Saturday, 21 March 2015

Review of Chikuyotei, The Intercontinental Singapore - Great Modern Japanese Food

I have been on a bit of a Japanese restaurant streak recently, and I assure you that this has not been inspired by this excellent blogger.  Rather, I was looking for a Japanese restaurant at which I could host an Alsace wine tasting (to me, the delicate, clean flavours of Japanese cuisine find natural companions with the crisp minerality of dry Alsace Rieslings, amongst others).  My old partner-in-crime S recommended Chikuyotei at the Intercontinental, at which he had been a regular for quite a few years.

The very discreet entrance from the Intercontinental Lobby
Chikuyotei's aesthetic is more traditional.  Unlike the dark marble and understated lighting at Mikuni, Chikuyotei is all classic bright wooden counters and natural rock facades, bright yellow lighting and clean, straight lines.  Which suits me fine actually; a lot of the beauty of Japanese restaurant food is in its presentation, and bright lighting, unflattering as it may be for some of us, helps us get a better look at our food before scoffing it!

Chef at the Sashimi Counter
Like at most Japanese restaurants, the a la carte selection is intimidatingly long, so S and I go for the omakase lunch set ($68++).

House-Made Tofu with Sea Urchin


I think something was lost in translation, but I understand that the tofu mix was imported from Chikuyotei in Japan and the tofu is reconstituted here, or something like that.  The tofu  has a pleasantly rustic, very lightly grainy texture, and provides a beautiful plain canvas against which the marine savouriness of the uni, magnified by the presence of the bonito jelly, can be appreciated.  Excellent start.

Shellfish, Long Cabbage and Ikura


A pleasantly petite portion. The long cabbage is lightly pickled, which provided a nice contrast against the sweetness of the shellfish.  The ikura has a fresher pop than many of the tired samples you come across in middle-of-the-road Japanese restaurants in Singapore (of which Chikuyotei is assuredly not one).

Sesame Tofu and Abalone


The sesame tofu has an interesting texture from the use of kudzu starch, while the light dashi stock adds warmth and the merest hint of saltiness.  The abalone is hardly noticeable and I could just as well have done without it.

Fugu Shirako and Black Perigord Truffle


I'm half-Cantonese and 100% Chinese, so few foods make me squirm.  Fish semen may be one of those things, perhaps because, despite the old adages about Cantonese eating four legs, etc., there is no cultural context in Chinese gastronomy for the consumption of piscine baby batter.  However, this only lightly fishy fugu shirako (literally "white child(ren)" in Japanese) is wonderful, the intense creaminess and heat from poaching setting off the aroma of the black truffles amidst a light blitzing of black truffle salt.  February-March really is an excellent time for European truffles as the specimens tend to be riper; the December truffles that every restaurant in town is so eager to be the first to showcase invariably disappoints, showing once again that so much of Singapore's Western food scene is driven by image and kiasuism rather than any instinct for pleasure.

I could, of course, crack some ribald joke about the fugu at Mikuni finally getting his long-delayed vengeance, but I will desist as some readers may find my sense of humour rather difficult to swallow.

Sashimi Moriawase


Mackerel, flounder, striped jack and spanish mackerel.  Apart from the very clean-tasting flounder, I find this merely pleasant.  To be fair to Chikuyotei, we can't realistically expect a restaurant to serve the very best and freshest sashimi in a very moderately-priced lunchtime omakase,  In particular, the striped jack (shima-aji) does not hold a candle to the excellent specimen I enjoyed at Mikuni.

Grilled Spanish Mackerel, Radish and Ikura


Adeptly cooked protein, with the oily smokiness of the grilled mackerel shining through.  The minced radish (pepped up with ikura) adds a wonderful fraîcheur to the entire dish , while the poached crosnes add even more crunch.  The soy-pickled seaweed on the side is too sweet for my palate, but one can choose simply not to eat it.  A masterpiece, and a welcome recovery after a rather mediocre sashimi experience.

Unagi-Don


A rather small portion of Chikuyotei's house specialty, which I don't mind because I am filling up rapidly at this point.  The marinade is not as sweet and intensely caramelised as I expect, which allows the flavour of the eel and the grill to shine through.  S told me beforehand that this would be a good pairing with our quite dry and intense 2007 Leon Beyer Gewurztraminer Comtes d'Eguisheim.  On paper, I would have disagreed, but after sampling this, I have to agree with him.  The rice is also perfectly cooked and has a wonderful bite.  Excellent.

Yuzu Sherbet and Japanese Fruits


After a few courses featuring rather intense-tasting fish, this is as perfect a dessert as you could ask for.  The piquant yuzu is the ideal palate cleanser, while the melon and strawberry add colour and sweetness.  I vaguely recall the Japanese orange jelly as being quite sweet and acidic, but in good balance.  Apart from being a delicious dessert in its own right, I have to award it bonus points for being an intelligent last step in the menu's progression.

Conclusion

We did end up doing our Alsace wine-pairing dinner at Chikuyotei.  Speaking to one of our Japanese guests, I was surprised to learn that Chikuyotei in Japan is actually (by reputation if not anymore in fact) a very specialised unagi restaurant, and not a well-rounded modern Japanese restaurant as represented by its Singapore branch.

Despite having received some coverage in the blogosphere, Chikuyotei still seems to be a bit of a hidden secret.  I was told by the chef that some 70% of diners are Japanese, and S actually pleaded with me not to write this review as he didn't want any more difficulty in getting a booking here.  I tend to follow S' counsel, but Chikuyotei is too good a place to keep secret.  And I thought $68++ was superb value for an omakase of this quality and quantity.

CHIKUYOTEI SINGAPORE
80 Middle Road
Lobby Level, The Intercontinental Singapore
Singapore 188966
Tel: 9725 5311
Bookings recommended

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