From traditional-style to fusion fare, sushi to ramen, there’s a seemingly endless array of Japanese joints to try and dishes to discover – something for everyone, no matter the occasion. Here are our top three picks for Japanese dining destinations to try now, from casual lunches to date-night dinners.
Traditional With A Twist: Keyaki
Pan Pacific Singapore, 7 Raffles Boulevard, Level 4 | 6336 8111
Japanese food, sushi in particular, is my top “go-to” cuisine. It’s great both for a quick lunch-stop or a leisurely dinner, and it offers relatively healthy eating. But it can be easy to get stuck in a rut, so opting for a kaiseki, a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner, can be a good way of sampling dishes you probably wouldn’t think to order yourself.
Keyaki’s nine-course winter kaiseki, available until 28 February, is a seasonal selection of freshly imported Japanese ingredients, with chef Ishii aiming to “explore the traditional winter textures and aromas and unite them in a blend of rich complementary flavours”.
We started with a selection of hors d’oeuvres, including grilled salmon with cheese, and prawn with egg yolk and mirin. The sashimi selection would not have been complete without melt-in-the-mouth tuna belly, which was followed by a generous portion of snow crab tempura dusted with matcha.
I polished off my portion of the grilled wagyu beef coated with cod roe, whereas my dining companion was not so keen on the texture. Cold himi udon was served to cleanse the palate, and Japanese musk melon rounded off the meal.
Produce is seasonal, and so during our early tasting some dishes for the winter menu were not quite ready. One in particular, the grilled wagyu beef with foie gras, radish and broccoli, sounds like a delicious reason to go back.
Priced at $170 per person, the kaiseki is, admittedly, probably not a quick lunch stop, but it’s definitely an impressive selection of food for a more leisurely meal.
Lunchtime Hot-spot: Ramen Isshi
1 Raffles Place, #04-29 | 6438 1350
A new, healthy ramen concept from the team behind Orgo, Ramen Isshi is a relaxed and reasonably priced eatery in the CBD. Decked out in dark wood with a colourful motif of electric blue, orange, purple, red and green that carries through to the menu, the whole effect speaks of modern Japanese style.
Along with ramen, the menu offers Chinese and Japanese small plates like carrot cake with saffron ($8) – a surprising twist on traditional carrot cake – delectable tuna sashimi and avocado salad ($12) and crispy gyoza pork dumplings ($5 for four). The main event though, is the homemade ramen noodles. We tried the meaty and moreish “Black” Tonkotsu Kuro Ramen with sliced cha-shu pork ($13) and the “Red” Tonkotsu Aka Ramen with spicy Szechuan pepper and scallops – a little spicy for my British palate! If you have room for pudding, the almond jelly ($5) with framboise is a great way to finish.
The surprise of the meal, however, was the drinks. On offer is a range of fresh fruit and soy juices, and smoothies to rival most smoothie bars. We tried the “Yellow” Pure Juice (passionfruit and mango, $4.50) and the pineapple Total Soy ($3.50), both of them made in-house and delicious. The fresh fruit beer was also a hit – the passionfruit beer ($9) was like a summery fruit shandy. For something stronger, try the Korean rice wine, makgeolli, or Japanese whisky-style shochu (both $9) available in fruity flavours.
The verdict? Ramen Isshi is a great lunch spot. From 11.30am to 2.30pm, a bowl of ramen, complete with salad bar, is just $12. And if you get really hooked, you can even buy one of their snazzy-coloured thermos lunch boxes to take away and have hot ramen at your desk.
Date Night Dining: Lewin Terrace
21 Lewin Terrace | 6333 9905
Tucked away in the lush greenery of Fort Canning and set in a beautiful colonial black-and-white house, Lewin Terrace is a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Whether you sit inside or on the alfresco patio, the airy, tranquil atmosphere provides the perfect place to linger over a long, romantic meal.
The menu is Japanese-French fusion, though it seems more on the Japanese spectrum with some hints of French flair, and lots of imagination. Chef Ryoichi Kano gets creative with super-fresh, seasonal ingredients, presenting exquisitely plated dishes for seafood and meat lovers alike – there are vegetarian options on offer as well. The signature dragonfruit carpaccio ($28) – thinly sliced fruit atop crab meat and vinegar jelly – and the rich and creamy foie gras terrine ($28) are unique palate-pleasing appetisers, as is the maguro avocado salad ($28) with tuna sashimi, garnished with pomegranate seeds for a sweet crunch.
For mains, it’s hard to go past the cod saikyoyaki ($32), soaked in delicious miso and clam jus broth; but if you’re looking for something different, order the amadai ochazuke ($54) – panfried tilefish and risotto with dashi (Japanese fish soup stock) poured on top to create a stew-like effect. Also popular is the joshugyu toubanyaki ($62), Japanese joshu wagyu beef served rare so you can cook it to your own perfection on a portable table-grill. While the prices are a bit steep for the portion sizes, the setting’s so secluded and lovely that you won’t really care.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with the chocolate and pistachio mousse ($18) – complete with raspberries and warm chocolate syrup – or the matcha brûlée ($18), a creamy concoction of green-tea ice cream, raspberry sorbet and condensed milk.
During the month of January, a special five-course set dinner ($148) inspired by Hokkaido’s fresh seasonal ingredients is available, featuring hassun (an appetiser plate of squid, caviar, sushi, snow crab and other small items) and a Japanese joshu wagyu steak.