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One-man sushi joint serves up an easy-going intimacy
#01-07, Palais Renaissance
Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Sun: 12pm to 3pm; 6.30pm to 10pm.
SUSHI Kimura is not a place that encourages spontaneity. Wake up in the morning with the sushi munchies? Good luck trying to get a same day lunch or dinner booking.
Even calling the day before gets you no joy, although the pricier dinner slots may be possible. We tried for several weeks to get a spot in this manner, failing each time and getting curiouser and curiouser about this newish sushiya at Palais Renaissance helmed by an alumna of Sushi Ichi and Hashida.
We finally manage to get seats with some advanced planning, and when we get there, we can understand the appeal of this place. Apart from the tiny 12-seater counter and two private rooms, the restaurant's Timoo Kimura would easily sweep the top prize in a Mr Congeniality contest of sushi chefs in Singapore.
He is so exceedingly friendly, empathic and obliging that we wish he were a doctor so we could enjoy his bedside manners. We bet that if we didn't like his cough syrup he would go out of his way to find a better-tasting one; he would apologise profusely if we were kept waiting too long; and listen with genuine interest about our many home remedies for constipation while promising to recommend them to his other patients.
Such is his incredible, unflappable patience with the two customers beside us who insist on less salt, no wasabi, fish only, no clams, no anago, no uni and oh, all fish must be done aburi-style, i.e. torched on top.
Even as our eyes burrow into their sockets, Chef Kimura enthusiastically obliges as they eat with no interest, obsessed with some business contract the man is trying to explain to his aburi-fixated lady companion.
The chef's amiable demeanour comes across as genuine and helps set the pleasant tone of the simple yet tastefully done up restaurant. It's nothing fancy but you feel totally at home with his style of omotenashi or Japanese hospitality.
The food itself is perfectly acceptable, priced similarly to other upscale sushi restaurants at S$120 and S$180 for lunch. Dinner is naturally pricier at S$280 and S$390.
Both lunch sets kick off with a starter of fresh yuba or beancurd skin topped with dashi jelly and pearls of ikura for a refreshing palate pleaser. Next up is a delicate, wobbly chawanmushi that you almost need to slurp up - the custard is made from dashi cooked with mineral water from Hokkaido, and studded with baby scallops and bamboo.
For the S$120 set, he launches into 10 types of sushi, starting from a slippery smooth esaki or grunt fish to kuruma ebi, otoro and uni and a unique maki stuffed with savoury cooked wasabi shoots.
The slices of fish are generous and of acceptable quality, layered over smallish mounds of rice that are a little inconsistent in texture and wasabi levels. The rice is pleasantly firm and chewy but not yielding enough to fuse with the fish into a harmonious mouthful.
If you get the S$180 menu, you're rewarded with a small portion of sashimi, comprising kinmedai and a crunchy orange clam, with an accompanying salad, as well as a side dish of marinated bonito in a mild-mannered egg yolk sauce.
It's followed up by a simple grilled Spanish mackerel that is milky and moist, paired with tender nanohana spring vegetable and simmered young bamboo shoot. Seven pieces of sushi bulk up the set, similar in variety with the S$120 menu, except that it ends off with a luxurious signature rice bowl where ikura, sweet uni and an onsen egg add up to a state of silken brininess over warm rice.
Dessert is a picture-perfect spring scenery on a plate. A sprig of cherry blossom blooms over a shining, quivering blob of sweet "water-jelly", stuffed with a single preserved flower that cuts the sweetness with a tart saltiness. Juicy Japanese orange completes the picture.
Not having tried the dinner course, it's hard to see how high the bar is raised on the quality front at Sushi Kimura. The lunch quality is adequate and could be better, but the same can be said for most of the sushi bars operating at this level and price.
But here you get something a little more intangible in the easy-going intimacy of a one-man sushi joint (although he is ably supported by a female chef who knows how to wield a sashimi knife) and a general sense that Chef Kimura will do his level best to serve you a good meal. It's just too bad not enough of his customers appreciate his efforts.
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