Despite the pandemic as many restaurants scaled back in operations, many chefs are coming out on their own. Especially in the last 6 months, many more omakase restaurants popped up like mushrooms after the spring rain. Unkai 雲海 is one of these new omakase restaurants that opened in Orchard Rendezvous Hotel in February this year.
Executive Chef Eugene Lam started his sushi journey in the kitchens of Hide Yamamoto, Sushi Mieda and Ashino. He helmed the sushi bar of Koji Sushi Bar at Raffles City before starting out of his own restaurant at Unkai.
The decor was like a more spacious Koji, with the same hand scribbled chalkboard listing the specials and fresh seafood that was delivered from Tokyo Toyosu Fish Market three times a week.
Sora 空 Omakase
The top end of the omakase sets, the selection included an appetiser, 5 types of sashimi, a grilled fish, 1 1 pieces of nigiri sushi and miso soup and dessert to end. The more economical sets have not sashimi or more common cuts for sushi.
1/ Appetiser – Black Sea Snail | Firefly Squid
The appetiser featured two items – Kuro Baigai 黒バイ貝 (black sea snail) and Hotaruika ホタルイカ (firefly squid) simmered (旨煮) in a sweet, soy sauce. Firefly squid was my favourite squid species, we had a similar type in our region. But this unique squid from Toyama Prefecture only appears on the menu once a year during spring.
2/ Seasonal Grilled Fish – Beltfish
For the seasonal grilled fish, I was pleasantly surprised to be served grilled Tachuio タチウオ(Beltfish) from Tokyo Bay. Beltfish is not a luxurious fish, but it was a type of fish that I have been eating since I was a boy, My mom would simply rubbed it with salt and pan fried them. They grilled deboned fillets of the fish on charcoal fire like unagi but instead of a sweet sauce, a simple dash of salt brought out the wonderful flavour (and memories) of the belt fish. The small slice of sweet potato balanced the saltiness of the fish. Or you can squeeze some lime if you want, but I like it salted well.
3/ Sashimi – 5 types
Medium Fatty Tuna | Yellowtail | Blackthroat Perch | Snow Crab | White Prawn
Known for its amazingly soft, buttery meat, Nodoguro ノドグロ (Blackthroat Seaperch), otherwise also known as Akamutsu アカムツ(Rosy Seabass) gained its popularity there couple of years in Singapore as more and more are exposed to fine dining sushi-ya.
Besides this rare find, the other fishes on the sashimi platter included Chutoro 中トロ (Medium Fatty Tuna Belly), Buri 鰤 (Yellowtail or Japanese Amberjack), Shiroebi 白海老 (Baby white prawn) and Zuwei Kani ずわい蟹 (Snow Crab). Like the firefly squid in the appetiser, the baby white shrimps are specialty of Toyama Prefecture and only found in Spring. Sorry, the sakura on the plate was solely for decorative purpose, a sign of springtime.
4/ Hot Dish – Abalone in liver sauce
Next up a specialty only for the Sora set, Kuroawabi 黒鮑 (black abalone) from Japan is a sought-after delicacy no matter what cuisine it is used in. Here, the braised abalone was served with Chef Eugene’s special liver sauce that was prepared daily. The sauce was really delicious, creamy, rich and full of umami that I wanted to ask for a bowl of rice.
6/ Nigiri Sushi – 11 pieces
Next, the piece de resistance for the omakase, the nigiri sushi 握寿司. Unfortunately I was not seated at the sushi counter, so I was served several pieces at one time. Chef Eugene is very particular about the rice served at his establishment and it is all procured directly from Hokkaido. Something that he had picked up from Koji, two types of shari (vinegared rice) were used for the sushi.
First up, 5 varieties of white fish sushi—Tai 鯛 (Sea Bream), Kinmedai 金目鯛 (Golden eye snapper), Kanpachi toro 間八トロ (Great Amberjack Belly), Sumiika すみいか (Spineless Squid) and Shima Aji 縞鯵 (Striped Jack), accompanied by white vinegar sushi rice.
The next four pieces were the highlights of the nigiri sushi – Akami Zuke 本鮪の漬 (Marinated Bluefin Tuna), Chutoro 中トロ (Medium Tuna Belly), Chutoro wrapped with Uni 雲丹 (Sea Urchin), Noduguro Aburi のどぐろ炙り (Roasted Seaperch). The lean tuna was marinated in yuzu soy sauce overnight to give it depth in flavours. The yuzu gave it a refreshing touch. The fattiness of the search came through beautifully, but I could not comprehend the chutoro wrapped around uni as the sushi disintegrated as I picked it up with my chopsticks.
The last two pieces of sushi were Hotate 帆立貝 (scallops) and Chef Eugene’s signature Binchotan Otoro, which the fattiest of tuna belly was scorched using a piece of amber charcoal. The smokiness of the smothering charcoal was imparted onto the tuna belly, and the fats melted into the rice. Unfortunately, it was not done at the counter. When the sushi was presented to me, it had fully disintegrated. The scallop was sweet, but it was always a safe bet these Hokkaido scallops are.
7/ Miso Soup and Dessert
The misoshiru 味噌汁 was made with a delicious fish bone stock and had shimeiji mushrooms in it, quite different from the usual. Dessert is usually the weakest link in an omakase. The musk melon was not fully ripen yet, but still amazingly sweet and juicy. The watermelon tasted different from the usuals as well.
Good try in an overcrowded sushi-ya/omakase scene in Singapore, but Unkai has to do much better than this. They tried to pack the place with an attractive Omakase below $100, but failed with the top end Sora omakase, which at $188 per person one has a lot of other finer alternatives. The service was friendly but not polished as one would expect from a top-end sushi-ya. So I would not classify them as fine dining, just a good eat.
Orchard Rendezvous Hotel
1 Tanglin Road #01-09/10, Singapore 24790
Tel : +65 9634 8508
Visited in Apr 2022