p Picks and Pecks: review: shinji by kanesaka

Thursday, January 31, 2013

review: shinji by kanesaka

Address: #02-20, Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road
Tel: +65 6338 6131
E-mail: reservations@shinjibykanesaka.com

Walking into Shinji by myself one weekday afternoon did involve some feelings of trepidation. I don't normally dine alone, and the prospect of sitting at a sushi counter in a possible one-on-one face off with the chef was not something I was quite ready for, since this lunch was a spur of the moment effort, without any reservations being made.

Entering the quiet entrance of Shinji did put me at ease, and the popularity of the place meant that almost every single seat at the 14-seater sushi counter was taken. Every seat, except for one, right smack in the middle of the nearly (but not quite!) elbow-to-elbow lunch crowd. Despite the people around me, the sushi counter was an oasis of quiet and calm, with every element carefully placed to minimize unnecessary motion and every surface clutter free.

I chose to have the omakase to make the most of my experience here. Leaving myself completely at the mercy of the chef, I awaited to see what would appear before me. 

Herring roe with wasabi leaves - The generous amount of roe was crunchy in texture,  each individual egg sac coming apart as I chewed the eggs. The roe was coated what seemed like a soy sauce based jelly, which dissolved on the tongue.

Red snapper, served with wasabi and soy sauce. I was lucky enough to be served by Chef Oshino Koichiro, who gently dictated to me how I should eat by removing or adding saucers of soy sauce and wasabi as I went through each course.

Clam, mantis prawn and sardine - two bites of each on a plate. The clam was meant to be eaten with nothing more than a sprinkling of salt, which was provided alongside - the sweet taste of the prawn was heightened by its contrast with the salt. The mantis prawn tail seemed to have been immersed in a sweet liquid, it was so juicy. This was eaten with just wasabi, perhaps to ensure that the prawn was not overwhelmed, since it was very delicate. The sardine was probably the most prominent flavor of the three - its skin seemed to have been lightly torched so that it crackled like thin paper. This was accompanied by wasabi mixed in soy sauce.

Uni and squid - this was probably my favorite part of the entire lunch. Eating the uni was a joy... creamy and sweet, it provided a very bright note when contrasted with the squid which had more solidity and texture.

Spanish mackerel - served with some type of root (burdock?). 

Mackerel - the two courses eaten in succession illustrated the spectrum by which a single family of fish could be served. Compared to the juicy grilled Spanish mackerel, the raw fish, serve with a chiffonade of some herb, sesame seeds and light soy sauce seemed almost meaty. The addition of the herbs seemed to eliminate the oily taste that some mackerel has.

Baby tuna - did I say meaty before? Now this was something robust... cutting the tuna into cubes meant that the texture was very different from the previous dish. Here you could feel the fibers of the fish part, providing a slight resistance as you chewed each luscious mouthful.

After this, the sushi started... each fish one glorious mouthful at a time. Chef Oshino pays such close attention that he realized I was left-handed, and placed each fish on the plate tilted so that it would be each for me to pick it up with easily with my chopsticks.

Seasonal yellowtail - appeared in such a unique color, contrasting with the hamachi one normally gets in restaurants.  Chef informed me that much of the yellowtail is farmed, while this was caught, which explained its different color.

Gold snapper - very different in color and texture to the snapper I received at the beginning of the meal. Within the first two pieces of sushi, I realized that one key differentiating factor was the rice under each piece of fish - holding the sushi in my hand, I could feel that the rice was still warm to the touch and you could feel each defined grain of rice as you pressed the sushi against the roof of your mouth. 

Tuna belly - chu toro. Oh so gorgeous! Looking at it up close, it seemed to almost have the marbling that would be present in a slice ofwagyu. The thin cuts along the surface of the fish ensures that there would be no fibres which would interfere with the feeling of the fish gently melting against the warmth of the tongue.

Horse mackerel - again, the oiliness of the mackerel was tempered, this time with the inclusion of shiso leaf beneath the fish.

Marinated Toro - tuna again, but this time a lean piece which was very distinct from the chu toro I had earlier. 

Uni - as if the uni earlier was not already enough, I received another mouthful of joy as the uni arrived cradled in its crisp seaweed boat. By this point, I was already so happy I was smiling as I chewed the uni, releasing the sweet, briny taste.

Ark shell - textural contrast to the soft uni just a few minutes prior. The flesh of the shellfish had a certain pleasant "crunch".

Shrimp - cut into bite-sized pieces so I didn't look like a glutton if I tried to eat the entire thing in one mouthful!

Sea eel - lightly grilled, you could taste the delicate flavor of the eel, which is too often masked by overly sweet teriyaki sauce.

Tamago and pickle - I never thought I would like this, acutally. Usually when I have tamago, it is an overly sweet egg omelet. This version was compact, and not too sweet. I was later informed that this actually contained a shrimp paste, which altered the texture somewhat and gave it a bit more savory oomph, which was complemented by the lightly pickled radish. 

All in all, I counted that I received at least 20 different dishes, including melon andyuzu sorbet for dessert. By the time I was done, I was the last customer in the restaurant, with Chef Oshino still standing by to make sure that I was satisfied. Honestly, I was a little self-conscious by the end, since my surroundings had changed from a packed lunch counter to a very intimate dining atmosphere but Chef was so enthusiastic about food in general that he put me at ease when we started talking about laksa and the other local foods that he had tried in Singapore.

I would definitely say that this is a destination meal, if you have the money to spare. Fish of this quality does not come cheap - Chef informed me that the fish served at Shinji is picked by the same people who select the fish at Kanesaka in Japan, from Tsukiji Market. It is then flownto Singapore so that the quality is maintained. 

In reflection, dining alone was not a bad option as I realized there are less distractions if one is not sidetracked by conversations, leaving you with more time to contemplate the simplicity  and completeness of the food. 

Address: #02-20, Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road
Tel: +65 6338 6131
E-mail: reservations@shinjibykanesaka.com