Q-WA Izakaya: where delicious yakitori is made!

Some of my most indelible food memories from Japan include my visits to a yakitori joint. Whether in a more posh establishment where the meat is cooked and seasoned to perfection, or more dingy places with good value skewers, most izakaya feel like places where real food is made: the smoke wafting from the grills and the cigarettes, shoulders bumping with friends and noisy strangers in a cramped space as you down mugs of chilled Japanese beer. I had been craving to relive the authentic izakaya experience since my trip to Japan a few months ago, so I was delighted to be invited to the new second branch of Q-WA Izakaya along Beach Road to try their yakitori.

Unlike the cramped bars in Japan, Q-WA Izakaya was spacious in comparison, with a small bar for solo diners but plenty of square tables for groups. They have a good selection of Japanese alcoholic beverages, such as Asahi draft beer, and sake that was smooth and light.

A good pairing with the beer to snack on would be the crispy baby crabs, called sawagani. They were not just crunchy, but surprisingly had a bit of soft flesh inside that provided a nice salty crab flavour.

The main attractions, of course, would be the wide variety of classic yakitori such as negima (chicken and leek), tsukune (meatballs), and tebasaki (chicken wings). The negima, a yakitori staple, had a wondrously creamy leek between the chunks of chicken. The tebasaki was well-salted with crispy skin and soft meat that falls off the bone. And the tsukune, in its homemade goodness, was sweet and dark with teriyaki sauce and even had a bit of chunky cartilage inside.

There are also tasty pork options, such as the butabara shio and butabara miso. These two skewers are pork cuts either seasoned with special salt or miso marinade. Any dish labelled shio lives or dies by the quality of the salt used, and the butabara shio lives. The butabara miso, in addition to the umami-rich marinade, has a nice layer of fat and a slice of onion between the pieces to add some sharpness.

There’s also the opportunity to get all kinds of grilled food wrapped in either bacon or beef strips. One of my favourites was the uzura maki, or quail egg wrapped in bacon. The yolk was just nice — just solid, but still soft, bursting against the salty, fatty bacon. The other winner in my book is the enoki gyu — crunchy browned enoki mushroom wrapped in beef. There are also vegetable skewers available, with or without the pork and beef wrapping, such as the tomato gushi, which is cherry tomato wrapped in bacon with some Japanese mayonnaise on top.

Each stick will set you back by at least $2.80, the price creeping up based on how premium your skewers of choice are. But whether I got the skewers made with humble ingredients or more special parts, they were all delightful to the senses in their own ways.

The host was also eager to showcase a couple of her non-yakitori offerings. She was especially proud of her shimesaba: seared mackerel marinated with vinegar. it was remarkable how soft it was even though it was cooked mackerel, not sashimi. It hadn’t begun flaking like the well-done mackerel on a hotplate you often get at food court Japanese or Korean stalls. The slices of saba here dislodge from the cut in one whole, juicy piece.

She also let us try her pork katsu cutlet, served with a salty and sweet dipping sauce. I have to admit, after trying the best katsu cutlets in Japan while, I had to try to forget that experience in order to appreciate that this was definitely a decent and well-made pork cutlet: crispy tempura-battered skin with flesh that was cooked just right; still moist and lightly pink.

There was one crucial thing missing from this izakaya experience that I missed from my times in Japan: this second outlet at Bugis was quite empty when I visited it. This is of course, because it has just been newly established. But after trying the fantastic food and alcohol that this place has to offer, I look forward to seeing Q-WA Izakaya become like the best izakaya places in Japan: crowded with salarymen at the end of the long day.

Thank you Q-WA Izakaya at Bugis for the invitation.

Q-Wa Izakaya 

103 Beach Road
#01-02

Reservations: 8336 7728

Opening Hours: 1130am – 230pm; 5pm – 11pm

Admire the Avant Garde: Neo-Japanese Cuisine at Ami Ami!

In the basement of Great World City, Ami Ami, a restaurant serving avant garde Japanese cuisine, can be found among a cluster of other Japanese food establishments. Ami Ami dares to reconstruct traditional Japanese dishes, without detracting too much from their best flavours. From their menu, we were offered four new dishes that Ami Ami hoped would excite our taste buds.

The Mixed Sashimi Carpaccio ($16.80++) was served on a plate with a deep central recess and wide fringe so that the carpaccio could nestle in the centre while crisp bread, sliced tomato, and dollops of truffle oil and wasabi could be laid along the edges. Together, they presented an immaculately arranged plate, which would turn out to be de rigueur for the rest of the dishes we would eat today. We were instructed to bring the tomatoes and other vegetable leaves to the centre of the plate for mixing with the carpaccio, which consisted of a multi-colour medley: diced sashimi of pink salmon, red tuna, and white yellowtail, orange uni, white yams, tiny green spheres of prawn roe, and green cubes avocado.

Mixed Sashimi Carpaccio ($16.80++)

We topped the toasted, lightly buttered bread with the salad. The flavour of the sea burst forth from the roe, uni, and sashimi, as the avocado provided soft textures and the bread, the hard, noisy crunch. While the carpaccio did benefit from a bit of detected sesame oil in the seasoning, the strong flavour of truffle oil was a bit disruptive to the harmonies of the other elements, and I could have done without it. Nonetheless, this is a great cold starter.

Unlike other maki sushi rolls which traditionally use seaweed, for the Fruit & Ebi Tempura Vegetable Sheet Roll ($9.80++), Ami Ami have opted for a razor-thin sheet of carrot to hold the ingredients together. Inside the sushi’s core is a tubular chunk of prawn, surrounded by sticky Japanese rice. The rolls are topped with diced strawberry, kiwi, and the distinct green prawn roe once again. Two sauces — mango sauce and a sweet and salty dark sauce — are drizzled, not too liberally, in artful zigzag patterns.

Fruit & Ebi Tempura Vegetable Sheet Roll ($9.80++, 4pcs)

The carrot skin does not distract — if anything, it is plainer than seaweed. While this loses the potential light umami of seaweed, it instead gracefully allows the softer flavours of fruit and prawn to come through. Together with the mango sauce, which my photographer deemed refreshing, the flavours of the dish reminded me of the yummy mango prawn salad you get at Chinese restaurants.

In the Zuwaigani Shell Sushi ($9.80++), shredded snow crab meat was topped with green prawn roe in a crab head. Underneath the meat lay sliced tomatoes, diced mangoes, cucumbers, and tamago egg cubes. While artfully created, this was a frustrating dish to eat. Not because of the flavours, which were expectedly good after the first two dishes, but the difficulty of eating it with chopsticks. Because of the atomised nature of the various elements in the crab head, picking up more than tiny pinches of rice and crab meat shreds with our chopsticks was impossible. It’s not an easy dish to share; it’s best consumed by one, who can pick up the entire head, and shovel the food into his mouth like the crab head is a rice bowl.

Zuwaigani Shell Sushi ($9.80++)

The next dish was a Sushi Pizza ($17.80++) that defied both traditions of Japanese and Neapolitan cuisine. Squares of paper-thin spring roll skin were layered with rice, seaweed, salmon & yellowtail sashimi, avocado, mango, and roe. It is finally covered with a blend of gouda and mozzarella cheese. The entire assembly is that oven-baked until the insides are cooked, the base is crisp, and the cheese has melted and browned a bit. Along the side are two sauces – a Japanese tonkatsu-based sauce and a spicy sauce that you can dip your pizza in.

Sushi Pizza ($17.80++)

It turned out to be delicious, and didn’t fall apart when picked up with chopsticks. The cheese could have been slightly less cooked if they wanted it to remain stringy, but overall it was a dish that satisfied me, even if it might offend some Italian and Japanese gastronomes.

Like the Fruit & Ebi Tempura Vegetable Sheet Roll, the Ebi Tempura Cheese Pie Roll ($15.80++) also has a core of prawn and rice. However, the wrap of choice is instead a crisp pie crust with cheddar cheese. It is served along the edges of the plate with a teriyaki and cream dipping sauce in the centre. Adding the cream to teriyaki sauce made it lighter and smoother. Eating the whole thing felt like a more Japanese version of char siew so. While this dish dispenses with delicateness, its bold salty and umami flavours make this a robust dish.

Ebi Tempura Cheese Pie Roll ($15.80++, 8pcs)

Ami Ami dances on the edge of propriety, but manage to hold onto the fundamental tastes of Japanese food. For anyone who wants something deviating from the usual Japanese fare, Ami Ami definitely have a few intriguing dishes to offer.

Thank you Ami Ami for the invitation.

Ami Ami
#B1-03/04

Great World City
(within Shokutsu Ten Japanese Food Street)
Singapore 237994

Contact: 6835 9071

Opens from:

11.30am to 3pm (last order 2.30pm)
5.30pm to 10pm (last order 9.30pm)

Website

En Sushi: Satisfying Your Japanese Cravings Affordably

With the Japanese food craze that hit Singapore showing no signs of abating, I think we can safely conclude that this penchant is here to stay. Indeed, when my Japanese friends from university visit you and are amazed by the sheer amount of Japanese food available in Singapore, you know something is up.

The problem though, is that when you get so used to Japanese cuisine, you develop cravings. Yes, days when you think to yourself: “I need some raw fish. And mentaiko. And sushi.” But with Japanese food being anything but cheap, what do you do when you get these cravings regularly?

You go to En Sushi.

Conveniently located in town next to Rendezvous Hotel, this little place is within strolling distance of not one, not two, but three MRT stations: Dhoby Ghaut (on the North South Line), Bras Basah (on the Circle Line), and Bencoolen (on the Downtown Line). How’s that for immediate gratification wherever you are in Singapore?

But we don’t go to Japanese places for their accessibility. We go there to eat, and that’s the meat of this review (excuse the bad pun!) En Sushi delivers tasty Japanese food at very very reasonable prices. It’s not like eating in Japan, but given how wallet-friendly this is, I might find reason to reduce the frequency of my trips up north!

If onsen tamago is good and onsen tamago with ikura is better, then what kind of heaven is onsen tamago with ikura and uni?

Beginning with appetisers, the Uni Ikura Onsen Tamago was quite a joy. Onsen tamago is good, onsen tamago with ikura is better, onsen tamago with ikura and uni is heaven. The ingredients were fresh, and the flavours mixed well with just a hint of soy sauce to help add that umami kick. I’d eat this quickly though: onsen tamago is temperature-sensitive, so as it warms up to room temperature (it’s served cold), it does lose a bit of its glory.

Thinly-sliced, but thick on flavour. Mentaiko is always a joy and goes well with the hotate’s (scallop) texture.

Another noteworthy starter is the Hotate Mentai Aburi. Thinly-sliced scallop carpaccio lightly blow-torched and then dressed with the spicy mentaiko sauce, this is one good mix of flavour and texture. I only intended to have one slice and leave the rest to my dining companions, but this dish is surprisingly more-ish and you’ll find yourself picking up slice after slice whilst engaged in conversation.

Century egg and tofu: a classic dish, but reinvented in a glorious way.

Rounding up our trio of starters, I thought the Pitan Tofu was quite something to try. Served chawanmushi-style in a small bowl, the distinctive century egg flavour was well-balanced by the tofu without being overpowering, make it a good start to the meal. Easy to finish by yourself too, remember to leave some for your friends!

On to the mains, then.


Sashimi: Decent, but at this price point, sashimi is sashimi is sashimi.

Since one major draw of Japanese food is sashimi, I’ll talk about the various dishes all at once. En Sushi serves reasonably decent sashimi platters, but I thought that would be something easily gotten elsewhere. If you are in the mood for it, get it, but I thought I’d save my stomach for other things that are even better here…

…what’s that you say? Bara chirashi dons?!


Oh, that colour. It makes my heart beat really fast. And my stomach growls.

In my undergraduate days in Japan, I loved bara chirashi dons. I mean, what’s not to like about them? Fish and rice, a simple dish but ah, such soul food. And I have many good memories of running to my neighbourhood 500 yen (525, then 540 yen to be precise, they always didn’t factor sales tax in their advertising copy) chirashi don place. Now, this isn’t quite 540 yen, but at $10.90++, it’s pretty damn close. This is where I put down all pretence of being a food snob (oh the fish must be divine and the colour must be just right) and begin calculating how many bowls of bara chirashi don I can afford to eat each week. I’ve found my new go-to for dreary days when I need a pick-me-up that doesn’t break the bank.


You want an upgrade? Here you go.

Some days you want more fish, and you want bigger slices of fish. Right then, En Sushi’s got a premium chirashi don too. That should satisfy you.

I have to squeeze in a mention here though, for a dish that also counts as soul food for me. Chicken katsu curry pasta. You’ve probably eaten each of the components separately, but trust me when I say that eating them all together is like having a warm snuggly blanket around you on a cold rainy day. This is going to be comfort food for me, and I totally didn’t see it coming.


Aburi salmon with either unagi, soft shell crab or fried ebi. Ooh.

Finally, we’ll talk about rolls. No, not your stop, drop and roll fire prevention ones. I meant the maki rolls. I enjoyed the aburi salmon maki rolls: they came in three varieties, with unagi, fried ebi, and soft shell crab in their interiors. If you can only order one, get the soft shell crab, or the fried ebi! I enjoyed the difference in textures: the soft shell crab provided a wonderful crunch while the aburi salmon provided a lovely dollop of flavour. Unagi was good too, but I thought the lack of contrast meant that the unagi didn’t get to shine as much as it could. If you’re an unagi fan though, go with your heart (and tastebuds).

With all that, I was rather satisfied. I will admit that nothing about En Sushi’s food, location, or ambience is spectacularly stand out: I’ve had better elsewhere. But what these guys manage to do, is to combine all of that into a great package, with an unbeatable price. That in itself is what determines whether I come back or not, since for the same amount of money, I get a huge assortment of dishes to choose from that are all guaranteed to keep me happy. I will give them the highest compliment that a reviewer can pay them: I will come back to dine on my own dime. And the best part? I know I can go anytime I feel like it, because it really is that wallet-friendly.

Thank you En Sushi for the invitation.
This post was written by Lan Yingjie

En Sushi
#01-02

Income@Prinsep
30 Prinsep Street
Singapore 188647

Reservations: 6253 1426

Five Nines (999.99) reopens at Cuppage Plaza – delicious tapas; average $49 set menu!

I have always associated Cuppage Plaza as the haven for hidden, authentic Japanese izakayas that provide a certain escape from the bustling, general dining scene along Orchard Road. It is one of the places I would recommend if friends are keen to go out for a drink after work and have some Japanese otsumami as part of the unwind experience. Of course, some may find one of the many karaoke lounges with ladies waiting for guests in the corridors to be a much more appealing affair. To each his or her own, but the make up of mall tenants certainly create a unique atmosphere for those wanting a slightly different side of Singapore. Continue reading “Five Nines (999.99) reopens at Cuppage Plaza – delicious tapas; average $49 set menu!”