Having gone to Japan twice in the past year, I must say that I miss the food already. When I was in Hokkaido, I had the privilege of stopping at cities across the island from Hakodate, to Kushiro and Obihiro. Each city, famed for its own selection of produce was unique to my heart. Fast forward to my dinner a week ago, Hokkaido Izakaya at 95 Tanjong Pagar Road is as the name suggests a casual Japanese bar restaurant that serves a selection of Hokkaido’s produce on its menu. The vegetables, cheeses and wines come from Furano City, the beef from Kamishihoro City, the seafood from Yakumo Town and the oysters from Akkeshi Town. While I have not been to each of these cities, the allure of sampling ingredients specially flown in for the menu is simply a tempting offer.
Hokkaido Izakaya is helmed by Head Chef Katsuyuki Sekiya, a native of Saitama. Formerly the Head Chef of Akane Japanese Restaurant (within the Japanese Association) since 2012, Chef Sekiya has since moved on to the Izakaya scene (an experience he has missed after moving to Singapore).
For me, an Izakaya experience is one where the food while good has to be accompanied by a boisterous crowd, and where drinks are freely enjoyed around the table. Call me a romantic, but the raw nature of the salaryman’s hangout is a departure from the more formal and sit down dinner affairs in Singapore’s restaurants. At Hokkaido Izakaya, the crowd’s vitality is easily spread from table to table, helped by the cozy and cramped seating arrangements.
As an accompaniment to a pint of beer or two, start off with some Cucumber with Salted Konbu Seaweed ($5++) or the more heartily flavoured Cream Cheese Marinated with Miso ($7++). Yet, for those who keen to go deeper into the blue, opt for the marinated scallop liver ($9++; available seasonally). I found the scallop liver to be buttery smooth, with a savoury sweetness well accentuated by the touches of sesame oil rubbed all over.
However, it was the Japanese Omelette Mixed with Milk ($10++) that stood out. Served piping hot, the staff quickly spreads a thick cut of butter all over the egg, allowing the sweet butter to make an impression into the omelette’s crevices. The egg’s fluffiness, almost cotton and cloud like, is a delight to indulge in. Still, it might also be an excellent option to layer the omelette with a generous serving of mentaiko for that added, luxurious and flavourful touch.
Hokkaido potatoes are well featured on the menu here. Although it is not a native root crop, I have generally enjoyed my servings of Hokkaido potato. Somehow, the climate and soil produces a potato crop that is sweet, with a distinct touch of waxiness.
At Hokkaido Izakaya, these potatoes are used in the Potato Salad ($9++) or the Potato Croquette ($8++). The potato salad is served warm, and mashed and mixed upon presentation at the table – a hearty, creamy delight to indulge in and best for sharing.
Seasonal on the menu is the Hokkaido Wagyu Roast Beef ($25++). Tender and delish with a side of sake or some beer, this is one dish that exhibits the goodness of mid-grade wagyu in decent fashion. In particular, I did fancy the accompanying side of potato wedges.
Yakumo Town’s famed scallops ($10++) were up next on the table. Grilled and served in its shell, each piece was sweet and well filled with scallop juices. However, I did find that the portion of scallop served was a little over-done with the meat shrinking a tad too much. It would have been an absolute joy if I could have the fresh scallops prepared robatayaki style with some butter and corn.
The Milk Hotpot with Salmon ($18++) features a good use of creamy Hokkaido milk as part of the dish’s main ingredients. When combined with a good amount of dashi, the broth becomes savoury and almost cheese like in flavour. The only gripe I had about this dish was that the pot took a touch too long to boil over – a necessity as the salmon was served raw.
Visually, the Kakiage Tempura Soba ($12++), is an impressive treat. The generous portion of mixed vegetables tempura is gently perched on a massive bowl with a soba portion that is enough for 2 to share. The dish is perhaps best if Hokkaido Izakaya is the 2nd Izakaya stop after a night of drinks, and a great way to wash down the alcohol before heading home. The soba is served in a savoury broth which when soaked into the kakiage tempura, makes the tempura a lot more enjoyable to eat. On its own, the tempura is hardly crispy and distinctly lacking in flavour.
My favourite dish for the night has to go to the Steamed Potato with Vanilla Ice Cream ($7++) and butter. This odd mix of ingredients is a sinful delight to indulge in, with a distinct amount of ice cream sweetness blending well with the smooth, aromatic butter topped only with cuts of crisp, savoury potato. A joy, and one dessert that I would go back for. An acquired taste perhaps, but delightful.
For drinks, diners will be pleased that the bar has its wines, sakes and beers all directly sourced from Hokkaido. Recommended on the list are items like the Jyosen Kunimare Sake ($12++ a glass) – made out of Hokkaido rice, or the Tantakatan Shochu ($63++ a bottle). And for the beer lovers, Sapporo draughts are available on top.
Surprise! The Yakumo Town governor popped by during dinner for a visit.
The food at Hokkaido Izakaya is simple, with an emphasis on the produce. As it is an izakaya, my expectations of the bar restaurant goes to the entire concept of it being a casual place for diners to gather together after work or with friends for a drink. The food, decently impressive, is there more as an accompaniment. I enjoyed the overall experience and I expect to make a return visit or two. It’s only the cramped setting that gets to me. I wonder when will be my next return visit to Japan.
Thank you Hokkaido Izakaya for the invitation.
|95 Tanjong Pagar Road
Reservations: 6221 7118
Mon to Sat 11.30am to 2.30pm; 6pm to Midnight
Sun/ Public Holidays 11am to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10.30pm