Ready for some good sushi? We were. They were none this side of the island where I reside, we have to travel to the other end for some.
This is the second outlet for Sushi Jiro, the first being in East Coast and then they moved to Keppel Bay. I guessed Founder-Chef Natano Jiro (no association with the Sushi God) likes opening restaurants next to the bay areas.
Heading the team at Marina Bay is Chef Yamamoto Munenori 山本 宗則. A master in the art of Edomae sushi traditions, Chef Yamamoto is the Itamae and offers his best in crafting his Omakase experiences that has gained him a loyal following. His creations are often simple in form but delights the palate with unexpected combination of flavours and texture to his nigiri sushi creations. His expansive knowledge of Japanese produce, from origins to characteristics of each ingredient makes this a divine dining experience.
We were seated at the sushi counter, my favourite place in a sushi restaurant, so I can observe everything that’s going on in the making of our dinner. Also it allows me to ask questions of what I am eating. I was originally thinking about the omakase, but when I found out that there were only 5 pieces of nigiri sushi in the omakase, I decided to go ala carte. I came for sushi, I shall get sushi!
After ordering the drinks and dinner, the first snack came. It’s always a favourite among guests, boiled soya beans in their pods called Edamame in Japanese.
Next up, the platter of sashimi normally called sashimi moriawase. It contained 10 different kinds of premium cuts of fish served raw or aburi, which was quite popular recently.
Among all these sashimi cuts, the most outstanding ones were the Hiramasa (yellowtail amberjack), Isaki (chicken grunt), Kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) and Otoro (fatty tuna belly). Hiramasa and Isaki seldom make their way to our little island as they are in high demand and low supply in Japan as well. And then there’s the seasonality, you have to really lucky to eat them in Japan by travelling at the right time. The hiramasa can replace the fatty tuna belly anytime, with the intense fatty taste and the melt-in-mouth texture. The isaki is rare and has a clean taste. The torching of the skin of the kinmedai released the fish oil to give it a smoky flavour. And who can resist the wagyu of the sea, the otoro.
Fugu or puffer fish gives that Russian roulette feeling to all who eat it. But that brush with fate never deters anyone to try the delicate and light tasting poisonous fish. However fugu karaage (deep fried puffer fish) is a totally different affair. The spine with a little of the flesh were breaded and deep fried, resulting in a perfect snack for beers. I couldn’t resist and ordered a Sapporo.
The Japanese has the technique of taking fresh fish and drying them overnight to age them. Called ichiyaboshi, the dry ageing process does not affect the sweetness of the fish. Instead, the result is a more intense flavour that often elevated the original fish. Amadai from Shimonoseki Maehama 下関 前浜, Yamaguchi Prefecture 山口県 is aged at 0˚C, locking in the moisture and umami. Skilfully grilled, the flesh was intense with flavours, and the moisture/fats of the fish was retained even with the ageing. A great eat especially now that I cannot go to Japan.
We came for sushi, we shall get sushi. There’s the 12 pieces premium sushi omakase that you let the chef decides what you would be getting. I guessed that you would be at least get the kinmedai, chutoro and uni. And then there’s more.
There’s only one species of maguro (tuna) worth putting on the sushi-ya table. The tuna that I am referring to is the Pacific bluefin tuna referred to as honmaguro found in the deep cold waters of the Pacific (as opposed to its poor cousin, Atlantic bluefin tuna). This dense red meat is one of the safest protein sources and they are very good eats, thanks to the Japanese sushi chefs. The akami (lean tuna) is the leanest of all cuts and usually served zuke (marinated in soy sauce) to enhance the flavour. Here, it was served as is.
Typically, the best wild botan ebi is found either in Hokkaido or in Toyama Bay on the west side of Honshu. It features a really wonderful, delectable texture and incredibly sweet flavour that is perfectly complemented by well-seasoned shari. But these are farmed botan ebi 牡丹海老 and don’t get me wrong, these are equally good eats as well. Served with a sprinkle of sudachi dust, the refreshing zest was welcomed with the heavy tasting crustacean.
Tai (Japanese sea bream) is another common white fish served in sushi-ya. There are over ten different types of tai found in Japanese waters, but madai is the varietal preferred for sushi. Because of this, tai and madai will often be used interchangeably to describe the fish in a sushiya. The fish is usually served raw but can also be served aburi (with the skin slightly seared), which was what we had this evening.
There are many types of ika or squid throughout the world’s oceans, but the Japanese has over one hundred species around their waters and in a sushi-ya, everyone of them is properly identified. Squid weighing between 2 to 4.5 pounds are best for sushi. Because of the thickness of the skin, a good sushi chef will work on the ika to improve the texture. This was a wonderfully sweet piece of squid balanced with a piece of shiso leaf and just a sprinkling of salt.
The next cut of Pacific bluefin tuna and a level up from akami is the chutoro or medium fatty tuna belly. As the name suggests, it’s the cut closer to the tuna belly where all the omega-laden fats of the tuna are stored. The closer to the ultimate otoro, the fattier and more marbling it gets. This piece of neta that we got was in the “grey zone” of akami and chutoro. The Petrossian caviar added some luxe to the piece of sushi.
Anago or sea eel is available year-round, but best in the summer time, especially from June to mid-July when they reach three feet in length and are at their fattest. The preparation for a good piece of anago is simply grilling it over binchotan and letting its own fats to work the magic. I always enjoy eating eels, whether it is unagi, anago or hamo. As a neta, it is simmered in a soy and sake sauce and then grilled before serving. The soft bones may be a turnoff for unagi for most, anago avoided this problem for their size.
Many asked me what fish is kinmedai 金目鯛 or splendid alfonsino (Beryx splendens)? Often mistaken because of the red skin and large eyes as Bigeye 大眼鸡 (Priacanthus tayenus) which Teochew use in their cuisine, kinmedai is part of the extensive tai (Japanese sea bream) family while the latter is the perch family. Splendid alfonsino is naturally fatty and when the skin is forced gives a really nice smoky taste to the delicate sweet flesh. The latter cannot be used for sashimi or sushi.
Shiro ebi or baby white shrimps are in season beginning in the springtime. Often overshadowed by the more famous neighbours, hotaru-ika (firefly squid), the small shrimps also come from Toyama Bay on Honshu’s west coast. Full grown shiro ebi are still quite small, so many of them are used to form a single piece of nigiri. Served with minced ginger in this case, it was bursting with sweetness.
Hiramasa (yellowtail amberjack) is very rare and expensive fish even in Japan, so you can imagine my surprise when I saw it here. The flesh is quite firm and produces complex flavors, with lovely umami and sweetness. The best specimens weigh six to eight pounds and are caught between June and the beginning of fall. Hiramasa tends to only be served in high-end sushi shops outside of the country, so that gave Sushi Jiro the mark of approval.
Ikura (salmon roe) gunkan uses ikura that has been prepared in-house. To prepare ikura, a chef will soak the sujiko (eggs still contained in the ovarian sack) in salt water, and then carefully remove the eggs from the sack and rinse with fresh water. The eggs are drained and dried for several hours, and finally marinated overnight in equal parts of shoyu and sake. You can taste the difference in this house made ikura versus the factory produced ones. They are sweeter and less salty. The slightly salted cucumber slice was a thoughtful touch.
And then the final part of the maguro trilogy. The fattiest part of the tuna belly is called the otoro and has the melt-in-mouth texture like wagyu. It was not the choicest cut of otoro but fair enough.
And the final piece, the sea urchin. Hokkaido bafun uni 馬糞海胆 has been harvested commercially as a seafood since the 1600s. It is eaten after being preserved with alcohol or brine, since it has a bitter taste when raw. But tonight we tried the ones that had no additional work done to them.
Okumura Seafood 奥村水產 supplies to the best sushi-ya and Japanese restaurants around the world, and their bafun uni is really sought after for their intense yet clean taste and the bright orange colour. Great eat, I could eat the whole tray.
Because this was an ala carte order, there was no misoshiru, and there’s no kappamaki to finish the meal. What we got was a really solid combination of 12 pieces of nigiri sushi as promised.
So instead of the usual misoshiru, we ordered the dobinmushi or “soup in a teapot”. This teapot of soup consisted of shrimp, chicken thigh, matsutake mushroom, Japanese fish cake called kamaboko cooked in dashi.
The umami of the ingredients melted into the piping hot stock, giving it a taste unique to autumn. One thing they had forgotten, that is a wedge of sudachi (Japanese lime) that is usually given as a condiment.
Recently there were a spout of mergers and acquisitions in the hospitality space. Hilton bought the reverent Mandarin in Orchard Road and closed their original space at the far end of the shopping street. The original space was taken over by voco. And then Marina Mandarin was taken over Parkroyal. The good thing – they were all refurbished after the takeovers. The downside – confusing for the taxi drivers.
As I was sitting at the sushi bar, I observed the other dishes that Chef Yamamoto created. They looked delicious and instagrammable. I was impressed by the bold use of unfamiliar flavours for nigiri sushi like lime zest and caviar. But some traditions need to be followed, like how you serve sushi per piece at the sushi bar. There’s no substitute to such table manners. Nevertheless, it was a good dinner, with great sushi and sashimi.
Sushi Jiro at Parkroyal Marina Bay
6 Raffles Boulevard #04-600 PARKROYAL COLLECTION Marina Bay Singapore 039594
Tel : +65 6445 3055
Visited in Aug 2022