Mikuni – A Tough to Beat Set Lunch

25 01 2015

Located on the 3rd floor of Raffles City / Fairmont Hotel, Mikuni brings together Teppanyaki, Robatayaki and Sushi, enthralling diners and leading them on a gastronomic adventure across the best of what Japan has to offer. Diners may choose to sit at the general dining area or on any one of the three counters; sushi, teppanyaki or robatayaki to watch the master chefs in action. On this occasion, I chose the sushi counter.

General dining area

Set lunches (11 choices in total) are available daily, with prices starting from $65++ onwards, providing diners with options spanning teppanyaki, robatayaki, tempura and sushi main courses. Spoilt for choice, I chose the Premium Bento Miyabi ($120++), which offered a good mix of the options mentioned. 

Sushi Counter

Starters were simple yet effective and we particularly liked the salad dressing. The thin sheets of seasoned crackers tasted somewhat like Chinese New Year Prawn Rolls.

Next up was three kinds of sashimi; Salmon, Chutoro and Scallops. Not often does one find Chutoro in a set lunch so I was pleasantly surprised.

When the mains arrived, I was totally blown away by the extensive variety and hearty portions afforded onto us.

From top-left clockwise: Kyoto Onion Soup, BBQ Eel on rice, Teppanyaki Prawns with a Golden Cheesy Sauce, a skewer of Grilled Kagoshima Beef, Mixed Tempura.

I was at a loss as to what I liked best amongst the mains, since all were top-class in execution. The draw was really the variety, where I could go back and forth between the different items without ever feeling cloyed or bored with any particular item.

Friend CW seemed to like the Teppanyaki Prawns best, which were garnished with ebiko, slices of asparagus and slathered in a golden buttery sauce.

For dessert, we were given a dense Coffee Ice Cream with Chocolate Crumble. 

Complimentary Matcha White Chocolate and Red Bean “Kueh” were also served as the bill was presented. A nice touch to end off a perfect weekend lunch.

What we liked about Mikuni was the consistent high quality present in every course. While meals here don’t come cheap, I found it fully justified by its value and utility. It will be tough to find a set lunch as awesome as this one.

Dining discounts are applicable to holders of the FAR card and Amex Platinum card.

Mikuni

80 Bras Basah Road, Fairmont Hotel 3F, Raffles City, Singapore 189560

Tel: +65 6431 6156





Fat Cow @ Camden Medical Centre – Holy Cow of a Set Lunch

6 10 2014

What I miss most about student life is the ability to partake in unhurried set lunches at “atas” establishments, at a fraction of the price of dinner service. Though even back then, it wasn’t easy to find restaurants that actually had set lunches worth going for, as the less dear set lunch prices usually meant getting certain items that were a poor excuse for a course. That’s what was so amazing with my first lunch visit to Fat Cow, a not so well kept secret of a Japanese Beef atelier. A typical dinner here easily runs into the $150-$300 range per pax, while set lunches are priced extremely reasonably between $26-$48++, which includes a salad, miso soup, chawanmushi, a choice between 12 main courses and dessert. Better yet, the set lunch is also available on Saturdays!

I first heard of Fat Cow from J almost 3 years back, after it had taken over the premises from Le Figue, a reputed French restaurant back in the day. It’s regretable that my first experience had come so late, for this is a gem that one should always keep close to heart.

*If you are planning on dining ala carte here, do download the Entertainer Singapore 2014 App, which contains three 1-for-1 vouchers on Main Courses here. The use of 1 Voucher already saves more than the 1-year subscription cost to the App.

Reception Area / Bar

Below is what a typical set lunch here looks like, with a partially eaten salad and sans the dessert. As mentioned above, there are 12 main courses to choose from for set lunches here, ranging from Tempura Dons, Chirashi, Sushi, Miso Cod, Kurobuta Tonkatsu, Beef Curry but most popular would be the Fat Cow Donburi (below) and the Fat Foa-gura Don.

Set lunch with half eaten salad and sans the dessert

The Fat Cow Donburi ($39++/set) comprised of A3 grade Charcoal-grilled Wagyu laced with truffle oil, with a perfectly poached onsen egg on the side. Freaking orgasmic is all I can say.

The Fat Cow Donburi

I really enjoyed the Fat Foa-gura Don ($43++/set) as well, which was grilled wagyu and glazed foie gras over rice. The beef is served in cubes with slightly more bite compared to the thinly sliced beef from the donburi and I feel that this allowed for a greater realization of how tender the beef actually was. The oily, decadent pieces of foie gras was executed expertly and not overcooked, definitely something I would consider ordering if it was available as a standalone side dish. While I could go at this all day, some might find this dish slightly unctuous. Well, that’s their loss.

Fat Foa-gura Don

Feedback from E was that the Chirashi ($48++/set) was decent as well, though from her facial expression, I could tell that her pleasure points fell short of the ecstasy I was feeling. Lucky for her, we also ordered some ala carte grilled wagyu, so not all was lost that day.

We tried the grilled Grade A3 Sirloin ($120++/150g) from Saga prefecture which is on the northwest part of Kyushu island and the grilled Ohmi Grade A4 Ribeye ($120++/150g) from Shiga prefecture. Unanimously, we all preferred the ribeye because the marbling was evidently better and had a richer flavor compared to the sirloin.

Now some people might ask, why do I pay in excess of $200 for a wagyu steak at those fancy schmancy restaurants when the same wagyu steak only costs $50 at Astons? The reason is because most likely, they aren’t the same. There are 3 things to look for when getting down and dirty with wagyu that might explain this price differential. Firstly, is it a cross-bred wagyu from Australia/US or pure-bred wagyu from Japan? Drilling down even deeper, wagyu really refers to Japanese beef, of which there are multiple breeds from the different prefectures (best known would of course be kobe) and each commands a different premium.

Secondly, assuming it is a purebred Japanese wagyu that we are looking at, the meat is then categorized by 2 grading metrics, one that looks at the yield of the meat (ratio of meat to the total weight of the carcass) and one that looks at the quality (marbling, meat colour, texture, fat colour).

For the yield metric, the beef is categorized either as A, B or C, with A (having the most yield) usually derived from a purebred Japanese wagyu. For the quality metric, the beef is then scored from 1-5, with 5 being the best. In addition, there is also a beef marble score (BMS) that is related to the quality metric, that scores the marbling on a scale from 3-12, where an A5 wagyu would have a BMS of between 8-12, an A4 wagyu would have a BMS of 5-7 and an A3 wagyu would have a BMS of 3-4.

Top: Saga Grade A3 Sirloin ($120++/150g), Bottom: Ohmi Grade A4 Ribeye ($120++/150g)

Ohmi Grade A4 Ribeye

Ohmi Grade A4 Ribeye

To end off our set lunch, we were provided with a scoop of Honeycomb Ice Cream and it was delish. Again, something that I wouldn’t mind ordering ala carte if it wasn’t part of the set lunch.

Given the flawless and reasonably priced set lunch, I can openly say that this has now become my top 2 favourite set lunches locally, the other being Ember (though I haven’t had the chance to revisit after Chef Sebastian left earlier this year).

 Fat Cow

1 Orchard Boulevard, #01-01/02 Camden Medical Centre, Singapore 248649

Tel: +65 6735 0308

Website: http://www.fat-cow.com.sg/





[New York, United States] Soba-ya – Duck & Uni Soba!

13 07 2014

Listed in Michelin’s 2013 Bib Gourmand list that honors good cuisine at reasonable prices, dinner at Soba-ya was my most enjoyable meal for the week in NYC and my best soba experience thus far. It was no wonder the restaurant was sporting a full house on a Thursday night at 930pm.

Hot Tempura Udon (US$18++)

While some of my friends had great things to say about the Hot Tempura Udon (US$18++), which came with Shrimp, Shiso (from the Mint Family) and Shishito (Japanese Green Pepper) Tempura, I would highly suggest going for the Kamo Seiro (Sautéed Sliced Duck & Japanese Green Onions in Hot Dipping Sauce) with Cold Soba ($16++) instead. The duck broth was more flavorful and rich than the hot soba/udon stock and I amused myself as my friends took their first sips of my duck broth after having tried their “basic” stock, watching as their eyes widened in amazement.

I also ordered an unbelievably affordable saucer of Uni (US$6++) on the side, which went surprisingly well with the soba.

Left the restaurant totally satisfied with an involuntary grin. I’m sure I will be back before my month in NYC is up.

Soba-ya

229 East 9th St. New York, NY 10003

Tel: 212 533 6966

Website: http://www.sobaya-nyc.com/wp/





The Flying Squirrel – The Unlikely Chirashi

23 06 2014

He used to be known as Mr Siva, a well-liked PE teacher from Raffles Junior College. Now he is better known as Rai of the singer-songwriting duo Jack and Rai. Multi-talented and adventurous these two are, as they (together with Jack’s wife Angelina) took a leap into local F&B scene early last year by establishing  a modern Japanese restaurant named The Flying Squirrel.

On the menu, conventional Japanese options such as the Chirashi, Sushi and Curry Rice appear next to less traditional options such as the Foie Gras Aglio Olio and Seafood Eggplant Gratin, immediately triggering an alarm in my head. Could such a place really deliver on a decent Chirashi or Sushi?

The answer is a resounding yes. For $25+, the TFS Chirashi was of extremely good value, comprising of slices of Salmon, Tuna, Swordfish, Sweet Shrimp, Scallop, Ikura, Octopus, Tamago and an entire Anago (saltwater eel) over a bed of pearly rice.

Another alternative is the Salmon & Ikura Chirashi ($20+). Again, the eatery is rather generous with the salmon slices and roe.

The Miso Gindara or Grilled Black Cod ($26+) we had was delicious too as it wasn’t too salty and retained some smokiness, though the portion doesn’t fill you up as much as the chirashi.

Given that it was my first day at work in the Tanjong Pagar area today, I returned for a lunch visit. This time, I tried the Summer Chirashi Bento ($25+), only available during lunch time. The main difference between the lunch chirashi and the TFS Chirashi is that the lunch Summer Chirashi Bento uses diced sashimi instead of slices (think along the lines of bara chirashi) and does not include the higher value items of shrimp, scallops or anago to my dismay. However, the bento does make up for it with 3 pieces of fried chicken karaage, salad and fruits. In my humble opinion, ultimately I still derived greater satisfaction from the TFS Chirashi.

As the restaurant is rather small, seating no more than 20 people by my estimates, hence reservations are encouraged.

The Flying Squirrel

92 Amoy Street, #01-02

Tel: +65 6226 2203

Website: http://www.theflyingsquirrel.com.sg/





Kilo – Doesn’t live up to the hype

11 05 2013

Kilo has been operating for 2 years now and yet still packs a full house on week nights. I still remember a year ago when I tried (twice) making a reservation 2 weeks in advance and got declined due to the place already being fully booked. Something was definitely going for them and I was curious to find out, especially since I was a fan of Raw Kitchen Bar (what Kilo was called before they shifted to the current premise).

The setting of Kilo is of a casual cafe style and since there’s no air conditioning in the eatery, be prepared to sweat a bit if you are coming in formal work attire on a warm night.

We had the Seared Scallops served on White Wine Mushrooms topped with Sweet Mushroom Reduction + Momotoro Tomatoes ($23++) for appetizers. I just love scallops but the highlight of this dish would actually be the robust mushroom cream sauce. If only there was a piece of bread to wipe the plate clean.

Our favourite for the night was the Sesame-Avocado-Wasabi Flavoured Tuna Tatare + Flourchips ($22++). I’m not a fan of tuna sashimi but the ones here feels slightly fattier and doesn’t taste as bloody and as what one might get at a Japanese restaurant. The gentle hint of wasabi was refreshing and the creaminess of the avaocado probably helped to tone down the spice to an optimal level.

While it’s one of their signatures and the better of the two mains we ordered, I wasn’t thoroughly impressed by the Day-night 12 hour Pork Belly with Purple Potato Wedges, Sour Cream & Crackling ($29++). The pork belly wasn’t as tender as I had anticipated and some parts of the crackling were so tough that one might risk breaking a tooth or two.

Balsamic Duck Leg with Butter Parsnip Mash & Sesame Asparagus ($30++). On a spectrum, the mash would be closer to the coarse and chunky side. A bit too dry and not buttery enough for my liking. The texture of the duck wasn’t bad but given that the sauce tasted somewhat similar to the one from the pork belly, we got bored of it quickly.

Truth be told, Raw’s Lava Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream ($15++) was really disappointing, possibly the most overcooked lava cake I have had at a restaurant. There was no lava whatsoever, so it was more of a chocolate muffin. The Ice Creams here are made in house and it was decent. I have attempted (or more like my friends attempted and I watched) making lava cakes at home so I could tell they screwed this one up real badly.

Had a bottle of their Gewurztraminer (a type of White Wine). Alongside Rieslings, it’s probably one of the easier wines to drink given its high sugar content.

Left the place feeling slightly perplexed as the experience was short of the dinner I had at Raw Kitchen Bar. However, given all the rave reviews I have read online about Kilo and constant stream of customers, I think a reassessment is in order.

Kilo

66 Kampong Bugis

Tel: +65 6467 3987





The Sushi Bar – Best Chirashi in Town

25 04 2013

You can call it what you like, cramped or intimate but nothing will change the fact the The Sushi Bar is easily one of the best no-frills Japanese eateries in Singapore. I refrain from saying it’s the best just because I have yet to try every no-frills Japanese eatery in Singapore but frankly, it’s currently my joint favourite place to satisfy my Jap cravings, on par with Aoki.

What I mean by no-frills is not that you have to self-serve but just that it’s the kind of place where non-essentials like expensive furnishings are done away with and letting the reasonably priced food speak for itself. Don’t expect super cheap prices however. It’s still going to be a tad more expensive than places like Sushi Tei but the experience and the quality of food you get here is on a totally different level.

I would highly recommend starting of with one of their signatures, the Scallop Mentaiyaki ($13.90++). Scallop is one of my favourite sashimi but top it off with a rich savoury mentaiko (pollock roe) mayo sauce and poof, heaven on a plate.

Other favourites here would be the Chirashi (sashimi on rice). There are 3 types available to cater for people on different budgets and preferences priced at $18.90, $24.90 and $34.90 respectively. The difference would mainly be the type of sashimi used and maybe the thickness of the sashimi.

For the most affordably priced variant, you get Salmon, Swordfish, Yellowtail, Tuna, Crab, Seared Tuna, Seared Salmon Belly, Ika (Squid), Tako (Octopus), Ebiko (Shrimp roe), Ikura (Salmon roe) and Tamago (sweet egg).

Chirashi ($18.90)

For the $24.90 variant, the main difference is that you get more Ikura and Scallops!

Chirashi ($24.90)

Lastly, for the Premium $34.90 variant, you get additional Uni (Sea Urchin) and a Sweet Shrimp as well. Seriously, what more can you ask for in a Chirashi. The chef is quite flexible so do sound out if you don’t like stuff like tako and seared tuna and they will replace it with similar priced items.

Premium Chirashi ($34.90)

Given that 2 of my friends ordered this again (on top of their Chirashi), it’s safe to say that the Salmon Aburi Roll ($13.90) is worth a try as well.

2 Portions of Salmon Aburi rolls

The Tofu Cheesecake ($4.50) is their sole dessert option on the menu. Not as good as Sun with Moon’s but should still prove to be a delightful ending to an extremely satisfying meal.

Oh another plus point is that all prices here are nett. Queues can get quite long so do try to make reservations.

The Sushi Bar

14 Scotts Road, #03-89 Far East Plaza

Tel: +65 9625 0861





Ito Kacho – A Japanese-Korean styled BBQ that promises to salivate

21 01 2013

Having spent a white Christmas and New Year’s in Korea, I must have gone through quite a few BBQ meals but being on a budget, sad to say I didn’t get to have much premium fare this time round and I was craving some good quality wagyu and kurobuta badly (the black pigs in Jeju Island just isn’t the same as the ones from Japan). So the invitation to dine at Ito Kacho, a Japanese-Korean styled restaurant that specializes in BBQ meats, arrived at the perfect moment.

Barely a month old, it seemed that there were already a few who were in the know of this joint when I dined there on a Thursday night, unperturbed by the relatively extravagant fare (they specialize in wagyu after all). I guess Ito Kacho clearly illustrates the distinction between affordability and value, where an average meal costing $100 while unaffordable by normal standards, might still be considered to be of great value given the premium ingredients used. Of course, it’s possible to dine at Ito Kacho whilst on a budget to, if you stick to items such as their Kurobuta Ramen ($15.80++) but if you are planning to go for their signature BBQ, do be prepared to spend more as they offer mainly premium cuts of meat.

They take their meats really seriously at Ito Kacho. Nothing is left to chance and their Wagyu is air-flown in chilled rather than frozen, ensuring that the nice marbling doesn’t get damaged during the thawing process.

I’m not a fan of kimchi so I would personally avoid ordering the Kimchi Moriawase ($9.90++) aka Assorted Kimchi – Chinese cabbage, cucumber, white radish or the Namuru Moriawase ($8.90++) – Cinnamon fern, white radish, spinach, beansprout. The notion of paying for something that is usually given out free at Korean restaurants just doesn’t seem all that appealing.

The Dashimaki Tamago ($6.90++) wasn’t as sweet as how most Japanese joints do it so it’s great for those who love a mild eggy flavour. Personally however, I would rather save the stomach space for the noteworthy BBQ.

From bottom right clockwise: Kimchi Moriawase, Namuru Moriawase, Dashimaki Tamago

Likewise, the Jikasei Potato Salad ($11.80++) or Homemade Potato Salad was nothing to shout about, very much similar to all the other more affordable potato salads available elsewhere.

Here’s where the fun begins. For beef, we sampled the Wagyu Tomobara ($36/$49++ for 80g or 120g) which is the short ribs also known as kalbi (in korean) or karubi (in japanese), the Wagyu Kainomi ($22/$29++ for 80g or 120g) which is the flap or bottom sirloin, and the US Jo-Karubi ($22/$29++ for 80g or 120g), listed in order of decreasing preference. Wasn’t as charmed by the US Jo-Karubi as it was a little too chewy compared to the wagyu.

What’s so different about wagyu from other types of beef you might ask? I guess there’s many answers to this because they are really worlds apart. Some might metaphorically coin wagyu as beef foie gras, supple and delicate because of the substantial amount of fats that interlace between the lighter than usual colour of beef. For “normal” types of beef, you have a choice to cook it rare all the way to well done but the same cannot be said for wagyu. Given the high fat content, the fats start melting really quickly upon cooking and medium rare should be the furthest you should grill it for so as not to lose the luster of the fats. Personally, I guess when I do go for wagyu, I’m looking for the melt-in-your-mouth feel while for “normal” beef, I go for the immense meaty flavour that materializes when you begin to chew on a piece of steak.

From bottom left clockwise: Wagyu Tomobara, US Jo-Karubi, Wagyu Kainomi

It’s always a joy to eat wagyu but thread carefully, as many restaurants are guilty of sullying the name of the almighty wagyu by using a cheaper cut of cross-bred wagyu, which I believe does not offer the same flavour and texture as the pure breed ones from Japan. The commandment in George Orwell’s  Animal Farm stating that “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal” than others holds true for wagyu as well. Apart from the issue of being fullblood (aka cross-bred) or purebred, another issue one contends with when ordering wagyu is the Grade and Beef Marbling Score (BMS), which both relates to the quality of the wagyu. The Grade (scored from 1-5 with 5 being best) is scored based on marbling, shine & colour, texure & grain and sheen & quality of fat, while the BMS is scored from 1-12 (with 12 being best) and this quality gauge is a key determining factor on how wagyu is priced.

A separate matrix is used to score USDA (US Department of Agriculture) beef, which is usually categorized as “prime”, “choice” or “select”, in order of decreasing quality. The “prime” grade would be the Japan equivalent of a minimum of a Grade 3 or Marbling Score of at least 5.

The Kaisen Moriawase ($36++) is catered for seafood lovers, where you get a good mix of King Crab, Giant Tiger Prawn, Hokkaido Scallop and Squid. Not a fan of King Crab but definitely took to the grilled prawns and hokkaido scallops which were fresh, evident from its sweet flavours and firm textures.

The Boneless Chicken Leg ($9/$12++ for 80g or 120g) is worth ordering as well, which was naturally tender and made even more flavourful with the marinade.

We also tried the Tsubo-Zuke Kurobuta ($19++ for 180g), which is a cut from the collar or neck of a pig. Unlike the beef we had earlier, the pork collar had been marinated for a more pronounced flavour. I wouldn’t have thought that anything would come close to the wagyu earlier but I think that this grilled kurobuta was definitely on par in terms of palatable-ness and tenderness.

We had the Ishiyaki Bibimbap ($15++) as a staple. Nothing extraordinary, just the usual rice mixed with minced Meat, vegetables  dried Seaweed and sesame. I would actually recommend skipping this and just opt for white rice to go with the grilled meats since you can find better Bibimbaps elsewhere.

We ended off the tasting with a simple scoop of Ice Cream ($5.80++). There’s 4 flavours to choose from such as Black Sesame, Matcha, Vanilla and Chestnut (in descending order of preference) and I would suggest sticking to either the Sesame or the Matcha.

What Ito Kacho specializes in, it does really well. Other peripherals might not shine but that’s easily overlooked as you distract yourself with the ooohs and ahhhs of the sizzling BBQ meats.

Special thanks to Ito Kacho for hosting the tasting and Hungrygowhere for coordinating the event.

Ito Kacho

333A Orchard Road, Mandarin Gallery #04-08

Tel: +65 6836 0111








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