501 Orchard Road, Wheelock Place #03-15/16/17
Date of Review: 3oth September 2006
One of the main faults of our local food critics in the media is the failure to check on consistency of standards when reviewing restaurants especially those with big names. Most reviews are written almost immediately after one seating, which can make or break a restaurant. In US, it is more professional to visit the restaurant twice or more especially for those with a big name before a review is written. This helps to ensure that the kitchen team is consistently on its toes. I tend to apply that principle in my reviews too where possible. Hence it might have taken me too long to put something here for one of the most modern contemporary Japanese restaurants that I have visited, Sun with Moon Café at Wheelock Place.
Before this review was written, I had visited SM café four times with different groups of friends and during which I managed to sample a few signature dishes more than once. Reservations are always necessary each time I was there. This time round, it was a friend who book the table and I ask her to request the chef to reserve two portions of the Grilled Ginger Marinated Pork Cheeks as this is one of the hottest items of the menu that gets sold out pretty fast. Last four times I was here, I did not get to taste it. Given the size of our group, we had the capacity to try many more dishes this round. We chose some nibbles and cold appetizers to start with, followed by different types of kamameshi (Japanese version of “clay pot rice”) for everyone else except me. I opted for Cold Zaru Soba with Tempura instead. SM café prides itself with modern tastes and contemporary presentations on artistic chinaware. The restaurant has got an extensive beverage list of sakes, home mixed cocktails and selected beers. We were given a cosy private dinning area where I could also snap to our hearts content on the food ordered for this blog.
The cold nibbles were first to arrived. The Salmon and Advocado Roll with Ikura was a combination of chilled fresh salmon and creamy advocado wrapped within a thin delicate piece of Vietnamese spring roll wrapper. Served with salty trout roe and lemon, it was a smooth creamy sensation on the palate with an occasional salty burst of flavour from the fish roe. Another cold nibble we had was the Composition of Marinated Salmon and Tuna Belly wrapped in Soy Bean Skin with Ikura. Flavours were more intense here with taste of miso and ginger but less creamy. Visually it was more stunning than the Salmon and Advocado Roll but my wife N like this dish as much.
Arriving in tall glasses next was the Ebi and Potato Spring Rolls with Two Dips. This item is offered, as a Chef Specialty, which I personally felt, was very innovative. 2 pairs of spring rolls one fill with mash potato and the other with blended prawn meat were rolled up into long cigar shapes and deep-fried to a nice golden brown. Using the Japanese instinct in the art of Ikebana (floral arrangement), the crispy rolls were served in tall cocktail glasses where the little space pockets in between each roll was cleverly filled with colourful red and green coral lettuce. A few stalks of spring onions were also beautifully inserted to provide a contrasting background. The piping hot rolls were served with two dips, one that tasted like a tofu mayonnaise and the other a Thai sweet chili sauce. I would say this is dish does indeed has a fun character with a nice presentation. Another “fun” dish we had was the Yasai (vegetable) chips. It consisted of delicately sliced lotus roots, yam, zucchini, pumpkin, sweet potato and other kinds if vegetables lightly fried to a nice crisp.
The piece de resistance for the night was the Foie Gras Canape with Mirin Teriyaki Sauce. Three generous juicy pieces of pan seared goose liver on butterhead lettuce with toast and a sweet rice wine soya glaze brought out the best of one of the worlds finest gourmet ingredients. Needless to say, they were the first to be cleared off the table.
Follow on were the arrival of “Yin Yang” Crab Croquettes and Crispy Tonkatsu Sushi Roll with Spicy Sauce. The “Yin Yang” crab croquettes were two breaded potato croquettes each filled with a creamy crabmeat based filling and deep-fried to a golden brown, which upon breaking, oozes out to a nice contradiction with the crispy panko breaded crust. As implied by its name, we were served two sauces and a dollop of whole grain mustard to accompany this lovely item on the menu. The two sauces we had were sweet and sour spicy tonkatsu sauce and Japanese style tartar sauce.
The highlight of the menu was the Grilled Ginger Marinated Pork Cheeks. Char Grilled and slightly overcooked, it still tasted alright though I would have preferred it to be slightly less cooked. Nevertheless this was a good break in between the deep fried items that had been coming in.
More food were coming in and this time round were the two sushi rolls that we had ordered. The Soft Shell Crab Roll was topped with creamy avocado slices had a nice contrast texture between crispy and creamy, cold and hot. The Tonkatsu sushi roll was nothing to shout about, but what captivated me was not the panko crusted pork cutlet in between but the quality and standard of the sushi rice that wrapped around it. I am a strong believer of in the art of sushi making by hand and eating each morsel was enough to tell me that a good amount of attention has been paid to get it right. I believed if we had ordered their Alburi Sushi that night, it would sure to turn out perfect too!
Tempura Moriwase came next and all I could say was this was one of the finest tempura I have had eaten so far in a moderately priced Japanese restaurant. It could rival that of some other fine dinning Japanese restaurants in terms of presentation, taste and price. The batter was light and all items (prawn and vegetables) including a very artistic looking fan shaped noodle piece, which were well fried to a delicate crispiness. Together, my Tempura Soba arrived too and the deep-fried items were equally as good as the main platter. The noodles were nicely cooked with slight al dente texture and the condiments interestingly presented. A soya dressing made with quality soy sauce completed the wonderful sensations of piping hot tempura and cool soba noodles.
One by one the kamameshis started to arrive and the aromas of the well seasoned rice was embraced with eagerness to tuck in. Kamameshi are the Japanese way of cooking rice in a seasoned broth with chestnuts, broad beans, and various meat and seafood toppings, served with various condiments like pickled ginger and seaweed. We had variations of Unagi and Asari Clam, Beef Yakiniku, Chicken Teriyaki and Seafood. All the variants had their own merits and were equally tasty till the last grain polished off.
Desserts were simple and direct, which we ordered to share. The tofu cheese cake come in a bird cage with an nice touch of origami in the form of a folded flying crane. With a nice base crust, the cheese filling was perfectly done, neither too sweet nor heavy. A small garnish of blackcurrant compote gave it an elegant touch, as well as a nice contrast to the creamy tofu cheese filling. The Marcha Babaroa which is Chilled Green Tea Parfait with adzuki red beans was next and one could tell the dessert had real green tea powder to provide the bitter flavours in the background. The Chocolate Ice Cream Parfait I would say is just a non culinary skills oriented dessert put together to make children happy. No Japanese dinning experience would be completed without the taste of mochi or glutinous rice balls that sometimes coming with fillings. Sweet teriyaki sauce poured over the poached rice balls make this dessert an acquired taste for novices.
Overall we had an enjoyable experience and service was generally good and attentive as we ate.