If you have ever watched the documentary ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’, this is the list to satisfy your cravings. ‘Jiro’ showed us the depth of thought that goes behind each and every ingredient in Japanese cuisine. The restaurants on this list may not be in Tokyo, but their philosophy is the same. What goes on your plate is likely a combination of fresh, seasonal ingredients prepared to send elegant, nuanced flavours to your tastebuds. As restaurants may fly ingredients straight from Japan, ask the chef to prepare special seasonal ingredients in advance so they can ensure its availability.
Keeping in line with our promise of exclusivity in the title, most of the restaurants on this list boast limited seating for an intimate dining experience. We invite you on a journey to discover the cuisine intricately linked with the geography and culture of its country of origin. Find out why seeing firefly squids on your plate is a sign that spring has come to Japan, and why Niigata sake is lauded for its taste.
Shinji by Kanesaka
When a chef says that he makes the kind of sushi he wants to eat, this is a chef to trust with your meal. Indeed, Chef Shinji Kanesaka offers the option of ‘omakase’, which is short for ‘omakase shimashita’ or ‘I trust you [in this context, with my meal]’. That means you set a price for the meal and the chef, based on his expertise with seasonal ingredients and food preparation, decides the food you would taste. We recommend choosing ‘Chef’s Omakase Special’ for lunch or dinner and taking a seat at the hinoki cypress counter. If his desire to make sushi he wants to eat is not enough to convince you to go ‘omakase’, it might be helpful to mention that Chef Kanesaka has one trusty Michelin star under his belt.
From Shinji by Kanesaka, we learnt a variant of the three-second rule, where sushi is meant to be consumed within three seconds of preparation. That is definitely the recommended time at Shinji by Kanesaka to ensure you taste exactly what the chef has prepared for your enjoyment. There are only 22 seats at the restaurant, so if you are someone who looks for the fine details, book in advance to taste their sushi with grated fresh wasabi — no tube or powdered form for this place.
Shinji by Kanesaka, 29 Tanglin Road, The St. Regis Singapore, Singapore 247911, +65 6884 8239
This is one serious ‘kaiseki’ restaurant with a 16-seat counter and a private room. By serious, we mean their dedication to ‘kaiseki’, the setting of the restaurant is casual. Each course is intricately prepared and served in an order to make the entire meal seem like a musical piece. Imagine Japanese tea masters sipping the characteristic drink of Japan while tasting the multi-course ‘kaiseki’ made from seasonal ingredients and plated to reflect a particular theme. Trust the chef with ‘Omakase’ Lunch or Dinner, or taste the ‘Tsuki’ dinner menu, which covers every craving from clear soup (‘suimono’), sashimi, shokuji (‘rice with seasonal ingredients’) and main meat dishes for main meat eaters (‘shiizakana’).
Appreciate the elegant plating you have come to associate with Japanese cuisine? Do not miss out on ‘hassun’, the second course of ‘kaiseki’, which is lovingly plated to reflect the season in which you are having your meal. If you are looking for an unusual dish that could describe Japanese cuisine, we would say ‘hassun’ makes the cut. Despite being an appetiser, it is a dish featuring seasonal ingredients that reflect the season. The best things come in small sizes; Chef Yoshiyuki Kashiwabara’s artistry is placed on a square plate no larger than eight inches on each side. To show Chef Kashiwabara’s skill and dedication to seasonal flavours, 2017 features particular menus that pay homage to cultural festivals in Japan. April 2017 will see a sakura-inspired menu that brings to mind ‘Hanami’ or the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Kaiseki Yoshiyuki, 583 Orchard Road, Forum The Shopping Mall, Singapore 238884, +65 6235 1088
Why is Niigata prefecture synonymous with quality sake? It boils down to the high standard of rice grown in the prefecture and heavy filtration, which provides Niigata sake with a purified, refined taste. Sushi Mitsuya draws our attention to the iconic Japanese drink with a separate menu for it, reminding us of the status the French give to wines that accompany each meal. Decide if Niigata is the Bordeaux or Burgundy of the sake world by tasting ‘Kakurei Junmai Daiginjo’ or ‘Kakurei Daiginjo’.
The restaurant also holds an interesting story behind its name. Representing teamwork among the three restaurant partners, Sushi Mitsuya or “Three Arrows Sushi” is an example of strength in unity. Head Chef Ryosuke Harada serves up the carefully planned meals to 18 guests at the counter and six to eight guests in a private room. Be sure to follow the Sushi Mitsuya Facebook page for themed nights — February saw a bluefin tuna carving demonstration with dinner and ‘uni’ (sea urchin) extravaganza.
Sushi Mitsuya, 60 Tras Street #01-01 Singapore 078999, +65 6438 2608
If you have ever wondered what edomae sushi means, Shoukouwa is here to provide answers. If we had a time machine, perhaps one of the stops to make would be to eat the original sushi made during the Edo period, which is where edomae sushi comes from. We can picture ourselves eating sushi alongside Japanese in the Edo period, made with freshly caught fish and ingredients gathered near the waterways. Who would have known that the high cost of keeping food fresh in that period would make such an exciting dining experience?
Today, the Shoukouwa chefs dish out seasonal ingredients that retain original flavour and receive as little cooking as possible, capturing the essence of Edo’s sushi. We cannot overstate the two-Michelin-star restaurant’s dedication to freshness — they fly in seafood, fish and produce from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market every day. Be sure to ask for a seat at the eight-person counter to watch the skillful chefs prepare these prime ingredients. We recommend the lunch or dinner ‘Hana Omakase Set’ that sounds like a dream: the chef takes you on a seasonal-specific voyage through the seas of Japan, all through the edible art he places on your plate.
Shoukouwa, 1 Fullerton Road, One Fullerton, Singapore 049213, +65 6423 9939
There are basically two reasons we would dine at Shiraishi: 12 years of experience and a seasonal menu. Owner and Head Chef Mr Shiraishi Shinji has been preparing and plating sushi for over 12 years. With such deep understanding of sushi, speaking with him about sushi tradition and tasting his creations must be greatly engaging. The regular revision and extensiveness of the seasonal menu also shows the Chef’s great passion for quality Japanese cuisine. Now that it is spring in Japan, bamboo shoot, seasonal vegetables and icefish are definite must-tries.
Shiraishi’s regular menu offers a lovely variety of ways to have your meal — edomae specials, a sushi-kaiseki course or a more elaborate sushi edomae (misaki) course with special tuna soup. Just when we were patting ourselves on the back for knowing a little about edomae sushi, the restaurant shares more.
Allow us to return to the pictorial representation of Japanese eating extremely fresh sushi by water ways. Add to this the fact that halibut, shellfish, sea eel, and of course, tuna were being caught and prepared while the food was eaten. Vinegar acts on the sushi as cooking agent, so food was consumed immediately. The best way to learn more about edomae sushi here is to converse with the chef while he prepares a meal for you ‘omakase’.
Shiraishi, 7 Raffles Ave, The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore, Singapore 039799, +65 6338 3788
Here is something else we gathered from watching ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’: It is not easy being the son of a sushi master. Head Chef Kenjiro Hashida’s father is none other than Tokio Hashida, the maestro behind an acclaimed sushi restaurant of the same name in proximity of Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. This means Chef Kenjiro Hashida has the privilege and great responsibility of doing justice to 30 family sauce blends and a secret sauce recipe, not to mention the other standards he would have to upkeep.
Hashida Sushi Singapore does not fall short in terms of dedication to the craft of sushi. Carefully thought-out details are everywhere. Elaborate tasting is not limited to wines; rice used at Hashida has to be selected premium rice that is pre-tasted. Rare sakes are served in carefully-sculpted sake cups created by Japanese masters. Your meal is plated on tableware that could date back to a hundred years old. Imports from Tsukiji come four times each week. Begin a conversation with the native Japanese chefs from Hokkaido, Kansai, specifically Kyoto, and Saitama, who are more than eager to share about the culture surrounding sushi. Again, the ‘omakase’ menu is a great conversation starter. Ask about the seasonal fruit that the chef has prepared for you — strawberries for Spring, perhaps?
Hashida Sushi, 333A Orchard Road, Mandarin Gallery, Singapore 238897, +65 6733 2114
Tuna is the star at Ginza Sushi-ichi, and you would be missing out if you had a meal there without savouring it. As the only Ginza Sushi-ichi worldwide to receive one Michelin star, the restaurant places great emphasis on preparation of the key sushi ingredient, which they purchase from a tuna-focused vendor at Tsujiki daily. The other must-try dish is sea urchin, preparing lovingly from ingredients bought from the first auction each day.
Sushi deconstructed is a balanced proportion of the freshest catch prepared by an experienced chef, controlled temperature and pressure applied on top-grade rice, and quality rice vinegar that ‘respects’ the natural flavour of the topping. Each type of topping is accompanied by varied amounts of rice pressed at different temperatures. According to the Michelin Guide, Ginza Sushi-ichi even uses red or white vinegar depending on which best matches the topping, which makes an intriguing, high calibre dining experience. Over at the restaurant’s sake lounge, sample Suigei Sake Brewed at Kochi Prefecture or ask for recommendations among the 30 other sakes offered.
Ginza Sushi-ichi, 320 Orchard Road, Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel, Singapore 238865, +65 6235 5514
The first thing that strikes us about Ki-sho is the black and white exterior. While historically the building was home to colonial expatriates, there is something so apt about placing a Japanese restaurant in such an elegant, minimalist building — Japanese cuisine, as we have been charting, is about pairing right down to the essentials — namely ingredients — and bringing out their natural flavour, best when in season. Chef Hamamoto’s emphasis on seasonal dishes means the exterior matches the delicacies served. Alongside Ginza Sushi-ichi, Ki-sho is the place on the list to try sea urchin.
No other restaurant has stirred our interest in the specific seasonality of each ingredient like Ki-sho has. By influence of the restaurant, we sussed out the signature dish in Japanese cuisine for each season: firefly squids are best eaten in spring. Winter is marked by snow crab and ‘fugu’ or pufferfish; summer is heralded with ‘ayu’ or sweetfish, and autumn sees the arrival of sweet potatoes and matsukake mushroom soup. For a bespoke sake experience, speak to the two sake sommeliers at Ki-sho. They will introduce you to types of sakes not commonly served in Singapore. The restaurant imports only one bottle of each type of sake, which makes for a distinctive drinking experience each time.
Ki-sho, 29 Scotts Road, Singapore 228224, +65 6733 5251
Yes, Kuriya Dining is not strictly a Japanese restaurant. The establishment offers authentic Nihon dishes, but a great treat is to try the fusion dishes the chef creates by bringing together Western influences and Japanese cooking techniques. Your trained eye might already have begun to notice the presence of firefly squid, icefish, and bamboo shoots on the April 2017 monthly menu. This is a sign that the restaurant’s emphasis on seasonality is similar to purely Japanese restaurants.
Apart from the monthly menu, the regular set lunch and dinner come with the option of adding on fresh sea urchin, grated Japanese Jinejo yam, typically used in soba, and marinated Salmon Roe. For some meat variant to the large amount of seafood and fish you have been consuming — albeit of great quality — choose the Kuriya Dinner Course. Australian Wagyu beef, and Kurobuta pork, which is the Wagyu of pork, are served to provide a truly satisfying meal. If you are wondering why Kuriya uses sashimi-grade prawn to make tempura, the Uni Toro Ikura Don & Tempura Udon Gozen set lunch might provide answers.
Kuriya Dining, 1 Kim Seng Promenade, Great World City, Singapore 237994, +65 6736 0888
We would like to thank Japan National Tourism Organization Websites and Michelin Guide Singapore for insights into sushi, sake, ‘kaiseki’, seasonal ingredients and Japanese cuisine and culture in general, as well as Michelin’s take on individual restaurants.
Monthly and seasonal menus are accurate at time of publication, but might differ depending on the time when a patron visits.