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Don & Tori's casual bites hit the spot
Don & Tori
74 Tras Street
Open for lunch and dinner Mon to Sat: 12pm to 3pm; 6pm to 12am
IRASSHAIMASE! Wah, you come already. How many of you? IRASSHAIMASE! Lai, lai... wo pang ni.... Where your hubby? Never come ah? Eh, I got new sake must try... IRASSHA……
Welcome to Don & Tori - a "modern Japanese" restaurant with a chef who switches from traditional greetings to (loud) colloquialism so unabashedly, we don't know whether to laugh, cringe or bow to the salaryman beside us with an apologetic "Sumimasen".
Ok, so there isn't any real salaryman sitting beside us. In fact, there are no Japanese customers (nor staff, as far as we can tell) at all in this new restaurant in Tras Street. Even though it features scenic landscape wall murals, blond wood-accented decor, a mindless J-Pop soundtrack and a chef whom we might have believed was from a little town called Minakami in Gunma prefecture, had he not opened his mouth.
Don & Tori isn't modern Japanese. It's a culturally appropriated, Singaporean-centric eatery that cherry-picks from a popular cuisine and does away with fiddly bits like culture, customs and craftsmanship that make a restaurant Japanese - modern or otherwise.
Once you establish these parameters, you're free to be your unreserved Singaporean self and banter as loudly as you want in Singlish or any dialect you choose with no fear of embarrassment. Even the menu is pao ka liao - in the sense that you get everything under the sun from sashimi to California maki; udon to pasta; grilled meat to rice bowls; not to mention truffle oil on everything that they can justify putting it on.
Compared to some of the restaurants we've been to lately, Don & Tori's generous seating space is a welcome change. The wide frontage lets them squeeze in a long counter for those who want to shoot the breeze with the chef, with plenty of room for comfortable booths on the side and a wide walkway in between. Cheers for the small mercies of having a meal without strangers at your elbow.
Although there are omakase options available, there's much more variety to be found on the main menu. Order the sashimi or sushi only if you really need them to fulfil your criteria for a Japanese meal. The quality is strictly average and a S$40 mixed sashimi platter gets you 10 pieces - three types of white fish, shrimp and scallop that are just a whiff below peak freshness.
The restaurant scores much better with cooked food where the ingredients are of better quality and the execution straightforward with no meandering into contrived territory. Little thought is given to the order in which your meal is served. Our main course - truffle wagyu foie gras don (S$38) comes immediately after the sashimi - as if we accidentally hit the fast-forward button on our TV remote control.
We much prefer simpler one-bowl rice dishes over elaborate makis that are invariably smeared with mayonnaise or mentaiko cream. But the spicy ebi tempura and negitoro maki (S$24) keeps things in balance with a neatly organised roll of crispy shrimp encased in rice and nori, topped with finely chopped tuna mixed with spicy mayonnaise.
Pork belly uzura (S$12) is a happy union of hard-boiled quail eggs rolled in pork belly and grilled on skewers to release some fat and become a less salty bacon roll that is quite good, especially when you scrape off enough of the interfering sweet miso paste smeared over it.
The ubiquitous sakura ebi pasta (S$32) is served here slightly chilled, tossed in white truffle (again) oil, minced shio kombu (salted kombu strips), chives and ikura that you need to mix thoroughly to savour the crispy shrimp against the marinated angel hair pasta.
Despite the casualness of the menu, you can tell the chef in the kitchen takes some pride in his work, sending out grilled baby lamb chops (S$32) that are perfectly pink and painstakingly sliced in neat, even slices that are a breeze to eat. The accompanying apple sauce (again) is on the sweet side.
Hearty food, comfortable surroundings, friendly service. There's much to like if you're not exacting in your definition of Japanese. So, IRASSHAIMASE! Or should we say, "Lai, lai".
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication