#01-01, 60 Tras Street
Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday: 12pm to 3pm; 6pm to 11pm Closed on Sundays
IF you pick your sushi restaurants based on how many times a week they receive their shipments from Tsukiji, assuming that freshest fish is best, here's a quick recap of Sushi 101. Not all fish taste best fresh off the boat.
Most Japanese chefs will tell you that fish has to be aged before it can be served. Otherwise the texture will be too rubbery and lack the tender bite of properly treated fish. It could be as little as a day, for white fish like flounder or yellowtail, or four to five days at least for tuna, and even up to two or three weeks for garoupa. What is best served as fresh as possible would be small fish like sardine or horse mackerel and, of course, clams.
What differentiates one sushi chef from another, then, is the quality of the fish in the first place, and how well he ages them. But by and large, people are eating aged fish whether they realise it or not.
In terms of skill and quality of fish, Sushi Mitsuya's chef Ryosuke Harada acquits himself decently with smooth- textured sashimi and the requisite mellowness on the tongue.
An import from Tokyo via a short stint in Hong Kong, chef Harada joins the ranks of his sushi counterparts who come to Singapore to test the price threshold of sushi fiends on the constant lookout for a nigiri high.
Your threshold will no doubt be tested, especially at dinner when only two omakase sets are offered, priced at $200 or $300. You could take one of each just to gauge what the difference is, and decide for yourself if the occasional upgraded piece of fish is worth the $100 premium. The chef is kind enough to split the spoils where he can, so the one tasked with the $200 menu needn't feel too left out.
This way, we could sample sashimi like the more expensive kinmedai ($300) and sea bass ($200) or bonito versus akami (maguro). Apart from choice items like grilled abalone slices served in its shell (versus a tasteless clear broth with cod fillet) and a piece of marinated otoro, the $200 diner isn't missing too much.
The quality isn't consistent, vacillating from a not-so-great baby squid in honey sauce to the delicious kinmedai, bonito, and a horse mackerel roll of raw fish and fresh herbs within a nori wrap, and a disappointing piece of otoro that might have been marinated too long.
The sushi is acceptable, although we might have formed a better opinion of it if he'd served a few more than the five or so miserly pieces he rationed out. Needless to say, you're not going to be rolling out of here with a full stomach unless you're of bird-like proportions.
Still, the good outweighs the not- so-good, and the traditional layout of Sushi Mitsuya's premises in gentrified Tras Street does evoke the familiar aura of a Tokyo sushi bar. We think it's pretty over-priced for what it is, but well, that seems to be the market rate for a taste of the real thing.
#01-50A International Plaza
10 Anson Road
Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday: 11.30am to 3pm; 6pm to 10.30pm. Closed on Sundays
IF Sushi Mitsuya were a buttoned-down, refined city gent, Hakumai would be the equivalent of his ebullient small- town cousin offering hearty eats in a no-frills setting. If you like nothing better than to sidle up to a counter and tell the friendly chef to "gimme the day's special", sit back and inhale whatever he puts in front of you, then chef Gary Ng is your man.
Ex-Nogawa, chef Ng is your typical street-smart Singaporean who knows just what his compatriots want - value for money, variety, and quantity. And he scores on all three points. There's nothing by way of ambience in this no-frills location at International Plaza where neighbours include budget cafes and Bengawan Solo, and the main perk is getting a key to the executive toilet outside if you need to go. Hakumai's decor is high end in comparison, but will win no awards for design or cool factor.
At lunch, the place enjoys a good crowd taking advantage of a wide range of good value and generous-portioned bento lunches priced between $20-$40 thereabouts. But chef Ng is no slouch in the omakase department, and for $188, you will likely leave his restaurant a good dress size bigger.
Throwing all rules of edomae sushi (he pairs foie gras with prawn) or kaiseki format aside, he plies you with course after course of whatever he happens to get his hands on. This might include baby sea eels that look like transparent noodles in a sharp ponzu sauce, sweet tomatoes in a salad of juicy "ice" leaves, and chewy salty dried puffer fish strips for openers. Then there's a large platter of sashimi featuring chilled otoro (unlike the more common frozen version), geoduck (mirugai), sweet prawn, Japanese salmon, flounder, crab leg, clams, and more. It's not top quality, but clean-tasting and mostly fresh.
Cooked items include a meaty and tasty grilled grunt fish or isagai, seasoned with a light brushing of sweet soya sauce; a medley of tasteless lobster and scallop hidden under a blanket of cloying mentaiko cream, and a so- so grilled wagyu steak. And, mind you, we hadn't had our sushi yet.
There were a good eight sushi pieces, including chilled otoro exposed to a brief flame aburi style (oily but little flavour), snapper (tai), horse mackerel (aji) topped with spring onions and creamy Hokkaido uni. Chef Ng's creation of melting-soft foie gras on sweet botan ebi (prawn) is a surprisingly pleasant match.
While Hakumai is on a different level from its Japanese competition, it could well give the likes of Tatsuya a run for its money value-wise. And unlike Sushi Mitsuya, you don't need to think twice about going back whenever you feel like it.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good