Friday, June 08, 2007

Paddle Back To Nature

80 Mohamed Sultan Road,
The Pier #01-04
Tel: 6733-2711

During the time I was running the kitchens on MY Lady Moura, I was once thrown a challenge by a guest on board requesting for a week’s menu based on a particular diet plan. On a personal note, all chefs hate to cook with a menu that comes with diet restrictions. It’s like telling Picasso no brushes. Still, as a responsibility, I took it up and learnt a few things from there and one of the most important elements I picked up from the exercise was to appreciate the taste of nature. Most of the recipes in that menu work with no more than five or six ingredients including seasonings. Now, we may call that simplicity but it was stressful responsibility for me to find the right freshness of ingredients in order to achieve the taste standards demanded. Whew!
If u are looking for bold flavours and high impact dimensions, this restaurant is not the place for you. One needs to have a trained palate on subtle flavours and appreciating the natural taste of foods without the heavy masking of sauce and seasonings to understand the concept of this restaurant. It's a Japanese Grill and Bar with food served tapas style. It embraces the “Eat for Fun” element in dining hence the food comes in bite size portions or on skewers. There is visual enhancement and entertainment to the whole experience and diners are encouraged to seat around the grill counter where chefs antics over the grill and displays of fresh ingredients on traditional baskets are put out for customers to choose and enjoy. From smoked eels, fresh clams, vegetables and different types of mushrooms as well as snacks like cured shishamo, tatami iwashi and tofu. The food is cooked right before your eyes with minimum seasonings and once prepared, is served straight to you via a wooden paddle called shamoji.
Because the emphasis is on simplicity and natural tastes, freshness of ingredients is very important and these can be verified by the displays around the counter. Whole cobs of corns, unprocessed at all, squid glistening with fresh slime, flowring mushrooms, glazed smoked eels, freshly made tofu, sweet potatoes, yams and kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), the chefs pick and grill according to the customers requests. There are also special grades of meats like Kurobuta Pork and Wagyu Beef on the menus and some interesting items that reflect the cuisine of Hokkaido, Japan.
We started off with a Crabmeat Salad and a Chilled Mushroom Salad. The crabmeat used was from the Hokkaido hairy crab that has a firmer and sweeter texture. Unfortunately the ponzu dressing was too much for the delicate salad making the greens taste too sour and salty. The mushroom salad was better with a combination of Honshimeji and Shitake Mushrooms and blanched spinach in a light soy dressing. Though the mushrooms were raw, it made them taste earthier and they also took on to the soy flavours with affinity.
If u like Bak Kwa (Chinese BBQ Dried Pork), u will also take to the next dish that N ordered. While the name may send shivers to some people at the thought of eating it, u have to try to know about it. It is the Fugu Mirin Boshi which is dried strips of puffer fish marinated in sweet Japanese rice wine and grilled. The result is u get cut up strips of soft sweet caramelized chewy puffer fish that reminded me of bak kwa. Dip into mayonnaise , this stuff goes really well with sake or beers or just simply green tea.
Kurobuta Pork Rolls was the next item to be served. The meat is from the Berkshire or Black Pig, widely considered to be the best due to its marbling. It’s like the wagyu grade of pork and the thinly sliced belly was wrapped around enoki mushrooms and carrots batons before being grilled with a light touch of salt and pepper. The grilling makes the fat drip into the mushrooms and carrots and biting on, u get flavourful mushroom juices interspersed with fatty drippings aromas and sweetness of carrots. This makes the pork rolls very deliciously addictive and difficult to stop once u start nibbling on it.
While soy glazed smoked eels are rather commonly available in Singapore, fresh eels are more rarely seen around. Hence we chose the Grilled Fresh River Eel or Anago Ichiya. This is one sturdy piece of fish that holds well together on the grill. The pearly white flesh was slightly charred, giving a hint of smokiness but still moist and all u need is just a small squeeze of lemon and it came through beautifully natural on our palate, credit to its super freshness and the chef’s skill in handling such delicate product.
Another interesting dish we discovered here was the grilled tofu. While there are many tofu dishes on the menus in restaurants here, having it grilled is one unconventional way of appreciating it. As tofu is bland by nature, it readily picks up any form of flavoured introduced to it. The tofu is first deep fried to set it in shape, before cutting it up into serving sizes. Two kinds of miso is smeared onto the tofu before it is baked or grilled under a salamander. The darker paste is the sweet version of miso and tastes somewhat like a cross between hoisin sauce and taucheo. The lighter paste which is more pungent and salty is the also the miso paste commonly used in soups and marinades. With the bland tofu as a platform, it readily picked up the two miso dimensions with ease. The smooth soft tofu allowed the two miso pastes to stand out on their own without any complexity.
This is one thing N always can't resist if they are around. Shishamo or these herring like fishes are full of roe and they are often grilled or deep fried to be eaten as drink snacks. N loves these nibbles very much while I am no fan of it because of it's fishy taste. Anyway I let her polished off the three pieces and judging from her happy face, should be darn good in her standards.

For staple, there are a selection of rice and noodles dishes. N went for the Oningri Ikura with miso soup but I preferred the choice of grilling off some sweet potatoes and kabocha instead. The oningri ikura is a triangular shaped sushi rice ball stuffed with salmon roe and wrapped with toasted seaweed. I liked the miso soup very much and found it much more heartier than those of many other Japanese places. Not just the broth, it was also full of ingredients like tofu, radishes, carrots, cabbage and pork belly. Japanese pumpkins are sweeter and nuttier than our local pumpkins and grilling them allows the flesh to soften and its sweetness to leech out. The fluffy sweet potato slices were equally good just on their own but I would have preferred a little butter on them if it was possible.

Desserts were simple and straight forward with us sharing a scoop of black sesame ice cream and a piece of umeboshi jelly. Here I found the best tasting black sesame ice cream with it's smoothness like Cantonese chee ma woo, black sesame paste. It was nutty, fragrant and very smooth on the palate. The pickled plum jelly was a novelty with an entire plum set in konnyaku jelly sitting on a bed of crushed ice.

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