Shinji by Kanesaka
#02-20 1 Beach Road
Tel. +65 6338 6131
Food type: Japanese – Sushi
Website: Shinji by Kanesaka
For our first proper meal in Singapore (because a cheeky burger doesn’t really count…) we were due to meet up with my parents and my sister for dinner at Shinji by Kanesaka (henceforth shortened to Shinji) at the iconic Raffles hotel. As my sister was going to get married in a couple of days time, she did not want to dine at a place where the food would leave her bloated and sluggish. Sushi seemed the best option and having heard great things of Shinji, I nudged her towards dining here.
My sister was having her wedding rehearsal earlier during the day while we were busy fighting off our jet lag at the hotel pool. The thing with wedding rehearsals is that it takes forever (not that I would know since I have never gotten married) and at 7:15pm she sent me a message to say that they had only just finished playing pretend weddings and they were running late. Our table was for 7:30pm and I was worried that our reservations would be cancelled or we would be greeted by a very angry sushi chef wielding an extremely sharp knife. Thankfully, after a quick phone call, they were fine with pushing our reservations back to 8:30pm allowing my sister and parents time to freshen up and get ready for dinner.
Shinji Kanesaka runs a huge restaurant empire for a Japanese sushi master. While his style is primarily Edo-mae sushi, he also incorporates some newer ideas in his cuisine. His flagship restaurant in Tokyo – Sushi Kanesaka holds One Michelin Star (previously two) and he has other outlet at the Palace Hotel (Tokyo), City of Dreams (Macau) as well as the two branches in Singapore – the original restaurant located at the Raffles hotel and another newer outlet at St. Regis hotel. Kanesaka-san personally selects all the fish which would be used in all his restaurants.
The address of the restaurant is a bit misleading. Rather than being situated inside the Raffles hotel, they are actually located at the shopping gallery of the hotel, near where the Long Bar is located. This is a good 5 minute walk in the tropical heat. If you are taking a taxi, you can ask the cabbie to drop you at the Long Bar rather than the hotel entrance. Hey, you might want to spoil your dinner munching on some monkey nuts and chugging down some Slings beforehand. It is actually pretty easy to find the restaurant it is pretty well signposted.
We were led to their smaller dining room which sits 8 people and was greeted by our chef who was busy grating wasabi using his shark skin grater. There is a larger room which sits 15 people. The sushi counter is made with traditional hinoki wood to recreate a truly authentic sushi-ya experience with full view of our chef working behind. No menus were presented to us as my sister had already pre-ordered what we were going to have. With a cold glass of beer in hand, we began our culinary journey.
First off we began with vegetables (carrots, daikon radish and seaweed) which had been thinly julienned and lightly pickled to get the gastric juices going. This was followed by ikura (salmon roe) which had been gently marinated with yuzu and finished off with some yuzu zest. If you are used to eating salmon roe in England which is salty and tastes like cod liver oil, then you will be pleasantly surprised. The salmon roe here had a clean, yet rich, saline taste juxtaposed by the refreshing notes from the yuzu.
Next came a sequence of sashimi. Showing his amazing knife skills, the chef first presented us with a duo of hirame (flounder) stuffed with its liver and fugu (puffer fish). Interestingly, the chef described the latter as ‘spiky fish’ and it took me more than a few seconds to connect the dots. My favourite uni (sea urchin) followed accompanied by Japanese sea salt. Two types of uni was served here – Bafun (short spiked) and Murasaki (long spiked) to contrast the different eating qualities of the urchin. The Bafun uni had a firmer texture but was also sweeter and richer compared to the Murasaki uni which had a velvety, custardy quality to it. Last in the sashimi sequence was some chu-toro (medium fatty tuna) served with freshly grated wasabi.
A plate beautiful plate of seasonal appetisers was presented to us. We were advised to begin with a classic Osaka-style mackerel sushi and moving on next to the ‘just in season’ grilled shirako (cod’s milt), steamed awabi (abalone) and finishing with the lightly torched kinmedai (splendid Alfonsino/ Golden eye snapper). I think it is worth talking about the shirako which is essentially the sperm-sac of the fish (in this case cod). Without prior knowledge, and eating it with an open mind, it is very tasty and it is like eating a deep-fried mozzarella ball. Of course the thought of eating semen may put many people off.
Following this came some smoked bonito topped with ponzu jelly and finished off with ginger flowers. The rich, oily fish was enhanced by the light smoking with the acidic-umami laden ponzu jelly providing the balancing act.
Instead of the obligatory bowl of steamed egg custard, we were instead presented with yuba with kegani (bean curd skin with horse hair crab). This was a crowd pleaser with the silky smooth yuba acting as a canvas for the sweetness of the crab.
Our favourite dish of the night was the grilled tuna cheek which was an absolute revelation to us. I have eaten my fair share of fish cheeks before, but this was the first time trying tuna cheeks. They must have chosen an excellent, fatty specimen with the cooking process releasing the natural oils of the fish so that it simply melts in your mouth. My sister enjoyed it so much she requested a bowl of plain rice so savour each and every morsel.
At this point, our waitress brought us little tented hand towels signifying the beginning of our sushi sequence. For the shari used here, the chef has opted for serve the rice slightly firmer and conservative use of vinegar to season the rice. Instead the chef chooses to be slightly bolder with the amount of wasabi used to season the neta. More wasabi and soy was available on the side if you felt your sushi needed more seasoning but on a whole, I felt that the seasoning of the fish was very bold. We were served sawara (Spanish mackerel), buri (yellowtail), chu-toro (medium fatty tuna), sumi ika (squid), o-toro (fatty tuna), aji (horse mackerel) and kuruma ebi (Japanese imperial prawn).
Eschewing the usual rolls, chef instead opted to serve us his version of gomokuzushi (Kansai-style rice bowl) dubbed the “cholesterol bowl”. In a bowl filled with sushi rice, he adds a generous helping of the two types of uni served earlier (read: half a tray each) which is then mixed together to create what I would best describe as uni “risotto”. This is then topped with chopped toro and ikura and finished off with a little soy and grated wasabi. The result? Sinful bliss.
The arrival of tamago (egg custard) signifies the end of the meal. For me, the tamago helps tell me a little bit about the chef and his sushi style. Some chefs like to serve a more savoury version of tamago (as a bridge between savoury and sweet), some prefer to incorporate rice with it. Here, the chef has adopted to view tamago purely as a dessert with a custardy texture and less pronounced savoury note. A final serving of clam soup for me was thus a bit out of place following the sweet tamago.
The meal concluded with a simple plate of Japanese fruits. However these were no mere ordinary fruits with a slice of perfectly ripe musk melon and a couple of Kyoho grapes probably costing more than your steak dinner.
Our meal at Shinji was very enjoyable with the chef serving us friendly and interactive despite his limited English. There were several memorable highlights, in particular the grilled tuna cheek, the “cholesterol rice bowl” and of course the controversial shirako. I liked the consistency of the rice used for the shari, though for me, the chef could have been slightly more liberal with the amount of vinegar used to season the rice. In addition, my sister also found that the seasoning of the fish with wasabi was too bold for her liking although this was not a problem that I found. I was fortunate not to have to look after the bill on this occasion though I am sure it would have been fairly chunky given the amount of care taken to source the top quality ingredients. I am just thankful I don’t live in Singapore, otherwise I would be a regular here and my wallet will not thank me for that.