I was quite interested to check out Shabu Sai last week when I walked past the restaurant and caught a whiff of the delectable aromatics emerging from all the hotpots inside. As I was already waiting for friends to meet up for dinner, I was made even more hungry by then. The visit to Shabu Sai was well prepared for with my lunch kept bare and minimum (a single tomato), as I prepared to enjoy a good meal of meat, sukiyaki and a whole lot of variety. Priced from $16.99++, a buffet spread at Shabu Sai makes the establishment one of the cheapest Japanese buffet restaurants along Orchard Road. A great place to consider if you are with a group of friends that is looking for a great deal to partake in.
The name Shabu Sai is a combination of the words “Shabu” – derived from the sound produced when ingredients are swirled in the hotpot, and “Sai” pointing towards vegetables. It is a new concept with a spread of 6 soup bases and 1 special soup base available each day. Diners are given the option to choose any of the 2 soup bases to savour in a split hotpot. The soup bases are Tonkotsu, Sukiyaki, Seaweed, Spicy, Curry and Tomato. This season’s special soup base is the Yuzu Salt. The spread at Shabu Sai looked pretty decent to start with, and it leaves one quite impressed with the cold steam gushing out from the counter, cooling the hotpot ingredients and leaving everything masked in a layer of delicateness.
Hotpot signatures include the Pork/Beef/Chicken served in bamboo. A unique presentation and it was a delight having this with the hotpot.
Fish paste in bamboo
Varieties from the Counter
The main ingredients for the hotpot is an endless supply of thinly sliced Chicken, Beef and Pork. I was quite impressed with the chicken slices are they were sliced till translucent, yet leaving them tender and tasty to the bite.
Notably, all the slices of Chicken, Beef and Pork were fresh and beautiful upon serve. It was very decent quality served up at buffet prices.
The main draw for me was the Fresh Beef Slices. Once the hotpot is boiling, take a piece and quickly swirl it in the broth. Then dip it in your favourite ponzu sauce or beaten fresh egg for that luxurious smooth and savoury taste in a combined wholehearty setting. Delectable.
Spicy and Sukiyaki base with lots of ingredients within
The best part of steamboats is how the stock gets richer with each successive addition of ingredients. The flavours simply develops and more often then not, it leaves everything into a warm, hearty affair. However, that is the Achilles heel for some of the soup bases I’ve tried. I personally and would recommend the Sukiyaki and Tonkotsu base for their simple sweet and savoury flavours respectively. It might do better with some thickening of flavours, but I guess the main focus was the addition of ingredients to flavour it up rather than the soup base itself. However, when it comes to the more complex Spicy broth, I have to admit that the soup simply becomes too salty to the palate. Some might enjoy that overt savouriness, but certainly not me.
Tonkotsu and Yuzu Salt Beauty Hotpot
I took sips of the Seaweed, Tomato and Curry broths and thought that each varied largely to what would complement well with the ingredients. The Seaweed base was the mildest of the lot with it resembling fresh sea water albeit for the steamboat. Whether this is to your liking, I would admit it might get better as more ingredients are added in. The Curry base resembles a delectable serve of instant noodle curry base. Light and thin, it is a just a touch spicy with a fleeting whiff of curry fragrance every now and then. The Tomato was possibly the most acquired with its extremely light texture almost like a diluted form of minestrone. Also another base that might do good once more ingredients are added in.
The season’s special of Yuzu Salt Beauty Hotpot is marketed as rich in collagen and nutrients. Definitely a plus if you like more radiant and tighter skin, though you could also achieve that by sitting in the direction of the steam from the hotpot. Flavour wise, I thought it tasted quite similar to the Tonkotsu except that it carried a stronger oily chicken essence. The Yuzu was mildly flavoured at best and was quickly lost in the sea of ingredients. Therefore, when I do make a return, I would stick with the traditionals and flavours that are tried and tasted.
Ponzu Sauce with Radish
One highlight of the spread is that the buffet comes with a generous assortment of sauces and dips to please tastebuds. Ranging from the traditional Ponzu Sauce with radish, there is also peanut, sesame paste, red pepper powder, chilli padi and even mustard. Interesting way to try different combinations and see what works best. For me, I’ll just stick with servings of Ponzu sauce, sesame paste and a good whole egg.
To fill the tummy while waiting for the hotpot to cook, Shabu Sai also serves up a selected spread of Japanese inspired mini-dons and makis for the wait. Steamed Japanese rice is also available by the side, though I personally love the rice more from Yayoiken which I happily note will be opening at 313@Somerset.
In overall, Shabu Sai is a worthy place to make a visit if you are in the vicinity of Orchard Road and looking for a cheap, Japanese Buffet to dine with friends over a good supply of meat and vegetables. Just remember to order bases like Sukiyaki and Tonkotsu as based on my experience. Though if you are keen for an adventure, the rest of the broths might just be to your liking. An interesting concept that looks set to please new age steamboat fans keen for freshness at a great price.
Note (7th June) : I visited the Causeway point outlet a few days back for lunch and noted that the outlet at Orchard Central has more variety. I am not too sure if it’s due to dinner variety and pricing, but still a good experience.
Thank you Shabu Sai for the invitation
181 Orchard Road
Reservations: 6884 6760
Weekday – 11.30am to 3pm, 6pm to 10.30pm
Weekend – 11.30am to 10.30pm
Mon to Fri – Adult: $16.99++ Child (5-9 years): $9.99++
Weekends and PH – Adult: $19.99++ Child: $9.99++
Mon to Fri – Adult: $24.99++ Child: $9.99++
Weekends, Eve of PH and PH – Adult: $29.99++ Child: $9.99++