Raffles Hotel, #02-20, 1 Beach Road, Singapore
Tel: +65 6338 6131
Update: Shinji (Raffles) was awarded 1 Michelin Star in the inaugural Michelin Guide for Singapore in 2016.
When it was reported that the famous Chef Shinji Kanesaka from Tokyo was opening an outlet in Singapore, it caused quite a stir. After all, this was the first Michelin-starred edomae sushi restaurant (Sushi Kanesaka has 2 Michelin stars in Tokyo) to venture to Singapore, during the time when the integrated resorts were opening up and attracting celebrity chefs from around the world. What made the top sushi restaurants in Tokyo famous was the combination of the freshest ingredients and the skill of the top sushi chefs in Japan, and this was not easy to duplicate outside Japan. It takes many years to qualify as a sushi chef, and it wasn't so easy as to train within a short time a team of local chefs to run a similar setup in Singapore; which means that Chef Kanesaka either had to come down himself to run the restaurant or send his trusted lieutenants to do so in his stead.
Shinji was first opened at Raffles Hotel in Singapore, and recently opened a second outlet in the central business district. It is a classic sushi counter capable of seating 15-17 people and has an 8-person private room at the back. At the counter, there were 3 sushi chefs that night serving about 5 persons per chef.
As the night went on, we were more and more impressed by how similar dining here was to our experiences in top sushi restaurants in Tokyo, with the distinct difference of how each of the Japanese sushi chefs were deliberately trying to communicate with each guest in English. This wasn't the typical sushi counter where the surly chef dumps food on your plate and expects you to get on with it, on the contrary, each chef was consciously making small talk and trying to explain to each guest the food which was being served, with as much humor as possible. This was even more impressive given that each chef was not fully fluent in English yet was so clearly trying his best to speak to all the guests. In all, it was a very interactive experience, which was like what we observed in Tokyo in many of the more intimate and high end sushi restaurants (except that in Tokyo, because we don't speak Japanese, we tended to be left alone).
We were started off with some tuna sashimi with a very interesting soya sauce jelly and wasabi leaves. This was delicious and raised our expectations for the evening.
Next up was seared Japanese barracuda and a type of clam (didn't quite catch the name). The barracuda (an unusual raw fish for us), was smoky on the outside and soft and juicy on the inside.
The white shrimp and sea urchin were a fantastic combination. The sweetness of the baby shrimp and the refreshing taste of the top notch uni were a superb pairing.
The cooked dish was a deep fried fugu (puffer fish) which was cooked to perfection (and not too dry as it can tend to become).
Even the chawanmushi was different, as it was cooked with sea bream stock instead of the usual bonito stock and it tasted less eggy than the usual. However, it was also done with plum sauce which we thought made the dish a bit too sour.
The katsuo sashimi (or skipjack tuna otherwise known as bonito) was doused in a 'secret sauce' and covered with Japanese onions and was very good.
The next dish was a seasonal produce; the raw baby squid which was amazingly fresh and tasty, and despite it looking like it wasn't gutted, we didn't taste anything strange which could have been its innards. These baby squid apparently light up at night in the sea, much like fireflies.
Then came the sushi. Our chef started chopping up the fish first to lay out nicely on a platter, just to whet our appetite on what was to come. In the photo below, he was slicing out a few pieces of otoro (fatty tuna).
We found quite interesting that when the sushi was to be served, the waitress took away our soya sauce and wasabi, as in this restaurant you don't need soya sauce or wasabi as the chef will make the sushi in a way which doesn't require you to add any further condiments or sauces.
First up was a lightly seared madai (red snapper).
The ika (squid) was very interestingly prepared. The chef sliced it very thinly before packing it together on the rice, making it much easier and softer to eat (raw squid can be quite chewy).
The chu-toro (medium fatty tuna) was next.
Then the otoro (fattier tuna) which was more marbled. Typically we prefer the chu-toro as the otoro can taste too fatty (though many will disagree and otoro is usually more expensive).
The aji (mackerel), one of my favourite sushi, this time made with less ginger than usual, giving it a lighter and fresher taste.
Another piece of maguro (tuna), this one glistening in its freshness and with a brush of marinate over it.
The cooked ebi (prawn) was special in that under the prawn was some minced dried shrimp which gave it a more savoury flavour.
The next piece of sushi was a unique clam which was softer than the usual and tasted somewhat like oyster.
Uni was next and this was a different one from the earlier sea urchin, as this was from the sea urchin with the longer spikes and hence had a more bitter taste. It was likewise very fresh and an excellent sushi.
The last piece was the anago (saltwater eel). What was special about each piece of sushi served was that it was thoughtfully put together, some with a brush of soya sauce or other sauce, some with a sprinkling of yuzu, but all on perfectly vinegared sushi rice expertly handled by our sushi chef. Each was a masterpiece in its own right and as simple as it looked, was probably the culmination of many years of training. In addition, Shinji imports its produce directly from Tsukiji market in Tokyo four times a week, which is two more than most other Japanese restaurants in Singapore, hence ensuring that the fish in particular is as fresh as possible.
And to further remind us of Tokyo, we were served the tamago (egg) which was so soft that it tasted more like an egg custard. This is the standard of tamago in the top restaurants in Tokyo and we were pleasantly surprised that they could do it here as well. According to the chef, this was painstakingly made over charcoal fire for one hour in the morning.
It didn't end there (normally once the tamago has been served, the sushi meal is over). The chef made us each a negitoro (chopped fatty tuna) hand roll.
Soup was a light and tasty miso soup.
To end off the meal, we were served a rock melon from the base of Mount Fuji which was very sweet, and accompanied by red beans, green beans and a small glutinous rice ball.
Final Thoughts: An excellent meal. We didn't think it was possible but Shinji replicated the memorable sushi meals we had in Toyko, yet without our awkwardness of trying to communicate with non-English speaking chefs. We liked what Chef Kanesaka is trying to achieve in Singapore, i.e. to bring the traditional experience of edomae sushi dining to Singapore. It is interesting that each of the Japanese chefs there were specifically instructed to communicate with each guest in English (our chef was actually told off by another chef when he had to call a waitress to translate something to us into English). It shows that Chef Kanesaka is not setting up a high-end Japanese restaurant which, like in Japan, is very inaccessible to non-Japanese speaking diners, but is actively trying to make it easier for Singaporean diners to understand and appreciate this style of dining (i.e. where the sushi chefs interact closely with the diners). To add to that, the food and the sake were all top notch and we didn't feel that it was in any way inferior to those we have had in Japan. In addition, we liked that the prices were clearly stated in the menu (we had the Omakase Wa which cost S$300 per person) which is similar to the restaurants we have been to in Tokyo, hence we avoided getting sticker shock when we got the bill at the end of dinner (which can happen in some other high end Japanese restaurants in Singapore which don't state the price upfront).