4th Floor Marina Mandarin Singapore
6 Raffles Boulevard
Open Tues to Sun for lunch and dinner: 12pm-2pm (last order); 6pm-10pm (last order). Closed on Mon
THE word is that Sushi Dai has come to Singapore. Along with Dai Wa, these two names epitomise the initiation rite of every sushi newbie who makes his or her first visit to Tokyo. That is, to wake up at the unearthly hour of 4 am, make it down to the famed Tsukiji market even before dawn's first light, and get in line for some of the supposedly cheapest and freshest sushi in town at 5am.
A wait of a couple of hours shoulder-to-shoulder with other tourists clutching maps and guidebooks perhaps makes the sushi taste better, while those who miss out or won't wait hang by the sidelines casting longing looks or passing petty remarks of the "hard-up cheapos" and "undiscerning palate" variety.
Still, giving in to the glimmer of hope that the words Tsukiji and Sushi Dai would add up to the real cheap Tokyo sushi deal, we ignore the obvious clues - like its location in the five-star Marina Mandarin and not say, Ghim Moh market, and the fact that it opens at 12pm not 5am - in search of the famous thick chunks of chutoro and a whiff of Tsukiji's fishy, claustrophobic charm.
Suffice it to say: we wish. Sushidai is the latest in a current spate of high-end sushi bars opening in Singapore, cut from the same hinoki wood and Zen aesthetic.
The kimono-clad hostess is reassuringly Japanese, explaining in lilting, fractured English that yes, the restaurant is connected to the Tokyo Sushi Dai but "under different owner".
Executive chef Fumikazu Ohnuki was originally from the Tsukiji outpost before he came to Singapore to work at Hide Yamamoto in Marina Bay Sands three years ago. He's now struck out on his own and yes, the lady assures, the fish is from Tsukiji, although it's not clear if it's from the same suppliers as the original Sushi Dai.
If it were, one wouldn't be terribly surprised because the quality, while fresh, is more middle than top grade. Pricing, though, is high-end, with lunch sets starting at $70 for an appetiser and eight pieces of sushi, inching upwards to $120 for 10 pieces, while $170 snares you some sashimi, assorted dishes and nine pieces of sushi. Or you could just go the whole hog with its $250 omakase which is also the main dinner option.
There are no a la carte options, at least at lunchtime, with just the four sets to pick from. Price naturally dictates the type of fish you get.
We opt for the Chou ($120) and Kaze ($170), both of which kick off with a pretty composition of appetisers including marinated konbu, creamy tofu and vinegared mackerel. Chef Ohnuki works the counter alone and doesn't say much since he's not too confident with English but he's amiable and deftly arranges a sashimi platter comprising the usual suspects hirame, akami, squid, grunt fish and akagai - all of an acceptable quality, although the clam's crunch and sweetness stand out.
The Hokkaido rice used for the sushi has a pleasantly firm and slightly chewy texture - he doesn't use a lot of rice so you get a nice mouthful of fish and just enough rice to add some bite. To pad up the meal, he does a plump tuna maki, ending off with sweet, fluffy tamago and a dessert of warabi mochi and seasonal persimmon.
Without price-friendly menus or memorable quality, Sushidai comes off as your garden-variety sushi bar that doesn't shine nor disappoint. In that sense, it is a little bit like its Tokyo namesake - you expect something a little more special than what it really is.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good