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A Japanese dinner that hits the spot
Kyuu By Shunsui
29 Keong Saik Road
Tuesday to Sunday: 6pm to midnight
Closed on Monday
WHEN it comes to doing the limbo rock in restaurant pricing, it's hard to beat Shunsui.
First, its kappo restaurant in Cuppage tried to slink under the S$200 barrier for Japanese kaiseki, with a 10-course menu that had you rolling out the door for a buck under that.
Of course, its knees couldn't hold up and the price has since gone up by about S$50, but its kid sister eatery Kyuu is showing an enviable flexibility, with a menu that drops all the way to S$129 - also for a 10-course omakase.
Set in the hipster neighbourhood of Keong Saik Road, chef Issey Araki deftly rolls out a carefully-calibrated menu using a mix of inexpensive and indulgent ingredients that give a perception of value in a very civilised, comfortable setting.
The restaurant bills itself as a sashimi and robatayaki specialist, and the open kitchen is centred on a constantly burning charcoal fire that surprisingly keeps its fumes to itself. So much so you barely notice the two chefs in the middle, working efficiently to turn out broiled goodness according to the order of the menu.
While they toil in the heat in one corner, chef Araki provides entertainment on the other end with his cool knife skills. We watch him break down two whole glistening fish with the same ease that we slice butter for our kaya toast - he slits, twists and slices until he's released all the entrails and carved out super neat fillets and clean, flesh-free bones. The only downside is that none of that fish is for us to eat.
Presumably, he's preparing the ingredients for the ala carte menu that starts at 9pm. But if you want to eat at conventionally-accepted dinner times, then you're obliged to order the omakase.
But you don't feel at all left out, as chef Araki has a good spread planned for you.
It kicks off with some appetisers that are easy on the eye and palate - cubes of sweet seasonal persimmon drizzled with sesame sauce, creamy tofu skin or yuba that picks up the brininess of its crabmeat topping, and tender, pink slices of duck adorned with a coat of red miso sauce.
A fair bit of effort goes into assembling the sashimi platter - a large scallop shell, seaweed and a shower of flower petals form the backdrop of very serviceable seafood. Spoonfuls of ikura topped with uni, thick scallop, botan ebi, two kinds of white fish, tuna belly and salmon are all edible and do not give their species a bad name.
Our next few courses are cooked on the grill, starting with a roasted eggplant that's a few minutes shy of melting soft. There's still a bite to be had, a slight tinge of under-doneness that we don't like, but there's some distraction from the sweet red miso sauce that would be a perfect substitute if you ever buy chee cheong fan and forget to get the sauce.
The fire does a decent job of breaking down part of the oiliness of the tuna belly that comes next. It's meaty and fleshy, but quite bland without the ponzu sauce that has a bare hint of truffle. It paves the way for a generous sized grilled prawn, lacking somewhat in character but not unlikeable, paired with a rather shy wasabi cream sauce that's loathe to release any spicy kick.
The star of the show is perhaps the king crab leg - not star quality and no doubt frozen, but it's a good effort and the portion itself is attractive. The cooking is a little uneven so one person may get a perfectly-cooked specimen with meat that releases easily, while the other gets one that sticks stubbornly to the shell and peels off in patches, leaving behind a violent crustacean massacre scene by the time you're done.
After all that work, you get a bit of downtime with a squishy roasted fruit tomato that bursts into instant tomato juice when you bite into it.
Chew your beef
There's more work to be done with the meat course next - described as a wagyu 'aitchbone' aka H-bone, aka don't forget your dentures because much chewing is ahead of you.
Of course, we know that S$129 can't be expected to include A5 wagyu sirloin, so we get a cheaper cut from somewhere along the back of the cow that was maybe out of the masseuse's reach. It's not too bad, although the chewing makes you remember that wagyu is never known for its beefy flavour. Which is why there's a fond de veau or brown sauce to boost the umami.
If you've been thinking your meal has been all nice and civil, the rice dish appears, and so does a giant bowl of ikura that chef Araki proceeds to unload in spoonfuls on your bowl of plain rice, chanting "yoishi" along with his fellow chefs like a Greek chorus. He doesn't stop till you tell him to, and even then he still slips you another spoonful so that the mountain of orange pearls overflows.
The performance ends with homemade green tea ice cream and red bean paste. We're too fat by then to attempt any kind of limbo gymnastics. So we just crawl out of there with the happy feeling of having had a Japanese dinner that hits the spot without too much monetary damage.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.