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Functional, with down to earth prices
Resorts World Sentosa
8 Sentosa Gateway
Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Sun: 12pm to 3pm; 6pm to 11pm. Closed on Mon.
RESTAURANTS which use consultant celebrity chefs remind me of locums. It's like when your regular family doctor goes on a sabbatical and tries to convince you that his just-graduated nephew is equally good - maybe because sitting in the same chair allows all the years of medical practice, bedside manner and devotion to human life to be absorbed into him through his backside.
When a chef becomes famous, that fame filters down a few levels depending on his integrity or the price that he's paid. The first level is one where he or she opens a restaurant in a new city but has a personal hand in maintaining the quality of the food, such as Tetsuya Wakuda of Waku Ghin or Joel Robuchon of his namesake restaurant in Sentosa. Another level is one where he opens a franchise in a new city in his own name but which is paid for by someone else. Which, in the case of Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italian, means that an arsenal of chefs are hired to cook from his cookbooks but do a worse job than a home cook who watches The Naked Chef on TV.
The next level sees the celebrity chef consulting for a restaurant - lending his name and some recipes but little else. In the case of Syun (Spring) - the latest celebrity-linked eatery at Resorts World Sentosa - if it wasn't trumpeted that the Kobe-born, Tokyo-based Hal Yamashita has added his input to the menu, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between this and any garden-variety Japanese restaurant.
Understatement veers into nondescript in this functional but not terribly special restaurant that otherwise boasts friendly and helpful sushi chefs and servers. A small sashimi display does not reveal anything particularly intriguing (there's salmon) but what you are served is fresh and nicely presented. Perhaps after its experience with its previous restaurant Kunio which served the most expensive kaiseki in Singapore (at the time), prices at Syun are very down to earth, with its priciest set menu being S$120 which puts it on a par with most mid-range eateries downtown.
For this money, you get an appetiser platter of soya sauce-seasoned egg, black soya beans and a savoury saute of hijiki and tofu strips, and the house signature: raw thin-sliced wagyu wrapped around a filling of pure, fresh uni. The combination hits you by surprise that not only can you eat beef raw but that its creamy, melt-in-the-mouth texture can go so well with the generous portion of equally rich, clean sweet uni. What's even more surprising is that, topped with a little dab of caviar, this three-inch long, choice morsel can be ordered ala carte for S$15. It may be a little rich for some palates, but for us it's one of the nicest things that we've eaten so far this year, even though we haven't even passed January yet.
The rest of the set, though, is adequate but hardly outstanding. Three kinds of sashimi served on individual plates shows effort if not fancy cuts, while grilled cod topped with miso and yuzu miso sauce is a variation of the tired dish that Nobu has long condemned to the lexicon of culinary cliches. That said, it's done acceptably well for a cliche. This is followed by char-broiled wagyu - again, no complaints - and served with a brandy-kissed soya sauce dip and wasabi. A few token pieces of sushi round off the savoury meal. Dessert is a treat with a comforting green tea ice cream sandwiched in a crisp, wafer-like biscuit and a slice of sticky chocolate topped with cream and candied chestnut.
If you'd rather explore the a la carte menu, the chef's selection of sashimi (S$34 for five kinds) is decent value as it works in some tuna belly with the usual suspects of akami, yellowtail and salmon. There's also the other house special: wagyu sukiyaki with sea urchin (S$88 for one person). You almost wonder if chef Yamashita built his entire reputation on this surf-and-turf combo, but you can't deny that it's an intriguing pairing.
Our very pleasant Korean server Claire patiently cooks the beef and vegetables for us by the tableside, swishing the ingredients in a sweet, soya-based broth that is sadly too cloyingly sweet for our taste. The idea is to dip the beef into a little plate of sea urchin instead of the regular raw egg that accompanies sukiyaki.
Rice is oddly not included in the set. It would probably have gone down better with rice, but as we eat it on its own, the sweet gravy overpowers the palate. While the sea urchin initially thrills, it's not the most practical way of eating sukiyaki when you're trying to manoeuvre the slippery orange shellfish into a slice of beef. You end up enjoying the uni on its own because the sauce overpowers its delicate flavour.
Since Hal Yamashita isn't on our radar when dining in Tokyo, we have no basis for comparison. But Syun is starting to spell a pattern - RWS's penchant for creating celebrity restaurants that are a mere shadow (is anybody rushing to eat at Cat Cora's Ocean or Scott Webster's Osia?) of what they're supposed to be. It could use a few more Robuchons in its stable, or maybe take the bold move of giving a bright local chef a platform - one option being Yew Eng Tong who currently cooks Cat Cora's food in Ocean but flies the Singapore flag at Bocuse D'Or with his own.
Until then, diners will have to be content with celebrity-linked restaurants banking on their A-list reputations to boost their own. The problem with that is, well, sometimes people actually expect you to live up to them.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good