Oushin Japanese Steakhouse
#02-391/392 Suntec City Mall
3 Temasek Boulevard
Open Mon to Fri for lunch and dinner: 11.30am to 3pm; 6pm to 10pm
Sat to Sun: 11.30am to 10pm
WE'RE not sure if Oushin is an upscale Japanese steakhouse, a budget set lunch place, or an 80s coffeehouse with dreams of being a 70s French restaurant.
You can't really blame it - being hidden behind its more visible sibling Sushi Goshin in the newly revamped Suntec City mall could give anyone an identity crisis.
On paper, though, it looks promising. Who doesn't like Japanese beef, much less a steakhouse devoted to serving these expensive cuts "smoked over 900 degrees of Sakura wood and charcoal". The only glitch is that this would have been a special treat five years ago; wagyu is now commonplace in just about every other Japanese restaurant - except that you're not going to stick your hand in their oven to check the real temperature. The cheesy Japanese-English menu translation that boldly proclaims its "dishes of perfection" doesn't help either - you wonder if they're trying to convince the diner or making a secret appeal to the chef.
From the leg of Spanish ham lying on a counter, to the curtained booths and the kind of dining room that looks borrowed from a Korean drama about rich families, it's hard to figure exactly what Oushin's concept is. Add to that a picture menu more befitting a Tokyo family restaurant than one which charges upwards of $100 for a steak.
This being part of the Akashi group which made its name with mid-priced Japanese food, you can sense the reluctance to make Oushin as upmarket as its beef would dictate. That's where the "cheap" set lunches come in: at $18 to $28, you get one main course with soup and salad thrown in. But if you're really on a budget, check out its Oushin easy lunch - soup, salad, fried potato and bread for $9. We'd like to know if anyone actually orders this.
We don't, but we certainly regret ordering the "7 Days Aged Japanese Style European Curry Rice" ($19) because it's possible the curry gravy was lovingly simmered for seven days to achieve its unique burnt and powdery flavour like premix gone very wrong. So yes, seven days or not, it cannot hold a candle to the curry rice at Shabu Gen or the food court in Tokyo's Gotemba factory outlet. As for the soup of the day - a cream of cauliflower - it can best be said that there's a reason why other restaurants make their soups from scratch.
But we would order the $28 Australian marbled sirloin anytime over the $98, 200gm Iwate A3 ribeye for the negligible difference in taste. The chef really knows how to massage juicy flavour out of the bouncy but yielding Aussie that offers real value for money. While the accompanying garlicky mushroomy cream sauce doesn't taste like it was made from anything pulled from the ground, it goes surprisingly well with the beef.
The Iwate, on the other hand, is commensurately fatty, but that 900 degree smoke bath drains much of it, leaving it with an oily film and just a tad more tenderness than the striploin. Maybe the A5 is better but at $138 upwards for 280gm, we didn't want to risk it.
A rethink is certainly in order for Oushin which just needs to get its concept and service right. There's good service and there's also the well-meaning but overly exuberant server who rattles off nonsensically like a human version of the Japanese-English menu. Despite his good intentions we can't help feeling alarmed when he offers "can I warm it up for you?" when we suggest that the red wine is served too cold.
Akashi may have painted itself into a corner by emphasising only Japanese beef, unlike regular steakhouses which have the flexibility of choice (and price). Hopefully, it'll find a way out but a good place to start would be in the basics - little things like the soup and the inexpensive meal selections. Get that right, and diners might even be distracted from the decor.