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Relying on 'M' word to draw diners
Ginza Sushi Ichi
Marriott Singapore Lobby Level
320 Orchard Road
Tel: 6235 5514
Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Sun: 12pm to 2.30pm; 6pm to 11pm. Closed on Mon and public holidays.
IS it just us or is the word "Michelin" joining the likes of "artisanal", "organic", "BPA-free" and "home-grown" in the ranks of over-used buzz words in the lexicon of today? What's wrong with being less buzzy and more to the point? Say, "I made this myself in a kitchen that doesn't necessarily have to meet the same hygiene standards of commercial premises"; "grown in my garden where my dog poops sometimes"; "BPA-free is not problem-free"; or "Michelin star there doesn't mean Michelin star here".
Yes, the "M" word is what will draw you into Ginza Sushi Ichi's new spot in the Marriott Singapore - right next door to Scotts Square where it first opened in 2012 along with sister outlet Arossa - the now-defunct Japanese-Italian eatery. The restaurants' partners have since split up, and the remaining parties have carved out a new spot in the Marriott hotel lobby, where it's one part sushi bar and another part sake salon.
While the lobby area isn't the most glamorous spot to be in, it's good-looking on the inside with the scent of expensive hinoki countertops and tasteful furnishings. Very hospitable chefs with an ingrained DNA to serve you as best as they can is also a plus point.
For us, Sushi Ichi may as well be a new restaurant because we've never been to the old one, having been spooked by rumblings about overpriced menus and inadequate portions. The verdict now is that you do get enough to eat, but not in the sense that it makes you want to slap your thigh and exclaim, "that was amazing value for money!".
But of course not. That never happens in a high-end Japanese sushi joint. We're convinced that Japanese chefs are all part of a low-calorie health conspiracy - the kind that forces you to stop eating when you're only 80 per cent full.
If that's your mantra, Sushi Ichi aims to please, with a range of menus that start at S$70 to S$240 for lunch, and S$220 to S$450 for dinner.
You'll need a handroll or two to feel adequately satiated with the S$70 Tsubaki set, which nonetheless offers an attractive variety of appetiser and eight pieces of sushi that includes a little bowl of rice covered with ikura. Otherwise the S$120 and S$170 set fills you up just nicely, with the difference being that the S$170 option includes extras such as two gingko nuts with a starter of corn tofu and a mouth-puckering vinegared tile fish, grilled fish and a few lobes of uni in your bowl of ikura.
The highlights of the S$120 set, though, are pretty slices of jellied terrine filled with shredded crabmeat, carrot and corn, and a generous portion of marinated bonito that's a little heavy on the ponzu dressing and the shower of shredded scallions and herbs. Sushi-wise, we have no complaint about the freshness although the quality and variety don't impress.
The usual suspects of chutoro, otoro, shima aji, kohada, etc are showcased, although a crunchy tsubugai (whelk) is a nice touch. There isn't a lot of sushi, mind you, so ask them to convert your set into an all-sushi version if you prefer.
Dinner is a pricey S$220 for just sushi, or S$300 if you want the variety of appetisers. You might need to blow S$450 to hit any kind of high. We settle for medium over high - the S$300 meal which gives you fancier things that you don't see at lunch. You kick off with an interesting cold simmered sauri (fish) with slippery sticks of yam paired with a slice of fresh fig drizzled with sesame sauce; hirame and scallop sashimi; kinmedai served two ways - lightly cooked and dressed in ponzu sauce, and steamed in wine; grilled milky sweet nodokuro.
About 10 pieces of sushi follow, including kinmedai pressed in kelp, lightly cooked nodokuro and kuruma ebi. We like that fresh sushi rice is made every 20 minutes and the chef matches each piece of seafood with either red or white vinegared rice. The latter is very slightly starchy but with a decent bite that lets you discern the individual grains. Disappointing murusaki uni and a too-custardy tamago omelette tip things off balance.
In Tokyo, there are as many unimpressive one Michelin-starred sushi bars as there are impressive ones. Sushi Ichi in Tokyo isn't a dud, but it isn't really in the circle of must-go places. The same with Sushi Ichi in Singapore. Yes, there's a minimum standard of quality but it rarely goes beyond that. It should try hitting a few more high notes so it can stop relying on the "M" word to draw people in.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good