality there is high, in fact better than most of HK’s Japanese places, but nothing is as spectacular as the latest and arguably the best resto to eat Japanese sushi/omakase in the island – Shinji by Kanesaka. The original branch is in the historic Raffles hotel while the 2nd branch just opened in OUE building. The meal here is not cheap and Singaporeans are usually not that friendly to restaurants that charge astronomical price – they will become more ‘demanding’ (Tokuoka and Savoy are some of the ‘victims’). To my surprised, many diners raved about Shinji’s food quality and experience; many say it’s worth the dollar. After visiting there for lunch at the other expense, I found that the sushi is nearly as good as sushi Jiro Ginza. Only then, I decided that I would like to try Shinji’s at its best – Omakase dinner
Food (and wine) - 94/100
The omakase mainly consisted of sashimi, cooked food and sushi. Here what I had,
Sashimi: duo of uni was fantastic. It demonstrated the contrast of Murasaki uni (the long spikes) that is soft, moist and sweet vs Bafun uni (the short spikes) that has denser texture, but also delicious. Both uni were from Hokkaido.
- I also enjoyed the “spiral” shell sashimi (called ‘chubu gai’?): it’s very crunchy, a bit sweet with sea flavor. Almost as tasty as akagai sushi. The Chutoro was smooth and melting the mouth. Additionally, I also ate: kinmedai (red snapper), quite tasty and fatty for white fish; bonito (it looks like tuna but tasted differently) with ponzu sauce; hotaru ika with its liver – ok.
Cooked dishes: uni rice served with negi toro and ikura is excellent, my favorite dish at Shinji. A generous portion of uni mixed with sushi rice to produce creamy and golden 'risotto'. The salmon roe was sweet, nicely burst in my mouth; the toro with chopped spring onions & freshly grated wasabi enhanced the overall experience of this delicious dish
- Another wonderful cooked item would be awabi chawanmushi: the high quality abalone is from Chiba prefecture; good texture and a bit chewy. On the contrary, the chawanmushi was warm and smooth. This dish went very well with cold sake. Furthermore, Shinji also served cooked botan ebi in 3 ways: the savory egg, the head (sweet & crispy) and the tail (tender & delightful - the best part); tofu skin with kekani was fragrant and savory, like the ‘sweet & sour’ sauce; the grilled sardine with radish ponzu was alright
Sushi: Among the 3 parts, sushi time is my favorite part. I really love the uni, among the best I’ve ever had – it’s ethereal, fresh, creamy and sweet. The akagai was also delicious, pure and crunchy. And lastly the kuruma ebi was savory and with nice texture.
- Both the chutoro and otoro were very good – but I rememberd that my lunch version here was better. The anago was about at the Jiro level, I got a very generous portion this time. For the rests, the chef gave me shima aji, aji, zuke, kohada, tuna roll (I’m not a fan of this, especially when I eat lots of food) and tamago.
Urasawa is the only place I can think of that’s worthy of Kanesaka’s comparison. Normally, the sushi quality of a restaurant can be measured by its tamago. At shinji, the tamago is served cold, sweet and not too soft. By virtue of the tamago, Urasawa (at Beverly Hills) won – more moist and spongy as if I ate a cake. However, I had to say that Shinji served slightly better sushi than Urasawa. (Sushi: If I grade Shinji sushi A, then Urasawa will be A-). How about the non-sushi dishes? Urasawa is better in this department IMHO; Hiro-san is more creative and personally I enjoy his kaiseki better than the sushi part. Nothing wrong with Shinji Singapore, but if you’ve been to Urasawa then you will know what I’m talking about. (Non sushi: If I grade Urasawa kaiseki A, then Shinji will be B+)
I also had small portion of sake served in a flask – Kokuryu Kozuryu, it’s medium dry and a bit sweet at the beginning. Though it’s more famous for its hot sake, but since it’s Singapore, I take it cold. The Shinji’s omakase is indeed very good and tasty; it deserved 2 ½* by Michelin standard – it ranks in the top 2 among the best Japanese restaurants I’ve ever visit, outside Japan’s of course. The sushi served here is Edomae style aka traditional; in short forget about eating salmon, mayo, or cooked/marinated fishes
Service (and ambiance) - 93/100
The staffs are friendly and helpful. Since the restaurant is small (only about 20 people in the main dining room served by 3 sushi chefs), they are ready to response to whatever need you have but they don’t know much about the food. So, the other aspect of the Shinji’s hospitality is actually coming from the chefs. In spite of some English limitation, all chefs make conscious effort to communicate with their guests whether informative, small talks or even a few jokes.It could be a new experience for some guests, but again the Urasawa comparison fits in – Hirosan also entertain his guests throghout the entire meal. By the way, both places remember repeat guests quite well. I was fortunate to be served directly by Oshino-san (the executive chef) himself.
Like many other Japanese sushi high end place, the dining room may look deceptively simple. The most amazing part is the main sushi counter that’s singularly carved from more than 200-year-old Japanese cypress tree. I learned that most of the restaurant’s wood and paper materials for furnishing were brought from Japan as well. Essentially, everything in this restaurant is imported from Japan (the fishes and seafood, the dining room materials as well as the sushi chefs/a few waiters). Oh, the interior designer is the talented Junzo Irikado.
Thus, what’s the verdict of Shinji Singapore vs Urasawa Beverly Hills? It’s indeed a tough call, but I’m slightly more in favor of Urasawa due to the kaiseki part. Urasawa will be about S$ 50 more expensive but there you will get 8-9 kaiseki dishes, 20 pieces of sushi, and 2 desserts whereas Shinji Omakase’s shin, you will receive 9-10 sashimi/cooked dishes combined, 12 pieces of sushi and a dessert. I think Urasawa provides ‘better’ value of money as well. Anyway, will I return to Shinji? Certainy whenever I have the money and when someone treats me :) moreover, Singapore is a lot closer than US
For the dishes’ pictures (most of them): https://picasaweb.google.com/11823790...