I scratched my head real hard when I was told that there is a new Japanese eatery at Cuppage Terrace. I cannot fathom the thought of dining in a zen-like fashion amidst the hustle and bantering from the pubs that we normally associate this part of town with. I find myself staring at my Google Maps aimlessly and pondering outside a restaurant right at the edge of the road, until a waitress saw my confusion, and saved me by ushering me inside.
True enough, a sushi bar materialized once the shoji was slid opened. Soft warm light ensued, and to be honest, I find myself slightly out of place as I take a seat in at the counter. I’ve always been interested in how a chef prepares his food, often peering into open kitchens if there’s a chance, but I have never had someone doing it within my arms’ length before,
Sushi Chiharu is an offshoot from its famous, well-adorned parent restaurant (which incidentally goes by the same name) in Osaka, Japan. It specializes in Edomae-style sushi, and as it name implies, food from the Edo period (1603 to 1868). We normally think of sushi (or Japanese food in general) as a cuisine that celebrates the freshness and seasonality of the ingredient, of its true taste without it being masked by unnecessary condiments or fanciful techniques. Yet, in an era where the term “refrigeration” is as alien as the word “paleo” is to me, chefs and cooks employ marination, boiling and curing techniques to preserve the catch as long as possible. What results is an interesting spin on the taste, and a fascinating twist in the texture of the food.
I started the 18-course Omakase with two appetisers – Ankimo, a sliver of monkfish liver marinated in a bright and briny manner, and tasted like a sprightly piece of cheese from the sea, and Mozuku-su, which are tiny stands of seaweed suspended in an acidic concoction. It became apparent to me that this constant play on acid and savoury notes will be a recurrent theme throughout this dinner.
My suspicion was spot on with the next dish, Shime Saba, a slice of pickled mackerel, shimeji and fish roe. The marination sort of removed the fishiness of the mackerel, and imbued it with a unique texture instead.
A duo of sashimis was served next. We had the Kinmedai, or red snapper, and the Hirame, a type of flounder with large red googly eyes. Both were firm tasting fish, though the Hirame had a slightly sweeter taste to it, and was definitely boosted by the gratings of lime zest over it.
The highlight of the day to me was the Ayu. Think of this as a shisamo on steroids; it was literally filled with miniscule eggs that were smaller than the usual roe which lends a creamy and mealy texture to the eggs. This coupled with the slightly bitter and metallic tasting guts of the fish makes this fish one of the most complex one that I’ve ever tasted. And to top it all, you even get substantial chunks of white flesh, and the contrast in taste and texture with the eggs was just mind-blowing.
We had a series of Negiris after the Ayu. The brown colouration of the rice was intriguing right from the start, and the grains were definitely longer than the ones we normally see. The chef explained thereafter that the rice was cooked with kombu, which lends the rust colour, and a special kind of vinegar was used to season the rice. I often have a fear of overly acidic rice in my sushi which sort of ruins the taste of the other ingredients. Indeed, I find the rice here less sharp than usual.
The more memorable ones were Hotate, perfectly fat and substantial scallops that tasted like candies from the ocean and accentuated by the deft grating of citrus zest, Konoshiro, a Japanese gizzard shad cured in vinegar (see the trend here?) flourished with yuzu zest, though the highlight was the funkiness in texture – a cross between a firm fleshed fish and a delectably chewy mochi.
The Anago, a seawater eel was also slightly from the other eels or unagis that I have eaten thus far; the former had a nice bite to it without the flakiness of the latter. What was interesting is that all the seafood is imported fresh from the different fish markets in Japan, and there was a heavy emphasis on seasonality. This, together with the masterful curing techniques, produced a unique blend of freshness and cure, and an unfamiliar take on Japanese cuisine.
The Negitoro Handroll next was one of the best dishes of the night. Chunks of marinated tuna were wrapped in a perfectly crisp nori – somewhat like a Japanese take on salsa, and the contrast in textures as you place it in your mouth was exceptional. The variations in the cut of tuna being used made perfect sense as the leaner cuts took on the flavor of the shoyu perfectly, but the fatter parts imparted a slick mouthfeel. The end result? An intensely savoury take on a handroll, and a lingering aftertaste of the ocean thanks to the microglobules of tuna fat still coating the back of your throat.
We ended the meal with Kerayaki, a tamago, egg-like dish perfectly soufflé-ed that will put all chiffon cakes to shame, Miso soup with Aosa, a kind of sea lettuce, and Nashi, seasonal pears with a light and crisp bite.
Overall, the dishes pay great homage to both the quality of the seafood, as well as the well-preserved curing techniques that Sushi Chiharu has honed over the years. It certainly has been an eye-opening experience and has changed my perception to Japanese cuisine, and perhaps serves as a reminder that there are many facets of a cuisine out there for us to explore.
Thank you Sushi Chiharu for the invitation!
Sushi Chiharu Singapore by Tamaya Dining
45A Cuppage Terrace
Reservations: 6835 3839
Mon to Sat 6pm to 11.30pm
Sun and Public Holiday 6pm to 10.30pm
- Special Chef Course $200++
- Omakase Course $140++ (3 appetiser, 2 sashimi, 1 seasonal dish, 10pcs Nigiri sushi, soup, dessert)
- Nigiri Course $90++
- A La Carte options available