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Neighbourhood Japanese cuisine at Jimoto
325 Joo Chiat Road
Tel: 6223 3397
Open for dinner only Tues to Sun: 6pm to 10.30pm
WE ARE eternal optimists. We shop at Daiso and think we can make them pass of as MUJI in bad lighting. We buy noodles from the idle stall next to the one with the really long queue - in the hope that the hawker might have absorbed some deliciousness from the popular guy by osmosis. We travel from Toa Payoh to Joo Chiat, thinking that the inconvenient drive will reward us with a five-course Japanese omakase for S$55.
Well, yes and no. We decide not to push our luck and go for the most expensive menu they have at S$128, which includes cooked dishes and a selection of sushi by Takahiro Sato - whom we very vaguely remember to be from Hashida Sushi far far away from Joo Chiat, when it was still in Orchard Road.
He may have swopped uptown for Peranakan town, but the best thing about Jimoto Dining is the painstaking way in which Chef Sato prepares his sushi.
The restaurant itself is no stunner. There are gnarly wood carvings in the sliding entrance that look like a tree root formation trapped in glass. Inside is a basic bar, which leads to a long dining counter flanked by a built-in glass cabinet filled with alcohol and glassware. It's in keeping with the suburban neighbourhood vibe, and the price points it wants to achieve.
There are three seven-course menus including our S$128 option, with the price moving down to S$98 and S$68. From the description, it sounds like beginner, intermediate and advanced omakase. The S$55 version is a "time sensitive" option for those who can be in by 6pm and out by 7pm. Which is not bad if you want to catch a movie at 112 Katong.
We have to say we like Chef Sato's sushi. They're smaller morsels than we would like, but he takes pains to cure the fish lightly with salt and konbu, and an occasional vinegar wash.
You can taste the little nuances of flavour - slightly more pronounced from the short ageing which releases some liquid from the fish. It would be nice to have more variety of seafood, but then, he's trying very hard to keep to a budget. He looks slightly pained when we ask if we can just skip the cooked items and just focus on the sushi - he's been asked that question before and the answer is no.
Firstly, he doesn't have enough variety to work with, and secondly, that would defeat the concept of the restaurant which is to serve "affordable omakase".
So, like it or not, you will be served peitan tofu - a dead giveaway that there is Chinese influence in the kitchen (Chef Sato has nothing to do with the cooked food by the way, as it's prepared by a pair of other chefs we see at the other end of the counter). A square of eggy tofu sits in a not unpleasant century egg yolk sauce with a hint of acidity, while the jellied egg "white" is finely diced on top with a spoonful of ikura. It's not something we want a repeat order of, but it's ok at face value.
Three types of sashimi don't inspire much enthusiasm, but then the firm bite of sea bream belly slowly changes our mind as we savour the unusually thick meaty texture. Cured mackerel stops at the sweet spot before it gets too salty and vinegary - so it's pleasantly savoury and again, with a supple texture. It's the same with the thick cut sawara or Spanish mackerel, with a pleasant smokiness from a quick aburi of the skin.
We next have to go through the motions of eating a simmered dish of daikon and lump of tasteless lobster in a thickened dashi broth and a mildly interesting grilled eggplant smeared with sweet miso and decorated with dried sakura ebi. Our short-term memory will soon erase all traces of them.
Chef Sato starts the sushi - all precious seven morsels of it. Precious because there're so few of them, and they're so small. He uses red vinegar in his sushi rice, which means his fish has to match its more assertive character, compared to the more benign white version. That's probably where his curiosity box of techniques come into play as he gently manipulates time and quantity of ageing and salting for each fish from black sea bream to alfonsino.
The rice is softer than we like but it still passes muster as a companion for tender-chewy, kurodai (black sea bream); sumi ika (squid) with a fresh lift from perilla leaf; blue fin tuna blanched and soaked in a soya sauce bath before being sliced and topped with mustard; unembellished otoro; and aji (horse mackerel) topped with a dab of spicy yuzukosho.
The last bite is a tiny bowl of rice topped with fresh, mellow uni, vegetable "caviar" or konburi (supposedly good for cholesterol) and salmon roe (supposedly not).
It's not a lot to eat so we add on an a la carte grilled hamachi collar (S$25) which is on the dry side but with at least enough fattiness to make it acceptable.
In dollar terms, Jimoto seems like a good deal but when you cut through the padding, it's more fair than good. We would much prefer the option of skipping the cooked dishes and adding a couple more pieces of sushi for the S$128, rather than have to eat stuff we don't want just to qualify for the "lower" price.
But that said, the sushi itself really isn't bad at all. So instead of eternal optimist, we may settle for guarded optimism. Jimoto, welcome to the neighbourhood.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: The Business Times 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.