Tucked along the streets of Duxton and across Neil Road lies a nondescript Japanese restaurant that has been silently serving guests a selection of experiential Japanese fare that aims to add a little zen. With an entrance that blends in calmly with the surroundings, one might even not notice the presence of Hanayoshi Japanese Restaurant. However, a visit to the restaurant might tickle the tastebuds for all those seeking simple, clean cut Japanese culinary flavours in an ambience that is minimalistic and different. Chef Mitsuo Ishii, as a former personal chef of two Japanese ambassadors to Singapore, now helms the kitchen with a goal to please palates while maintaining a level of authenticity that is fundamental to Japanese cuisine. And for those keen in letting the chef decide the menu for the day, Hanayoshi brings in the Omakase – a culinary creation according to the chef’s fancy for the day.
The Sushi Bar Counter on the 1st Floor
As Omakase is meant to be a surprise, simply state a reasonable budget and allow the chef to work his magic. Alternatively, Omakase set menus start from $150++, and one can expected a full course from appetizers, sashimi, sushi, mains and desserts. The dishes here are simply one illustration of what the chef might serve in an Omakase.
First up, the Takenoko Tosani or bamboo shoot in soy sauce is served up as an appetizer to whet appetites. Crunchy textures with a tinge of acidic at the edge, the flavours were generally mellow and soft.
Contrast that with the serving of Nori Tsukudani. The seaweed cooked in soy sauce and sweet mirin lends a sharp flavours that is both salty and sweet. The luscious texture notwithstanding, this is best had in petite portions to simply add a sparkle to the start of the meal.
The next dish of Tofu Salad is a simple mix of tofu, tomato, lettuce, homemade sesame dressing and fried potato toppings. A dish that is at most quaint and simple, with full focus on contrasting textures and tangy thousand island like flavours in the sesame sauce. I would prefer something a little more unique in an Omakase though. The tofu salad could perhaps do with a snazzier dressing that would capture the fresh flavours intended in the dish.
For the lunch, I was also served an array of sake to sample. Ah but who would have thought that the restaurant has a drink of Ikegme Shuzo Jelly Umeshu 8% that would be such a delight to partake with. A new concept in Japan, the Umeshu Jelly is 10% liquor and 90% jelly, giving one a playful take on viscous textures with a bite of alcohol. The fragrance of plum wine is decadent in each serve, making this an instant favourite.
Up next, the Sashimi of Chutoro (Fatty Tuna), Kanpachi (Yellow Tail), Mekajiki (Sword Fish) is truly a sight to behold. A whole spectrum of colours is presented on the serving dish, almost a rainbow to be eaten. Each piece of sashimi was crisp and decently fresh, though I would really prefer freshly grated wasabi served alongside in the restaurant instead of the powdered fermented horseradish. That would have completed the experience.
The next Sake sampler of Nanbubijin Junmai Daiginjyo was then served up. Termed as a fruity and elegant sake with a long pleasing finish, I found it to be quite calm and smooth – living up to its reputation as light and easy to drink.
Nanbubijin Junmai Daiginjyo
The chef then presented a Yakimono that was a new take for me. Mango Dengaku or grilled mango with Miso paste was served up in the middle of the Omakase set. Luxuriously sweet, with a contrast of the salty and savoury miso, this was a unique dish on its own. The slight saltiness of the miso simply made the mango sweetness more pronounced. While the stalk of ginger flower cleansed all flavours at the end. An interesting order as this made the omakase suddenly develop a strong and robust flavoured turn.
The next dish of Tai Sakamushi was however lacklustre in flavour and texture. Red snapper is served steamed with sake and tofu, and accompanied with a ponzu sauce. However, the fish itself felt dry and a tad too bland when matched with the tofu. Adding in the ponzu sauce was simply sharpening the dish with a slight tang and saltiness but did little to illustrate the deep fish flavour.
Servings of Tempura Moriwase with all its stronger flavour and unique coloured salts simply outweighed the flavours from the previous dish into distant memory. I found the tempura particularly flavourful and crisp on its own au nature. But, when one pairs the bite with the Sakura salt, Curry Salt of Matcha Salt, a different dimension of flavour opens up for the dish.
My personal favourite is the Sakura salt as it is both sweet and salty in bringing out the tender flavours from the tempura. The curry salt reminded me of curry maggie mee seasoning but I would say that it carries its own fans. The matcha salt played on the notes of fresh bitter and salty, and its not something that I would choose to match with a good crisp prawn.
The Masumi Karakuchi Ki-ippon is slightly drier than the Nanbubijin Junmai Daiginjyo. With an polished percentage of approximately 55%, this sake’s fragrance is the restaurant’s quality serve.
The main of Sushi for this lunch comes in a variety of Wagyu Hogura Nigiri, Soft Shell Crab Maki and Unagi Oshi Maki. Notably, the Wagyu Hogura Nigiri stood out the most as it carried a tender slice of Grade A5 Kagoshima Wagyu topped with a piece of foie gras to accentuate the fatty flavours. A luxurious mouthful, this reminded me slightly of the Foie Gras and Scallop sushi from Kinki. Though I wonder if this would actually taste much better if it was done freshly flame grilled in front of guests for both a visual and aromatic arousal.
Wagyu Hogura Nigiri
Natto! My favourite!
The final main of San Syouku Somen was definitely an inspiring take on colour. Yellow Egg Somen, Green Matcha Somen and Pink Ume Somen, these are served ice cold with homemade bonito sauce that is crisp, and lovingly chilled. The restaurant recommends the order of yellow, green and pink to slowly build up the flavours in the somen, though I have to say that the flavours itself are quite subtle and overtaken with the stronger bonito sauce.
Still, this is a refreshing main especially for a hot summer’s day, which Singapore has the privilege of experiencing all year round!
Dessert for today’s Omakase was a sharing portion of Gelato for the table. Servings of Matcha with Azuki, Earl Grey, Peanut Butter and Ume gelato was placed on the table. The gelato here is prepared with yogurt for that extra acidic and creamy texture. My favourite goes to the Peanut Butter for its smooth, nutty flavours. The second would be the Ume for that crisp floral sourness. A simple and quaint way to end the meal.
Mr. Patrick Ng (Founder), Ms. Lorraine Ng (Director) and Chef Mitsuo Ishii
The Omakase experience at Hanayoshi centred on flavours that kept to the traditional with an occasional twist in intensities here and there. I found most of the dishes to be decent, with notables such as theMango Dengaku and San Syouku Somen standing out for its unique memorable flavour. Omakase sets at Hanayoshi start from $150++, with a more elaborate offering at $180++. However, if diners wish to arrange their own budget for the meal, simply inform the restaurant prior to your visit, and let Chef Ishii tempt you with his culinary creations. Still, if I were to arrange for an Omakase journey, I would definitely look forward to quality, and perhaps surprises along the way that cannot just be dictated by what’s already available on the menu. Hanayoshi at 21 Duxton Hill is one place to visit if you are looking for a calm ambience that is away from the crowd.
Thank you Hanayoshi for the invitation.
21 Duxton Hill
Tel : 6225 5567
Mon to Sat 12pm – 2.30pm, 6.30pm – 10pm