Shinzo Japanese Cuisine is one of the best Japanese Omakase restaurant in town. Chef Lawrence Chia is one of Sushi Royalty, Nogawa-san’s disciple. He used to work with his brother Ronnie at Tatsuya, but since striking out on his own at Shinzo, we now have another place to go for top notch Japanese.
Starters and Sashimi
Grilled Dried Leatherjacket (Kawahagi) – A simple pre-dinner nibbling of these toasted dried kawahagi while the guests had a few toasts was usually reserved in Izakaya. The strong taste of the kawahagi was too much for what were to come later, so I would regard this a poor choice for an amuse bouche. I liked this in an Izakaya, but I quickly washed my mouth with green tea afterwards so that I can enjoy what were to come.
Clockwise from Top-L:
Monkfish Liver (Ankimo) in Ponzu – Monkfish Liver with a spicy daikon mash and chopped chives served in ponzu sauce. This was a common starter, but the succulence of the cod liver in winter was another level.
Sea Whelk – Slowed cooked in a sweet sauce, the sea whelk was chewy. I never understood why would anyone be bothered with whelks and conches, particularly with these minuscules ones.
Uni Tofu – Using fresh uni from Hokkaido, chef Lawrence Chia blends them together with mirin, sake, egg and dashi stock before steaming the mixture. The results? Silky smooth cubes of orange-tinted tofu that will glide down your throat.
Hiyashi Fruit Tomato – Just a simple cut-up fruit tomato from Japan rounded up the quartet of starters. No prep, just a light sprinkle of sea salt.
Baked Japanese Mussel in Spicy Mayo Sauce – Here Chef Chia prepared it in the traditional Japanese Baked Mussel with a spicy mayo cheese topping, and instead of the Pacific Mussels, they used the Japanese Mussel, or Asian Date Mussel, or what we called Twah Tao 大头(literally Big Head) which usually we stir fried them with chili.
I nearly got choked on a fragment of the mussel shell as they were very brittle but razor sharp if not careful. It was tasty, but the near accident spoiled my mood.
L-R : Akagai (Blood Clam), Ebi (Prawn), Hamachi (Yellowtail), Chutoro (Bluefin Tuna Belly). They came the morning when we visited the place, so they were as fresh as you can get from Tsukiji. There’s not compromise to good fish in a restaurant of this calibre (and this price).
The Hot Dishes
First up, a grilled dish. And tonight we were served the Barracuda or Sea Bass. Generally in Singapore, sea bass is a very economical fish that you can buy for less than $10 per fish, typically 1.5-2kg variety, that is farmed in nearby waters in kelongs. The Australians started to call them barracuda, and they started to fetch $25 per kg. Granted these were much larger in size and they were filleted so you can serve them boneless. Plus, they are a sustainable source of fish as they grow very easily and so they become a very popular fish of choice in restaurants – barracudas, not the local sea bass. Unfortunately, like all locals, they continue to be second class citizens to their imported foreign cousins.
Enter the Japanese Sea Bass. They are referred to by different names, Seigo, Fukko, Suzuki, depending on their age and size. This is what the Japanese called a shusse-uo or “promoting” fish, they are referred to as Koppa when they are fries, Seigo when they are hatchlings, Fukko when they 1-3 years and below 60cm, and Suzuki when they are fully grown. Judging at the size we were having, it was a Fukko. And Shusseuo is considered a good luck fish.
The best Suzuki are from Fukushima prefecture *GASP*. But we were assured the one we were having tonight was not radioactive.
Grilled Japanese Sea Bass was grilled to perfection. Simply flavoured with salt and pepper, you enjoyed the sweetness of the fish. All you need was a dash of lemon, or maybe not. The skin was grilled to a crisp using a blowtorch so it did not affect the tender fish meat under. Wonderful, but I still wondered about the sourcing.
After a grilled dish, the stew dish. Abalone was not my favourite mollusc – it has no taste of its own, its chewy if not done correctly and it’s overpriced. All abalone dishes “borrowed” the taste from the sauce, the ingredients that were cooked together with the abalone. So it became the perfect centrepiece for a stewed dish.
The Stewed Abalone had all the umami and flavour from the sauce that it was stewed in. Just the right texture, it was al dente but not chewy. Again, I would not order this if a la carte.
Hokkaido is not famous for Wagyu. But in recent years, they have risen up against Hyogo (where Kobe comes from) and Shiga (Ohmi beef) prefectures to produce a good Wagyu. We had the Pan Grilled Hakodate Wagyu with Abalone Mushroom, Garlic Crisps, which is from the Japanese Brown Cattle breed. Not as oily as the Black Cattle, but I liked this cut and breed better as it gave the sirloin cut a really beefy taste and retained some texture.
Next up, the sushi course. Six pieces of premium sushi started with a couple of slices of Hosigaki Dried Persimmon. While we eat most our persimmons fresh, Japanese persimmon lovers reserve the best for drying. The result? The most high-maintenance but delicious dried fruit around. It’s the kobe beef of healthy snacks.
And then the sushi came in succession. First up, Shima Aji (Striped Jack), this fish is best eaten slightly aged. The one for the night was directly shipped from Tsujiki that day, so it was not primed for the evening. Next, Otoro Aburi (Fatty Tuna Belly), a very fatty fish that was blowtorched to give a slightly smoky taste. And then Uni Gunka (Sea Urchin).
The journey to Hokkaido continued with a beautiful gunka using Uni that was packed in brine and not dried like most Uni. The boxed dry Uni are usually treated with alum to retain its freshness. Uni packed in brine has a shorter shelf-life and therefore seldom used outside of Japan. Chef Chia was one of the few that use this for his gunka.
And then we continued the sushi journey with Sumiika (Japanese Spineless Squid) with Yuzu Wasabi, Hamachi with Foie Gras Aburi, and finished the sextet with Anago. All these were washed down with Hamaguri Miso Soup.
As the little princess was not satisfied, Chef Kayden added Cold Somen in Truffle Oil, Sakura Shrimp, Seaweed, Ebiko, Ikura. This surprise dish was the highlight for the whole evening in my humble opinion. Made me went back and searched my pantry to recreate the dish.
The last course was a simple dessert trio – From (L): Yuzu Ice Cream, Osmanthus Jelly, Musk Melon.
Service in Shinzo was, as expected, fantastic, attentive and friendly. Chef Chia was very jovial and on top of his game. The rest of the chefs were very patient in explaining the composition of each creation. And of course the service staff, remember to leave a tip if you think they have done well.
Shinzo serves set lunches, and for dinners, offers both a la carte dishes as well. But it is the Omakase that we come to Shinzo for. And reviewing Omakase is difficult as you cannot get back the same stuff usually. That’s why don’t expect a Michelin star, as you will not be able to grade for consistency.
Shinzo Japanese Cuisine
17 Carpenter St
Tel: 6438 2921
Date Visited : Feb 2018