Springy, squeaky, squishy, squid-y…
There are a limited number of vocabulary to describe an out-of-this-world sushi experience. (I won’t attempt it). Let’s just say that if you think you can die for sushi and happen to be in Singapore, Shinji by Kanesaka is the place to be. This small sushi bar with an awkward shopping arcade setting at Singapore’s iconic Raffles Hotel is the only oversea outpost of two-Michelin-starred sushi master Kanesaka in Tokyo. The lengthy bar made from 200-year-old Hinoki tree can seat just short of 20 diners. Two sushi chefs take their corner and craft one of the most exquisite sushi tasting menu outside Japan. The setback in price is imminent (as in Japan and anywhere else in the world). At Shinji, the omakase starts at 220SG$ (£111), 300SG$ (£151) and 450SG$ (£226). There are cheaper options at lunch hours from 75SG$ (£38). But, in return, you are pampered with world-class ingredients, an unforgettable experience and (for me at least) a trauma I can’t eat decent but normal sushi ever again…
Sitting down I found myself more lucky than diners on the other side of the sushi bar; I was being looked after by “Master Chef” Koichiro Oshino (the no.1 there and who worked previously as sushi master at 1-Michelin-starred Yamazato at Okura Hotel in Amsterdam). My “Omakase Shin” menu started precisely at 12pm and three hours later my former sushi encounter ruptured and metamorphosed into a heavenly pursuit of otherworldly pleasure.
Here were the extremely “high”-lights. The first stunner was superbly fresh hairy crab flown in from Hokkaido. The whole crab was cooked and shelled; then the meat from the whole crab was tightly packed back into the shell and left to marinate by and in itself. The result was the most intense and naturally crabby taste and scent (despite its being a cold dish), while the meat itself retained delightful fluffs. This dish was served with light vinegar dressing. There were some “secrets” in the dressing which Oshino-san mentioned but never revealed. The next “wow” was fuku/blowfish tail deep fried in light batter – my first experience of eating this infamous poisonous fish – garnished with pickled shallots. The fish itself was firm (imagine the meat of half a sea bass squeezed into a tiny tail/ not so dense as monk fish) but relatively tasteless. The greaseless batter with acute seasoning of salt therefore was a way to elevate the taste. So was the shallot sweetness with a zingy aftertaste. Abalone (as big as my palm!!) was steamed for five hours and marinated in another “secret” which looked a watery soy infusion. Taste-wise, it was the most tenderised abalone I’d ever eaten. The slivers sprung and squeaked a little (a cross between cuttlefish and oyster mushroom I’d say). The “secret” helped maximise not only sweetness but also unpolluted seawater taste. This minimal approach made this abalone taste much nicer than the supreme one at Lung King Heen. Then came the ark clam, which was bigger than a toddler’s fist. The finely sliced and scorched meat stilled moved before it was meticulously but swiftly pressed onto the sushi rice. Not an ordinary ark clam sushi. The flesh snapped as I was chewing and released a pure, robust taste. The minimal brushing of soy sauce was precise and glossy.
The last of the highlights was this tiny bowl of sea urchin/ uni “risotto”. The process involved a mashing of sea urchin with sushi rice (an estimated 2:1 ratio) until the rice turned creamy and golden. It was then toppled with soy-infused negitoro (here made from either o-toro or chu-toro with chopped spring onions) and freshly grated wasabi. My eyes were glowing at Oshino-san when he was making it. Unfortunately, he handed over the sea urchin rice to my neighbour expat (lucky bugger!), turned to me and giggled in my despair (at this point he warmed towards my appreciation of his sushi and we joked a bit). I had to wait for an interval of not-as-eye-wateringly-amazing sushi until given the sea urchin. It was insanely velvety – everything I conjectured from the way it was made but beyond. The ooze-y tuna fat seeped into the yolk-y urchin; the vinegar hint from the rice added a subtly fine touch to these premium ingredients. At each spoonful, I could smell this pure, savoury, sea-like custard-y thing passing through my nose and throat; I started shaking my head (a sign of utterly bemused approval when I discover otherworldly dishes never before experienced) and was on the verge of tears when I licked off the last drop of uni from my spoon. It was, very frankly, the most memorable dish of all cuisine that has ever gone down my throat.
Apart from this were many sushi nigiri, nearly all of which were bitefuls of revelation. The photos (see “disclaimer” below) are posted in my Facebook here.
The Skinny Bib has grown too much and I’d rather pay for meals than for storage, so I will link long posts to MY Facebook PHOTO ALBUMS instead. They will be accompanied with descriptions, of course ^_^
GO FOR: World class ingredients and pomp.
SHINJI BY KANESAKA
02-20 Raffles Hotel Arcade
1 Beach Road
Tel. +65 6338 6131