#01-06/07 Palais Renaissance
390 Orchard Road
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 12pm to 3pm; 6pm to 10.30pm
WHOEVER keeps doing research on how millionaires seem to grow on trees in Singapore should really just - stop. Both for the sake of the millionaires who don't want people to know how rich they are, and for the rest of us calculating whether we can afford the cash outlay on a Cat A Toyota after the latest COE revisions kick in. At the rate such reports keep appearing, who can blame foreign F&B operators for concluding that Singapore is some kind of culinary promised land where people eat fancy sushi and shop at Palais Renaissance every day?
Oh wait. That almost describes Sushi Kuu - a popular Japanese eatery from Hong Kong that's banking on Singaporeans' reputedly high threshold for pricey seafood to fuel its success at the niche shopping mall. Yes, it's true that we are a Japanese food-obsessed society, and yes there is a certain demographic more open to paying a premium for raw fish than the most exquisitely cooked French meal. But, in the same way that not everyone agrees that a haircut at Passion is worth its celebrity-inflated price tag, will sushi fans be convinced that a Hong Kong restaurant can deliver an authentic Japanese dining experience that matches its premium pricing?
While it doesn't hit you outright with the mandatory $200 or $300 omakase, Sushi Kuu's pricing is the kind that sneaks up on you without warning. Consider a few items on its a la carte menu: seafood onsen egg ($25); assorted pickles ($18); five kinds of tuna sushi ($70); rice with deep-fried Japanese pork chop ($35) - if you like variety, you're going to need deep pockets. Even at lunch, forget about snaring a $28 lunch bento that includes dessert. The cheapest dish is a $30 chicken teriyaki, while anything raw starts at $40 for a regular sushi set. No mention is made of dessert.
If you're there for dinner, the servers - a nice, friendly bunch who try very hard to be helpful - will tell you that your best bet is the $150 omakase. Take our advice and specify that you want only the raw stuff - weirdly, it's much better value than if you order the conventional version that includes cooked items.
Both sets kick off with two icy cold appetisers - a piece of deep-fried hamachi simmered in dashi and then served at uncomfortably frigid temperatures that will lower your own body heat a couple of degrees. It's palatable enough with seaweed and crunchy cucumber, but not bothering to serve food at the proper temperature is always an indication of a lax hand in the kitchen. The same goes for the onsen egg (otherwise $25 from the a la carte menu) - over-chilled but still a well-executed runny egg with an unctuous slipperiness that's a good match for the accompanying ikura and squid strips in seasoned dashi. Even then, it's hard to accept paying $25 for that on its own.
This is followed by a good-sized platter of sashimi. If you've opted for the all-raw omakase, you're rewarded with a larger portion comprising crunchy whelk, scallop dusted with yuzu zest, seared hamachi, super-fat botan ebi, tuna belly, kinmedai and aji with a smidgen of ginger. It's all pretty fresh if not top-quality, but enjoyable for the sheer variety and quantity. As a nice touch, they will deep-fry the prawn heads for you - super-crisp and delicious.
You get around six or seven pieces of sushi too - firm and chewy rice that's toothsome if not refined, topped with the likes of tai, kelp-marinated flounder, seared tuna belly, geoduck and a very strong-tasting uni. One of Sushi Kuu's highlights is its "creative" sushi - in this case we get a lettuce wrap which you eat with your fingers, and within is a very tasty filling of sushi rice and super-fat seared salmon. Not kosher but fun to eat.
On the other hand, if you order the cooked set, you lose out with less sashimi and fewer pieces of sushi for the sake of two miserable hot items - a ho-hum square of braised beef with simmered pumpkin, and a dry piece of grilled semi-salted cod.
It's not a lot of food but you feel disinclined to order more because of the niggly feeling that the set up doesn't quite justify the pricing. Decor-wise it looks more like a modern Chinese restaurant with plentiful tables and one long sushi counter. Trendy but designed for high turnover rather than intimate dining. And unlike its upscale counterparts, there's only one Japanese chef who's constantly slicing and arranging the sashimi platters. The bulk of the cooking and sushi making is done by cheerful chefs who are either local or Japanese who speak fluent Hokkien.
One isn't sure what the standards of Japanese food in Hong Kong are for Sushi Kuu to be rated among the best there. It's not bad, but you know us spoilt millionaires - we just got to have better.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good