5 omakase restaurants in Singapore

5 omakase restaurants in Singapore

Leaving your meal in the chef's hands can be a gamble or an unexpected reward: Give it a go at these five omakase restaurants
Fresh from the market, Shinji by Kanesaka's horse mackerel sashimi.

When you say omakase, or “it’s up to you”, in a Japanese restaurant, you are, in essence, entrusting the entire dinner experience to the chef.

The chef then deftly crafts a series of courses -- usually comprising sushi, sashimi, grilled and/or simmered dishes -- using the freshest Japanese ingredients he has in store.

But while Japanese-sourced ingredients were prized in the past, many Singaporeans have shied from these in the wake of recent events.

With strict checks in place on imports from the disaster-hit Tohoku region, Japanese restaurants were left scrambling to source ingredients from alternative venues, both in and outside Japan.

Some restaurants, like Tatsuya, are trekking further afield to Chiba, Fukuoka and Hokkaido for their seafood supplies. Others, like Waku Ghin, have pulled all the stops on Japanese imports.

Now, with confidence in Japanese restaurants restored, we sniff out the best venues to experience chef-driven omakase.

Waku Ghin A meal at Waku Ghin will burn a hole in your pocket but it'll be worth it.

Waku Ghin

Why come: This is the closest you can get to the perpetually wait-listed Tetsuya’s in Sydney; only that Waku Ghin offers a more intimate, more exclusive experience. Rooted in Tetsuya Wakuda’s brand of French-accented Japanese cuisine, the restaurant sits 25 diners per session (at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) but there are 13 staff running the floor -- this means that one staff member looks after two guests at any one time.

What to expect: Dine among high society types, C-level executives and celebrities in one of four teppanyaki grill rooms where the chef will wow you with a eight- to 10-course degustation which may include marinated botan shrimp with lobes of sea urchin crowned on a mound of caviar; gorgeously seared wagyu alongside freshly grated wasabi and crisp garlic chips; and braised Canadian lobster beaming in a tarragon-flecked shellfish stock.

Source of ingredients: None of Waku Ghin’s ingredients are sourced from Japan currently.

Price: S$400.

2/F-03, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Ave.; +65 6688 8501, www.wakughin.com

Tatsuya Ready, set, sushi at Tatsuya.

Tatsuya

Why come: Ronnie Chia, the 46-year-old chef-proprietor of Tatsuya, has been plying the Japanese culinary trade for 32 years and is one of a handful of local chefs to have a huge fan base among Japanese food aficionados. Today, Chia has four Japanese chefs working under him. and his antique pine counter seats -- which sits just 23 guests -- fill up more quickly than you can say "sushi."

What to expect: “For omakase, we serve nothing but the best,” says Chia. Indeed, Tatsuya’s eight-course meal is highly imaginative with creations such as a fried lotus root ball stuffed with chicken in a yuzu-scented broth packed with enoki mushrooms, sliced leek and shitake; sashimi of hotate (scallop), salmon and tobiko-studded sweet ebi; and a mini-degustation of Chia’s jazzed-up sosaku (creative) sushi casting, amongst others, a kampachi sushi crowned with pearls of caviar and a deliciously flambéed hotate sushi stacked against a morsel of foie gras.

Sources of ingredients: Mainly Japan, outside the Kanto region.

Price: S$190.

22 Scotts Road, Goodwood Park Hotel; +65 6887 4598

Shinji by KanesakaNibble on fresh abalone sashimi at Shinji by Kanesaka.

Shinji by Kanesaka

Why come: This venue serves near-perfect purist-style omakase using only pristine fish and seafood (no beef, chicken or pork please) prepared by five clean-shaven Japanese chefs. The kitchen is led by master chef, Koichiro Oshino, a Tokyo export from two Michelin-starred Shinji Kanesaka, where Oshino honed his culinary craft over the past 20 years. Two Japanese okami hostesses hover in the background to provide unobtrusive service.

What to expect: A dinner experience at Shinji by Kanesaka briefly teleports you to Tokyo where you dine on a hinoki wood counter in the presence of native Japanese chefs who prepare your multi-course dinner.

The omakase may surprise you with an amuse-bouche of junsai (gelatin-covered shoots of water shield) basking in wasabi-spiked dashi; sudachi (Japanese lime)-laced deep-fried baby ayu fish; and a star cast of 10 Edo-style sushi including the aji (horse mackeral) sushi crowned with a dollop of minced spring onion and ginger and a soya-marinated tuna zuke sushi.

Source of ingredients: Japan only, outside Kanto region.

Price: S$300.

#02-20 Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road; +65 6338 6131,www.shinjibykanesaka.com

Kuriya PenthouseDinner fit for an emperor at Kuriya Penthouse.

Kuriya Penthouse

Why come: Kuriya Penthouse probably offers the best omakase-with-a-view in Singapore. And because they recently slashed the price of omakase dinners to just S$150++, the cost of feasting on chef Yoshihiko Koezuka’s omakase has become very affordable. Did we mention that he once served dinner to Emperor Hirohito?

What to expect: An eight-course dinner that may feature a sublime smoked octopus drizzled with Shodoshima island olive oil with sashimi and sushi; Hida beef from the mountains of Gifu prefecture sandwiched between a morsel of sauteed foie gras; and simmered lobster with Kyoto white miso.

Source of ingredients: Predominantly Japanese with a sprinkle of ingredients sourced from alternative venues such as ocean trout from Australia and baby abalone from Korea.

Price: S$150.

8/F Orchard Central, 181 Orchard Road; +65 6509 4222, www.kuriyapenthouse.com.sg

Meii Sushi Have an affordable omakase meal at Meii Sushi.

Meii Sushi

Why come: This 16-seater hole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurant run by chef proprietor, Ah Hong, and his wife offers the best value-for-money omakase (S$100) in town. We also hear that K.F. Seetoh of Makansutra is a fan of Ah Hong’s omakase.

What to expect: No frills eight-course omakase that may run the gamut of wasabi-spiked marinated octopus sashimi, de-shelled oysters in a soy-laced vinaigrette, sumptuous grilled yellow tail fish cheek, smelt fish tempura as well as sashimi, sushi. However, there was no rice dish nor desserts to end the meal.

Source of ingredients: Ah Hong is not telling.

Price: S$100.

#01-108, Block 7 Tanjong Pagar Plaza, Craig Road; +65 6220 3466

Evelyn Chen traded her frequent flyer miles from her jet-setting corporate days for a critic's pen, and has been eating and drinking on the job ever since. She is a former Time Out food critic and current editor of Zagat Guide; her food and travel features have published in Destin Asian, Travel + Leisure SEA and Conde Nast Traveller. For a collection of her gourmet jaunts, visit www.bibikgourmand.com.

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