To prepare my palate for its acquaintance with world-class Japanese food in an upcoming trip to Japan, I decided that I should establish the support levels, to borrow a term from technical trading, for what qualifies as excellent Japanese food. I sought to achieve this by visiting three much-lauded Japanese restaurants in Singapore (which I had not visited before), with the full expectation that my dining experiences in Japan will outperform these support levels. Yes, you can say that I’m bullish on authentic Japanese food.
My picks for the three local Japanese restaurants were (1) Nogawa at Sentosa Golf Club (recommended by a friend), (2) Tatsuya at Goodwood Park Hotel (I’ve been hearing for years that this place serves excellent sushi and sashimi) and (3) Shiraishi at Ritz-Carlton Hotel (This newly refurbished Japanese restaurant has the distinction of having Chef Tetsuya Wakuda of Tetsuya’s in Sydney dining in its restaurant a whopping 13 times during a week in Singapore. This suggests that either Chef Shiraishi is outstanding or that Chef Tetsuya does not like to travel far for his food. I’d bet on the former.)
I have to admit upfront that my experiment is flawed because I was basing my experiences on the set lunches offered by these restaurants. The focus of set lunches is usually on value, or rather, perceived value. The showcases are brought out only during dinners. However, it is my firm belief that any self-respecting restaurant would place a large premium on its reputation. At all times. So, set lunch or not, here’s the lowdown on the good, better and best.
The Good - Nogawa
Presentation: The plate of sushi was beautiful and it made the bento set look really plain in comparison.
Quality of food: It's a pity that the sushi did not taste as good as it looked. The fish was fresh but not great. I have had better at Tampopo and Matsuo. The bento set, according to my husband, was remarkably unremarkable.
Plus: The watermelon and honeydew that came at the end of the meal were the real deal from Japan. The watermelon was crisp and juicy and had a sweetness that you cannot taste in the varieties you can buy in the local supermarkets. The honeydew was just ripe, fragrant and juicy, and I wished that I had some parma ham with me then.
Minus: The side order of grilled scallops came overcooked. Some of the service staff (including the kimono-clad supervisor) chatted loudly with one another in Mandarin throughout our meal. It was reminiscent of this other Japanese place which I like for the food and hate for the service (or lack thereof).
The Better - Shiraishi
Presentation: Ordinary for the sushi set and delightful for the bento set
Quality of food: The selection of fish for the sushi set was uninspired. The quality of the fish is good but not great. Why does this keep happening to me? Just because I order set lunches? *Throws hands up in air*
Service: Efficient and professional.
Plus: My husband really enjoyed his bento set. The only thing I liked very much myself was the adorable cup they served the after-meal oolong tea in. Sorry, I don't have a picture of it here.
Minus: They served a cabbage appetiser before the meal and charged us for it. I did not think much about it when it was served because it is common for fine-dining restaurants to serve a complimentary amuse-bouche. Sneaking that cabbage into the bill was a bit underhanded.
The Best - Tatsuya
Presentation: Pretty good.
Quality of food: I love the batter they used for the tempura, the slightly charred and tender eel, the addictive rice and above all, the sashimi pieces which carried with them a hint of shiso. The chicken my husband had was superbly grilled.
Service: Efficient and professional.
Plus: Consistency and quality. Save for the minus point below, I find no fault with Tatsuya.
Minus: The wedges of watermelon and pear served at the end of the meal were a let-down, especially after having experienced Nogawa's lovely and sigh-inducing watermelon and honeydew. The fruits here tasted awfully ordinary. I'd rather they not serve it because the entire tone of the meal was marred by this little sharp screech at the end.