It really says a lot when I tuck into dinner with just the second course and I’m yearning to share the experience on my blog. Dining at Hinoki Japanese Restaurant proved to be a very sweet adventure into the world of fresh flavours, crafted with a spring in each step. Tucked into a private corner within China Square Central, Hinoki Japanese Restaurant is the place to be for an exclusive meal with business clients or a memorable date with that special someone.
Executive Chef Santaro Li
Executive Chef Santaro Li comes with a background of more than 40 years in the art of Japanese Cuisine. His foray in Singapore began in the early 1980’s, where he was one of the few Chefs to introduce Japanese sushi to the local palate. Prior to working at Hinoki, Chef Santaro had his own restaurant ‘Santaro’ and had his experience from the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, the Fort Canning Country Club and Nogawa.
The dinner for the night was presented in the Kappo Ryori style – Japanese Omakase lifted to the highest gastronomical degree. Sitting at the counter is probably one of the best decisions if you are in a small group. The experience of simply watching Chef Santaro at work as he crafts his sushi pieces, or just to indulge in the char grilled fragrance of freshly aburied mentaiko, is sensual bliss from start to finish.
The first course of the night was a presentation of three dishes.
Start off with the Century Egg Tofu topped with Tobiko. While this was not my first time engaging with this dish, I have to say this was an excellent creation on its own. The harmony of crisp, refreshing tofu with indulgent century egg sauce was beautiful in shades of savoury and umami. Notably, a tinge of spice lingers seductively after each bite, reducing the intensity of the dish to delightful degrees.
The next appetiser of Tuna with Mentaiko and Ikura was an interesting play on different sea sweetness. The tuna stood fairly well, but the real highlight was well focused on the grilled cod roe sauce and salmon roe. Nonetheless, still a refreshing option to open up the tastebuds even further.
The third appetiser of Marinated Squid Liver was the most unique and acquired. It’s intense saltiness is strangely inviting, though it is best to enjoy this dish piece by piece. The deep flavours of the appetiser trio became the start of a complete Orchestra when the Sashimi Moriwase was served.
The mixed sashimi platter was possibly one of the best I’ve experienced thus far. The choicest pieces of Kampachi, Ootoro, Hotate, Uni, Sake, Amaebi were used. At the side, a portion of fresh Bonito in soy dressing completed the set.
I started off with the Kampachi and was left in a moment of bliss. The savoury, nutty flavours, evolved to a lasting sweetness with each bite. Dip it in a little soy sauce, and experience another dimension in deep flavours. Pair it with the Shiso leaf and relish the refreshing spring in flavours that bode of a tranquil summer.
I then moved on to the Ootoro. This piece of fatty tuna needs little introduction. With a melt in the mouth texture, it was pure indulgence just to dip it with a little soy sauce to bring out the deeper flavours. I’ve tried Uni and Salmon separately but when I had it tasted together in this Sashimi set, it was a whole new unique experience for me. The sweetness of the sea urchin, coupled with its custard like texture, contrasted the light sweet salmon perfectly. Though it was a petite portion, it simply made you crave for more. The Scallop with Sweet prawn carried two levels of sea sweetness, complemented with an umami bite from the seaweed.
The Fresh Bonito in soy dressing provided the a sharp departure from the crisp natural flavours provided by the rest of the sashimi. In notes of salty accents, the fish presented a complete end to the sashimi set.
It was a surprise to see the next course consisting of swordfish, Foie gras and kombu. I would not normally associate the fatty Goose liver with fish, but this particular creation presented a marriage of the sea and the earth in small portions. The crisp exterior of the swordfish was a delight, providing a textural contrast every few bites. Delightful.
A summer seasonal delight of Bonito in clear soup with Vegetables was served up next. While the broth was clear, it’s flavours were crisp with tinges of tangy presence and vegetable sweetness. Pair the ingredients with the accompanying vinegar dip for added flavour if you will. A thoroughly heartwarming dish that reminds you of home.
The restaurant’s signature Chawanmushi with Shark’s fin, elicited a moment of silence as one thoroughly appreciated the simple presentation. While the fin was a luxurious addition to the steamed egg custard, the notable mention for this dish is the subtle addition of a yuzu sauce glazed over the top. Its citrus flavour cuts through the savour egg flavour, refreshing the palate for the next bite while the salmon roe contrasted with burst of salty essence.
The sushi platter’s arrival indicated the meal was soon coming to an end. Each piece was a refreshing portion with a good amount of vinegared rice paired with the ingredient topping. This to me was simple pleasures at its best. The choice of dried persimmon slice and pickled daikon as a final palate cleanser was thoughtful.
One more picture for the love of it.
Dinner ended with a portion of the master’s homemade black sesame ice cream. Its gritty texture made the dessert unique from the other goma ice creams, with a level of sweetness that was not cloying but refreshing. I had to ask for seconds.
Chef Santaro and me
The dining atmosphere was relatively peaceful, although it could do with some ambient music to complete the experience. Perhaps it’s just me where I prefer an occasional banter throughout the meal with the Chefs behind the counter, or with the service staff as they presented each course. It would make the whole experience much more personal, and possibly complete the journey to another world out of Singapore. That said, the dining experience at Hinoki Japanese Restaurant is perhaps best enjoyed when you leave the night’s dinner to the experienced hands of Chef Santaro. An omakase is a surprise by itself, but having it made with thoughtful touches and a focus on quality ingredients set it at a level well worth enjoying course by course.
Thank you Hinoki Japanese Restaurant for the invitation
|Hinoki Japanese Restaurant
China Square Central
22 Cross Street
Reservations: 6536 7746
Mon-Sat 11.30am to 2.30pm ; 6pm to 10.30pm
Closed on Sundays
Omakase starts from $85 for lunch and $138 for dinner.
A la carte options available