A Beginners Guide to Japanese Restaurants

I have a confession. Japanese restaurants and Japanese food scares me. There are so many unusual aspects and elements, names and terms, not to mention flavours and textures, that are all so foreign to what I’m used to as a westerner. Sushi and sashimi have been regular features of my eating life for a long time. In Australia, as in the rest of the world, the whole sushi craze blitzed Sydney back in the 90’s and gave us a flavour for some of the wonders of Japanese food. Teppanyaki was another popular choice around the same time and I remember being entertained by the theatrical displays by Japanese chefs in both the US and in Sydney.

Other than that though, it wasn’t until I arrived in Singapore, and set up camp near Robertson Quay, that my eyes started opening to the wider world of Japanese restaurants and Japanese food. There must be 25 restaurants within one square kilometre of Robertson Quay and frankly, they’ve all scared me enough to make me mostly stay away. How to know which is good? How to know what kind of food they serve? Slowly though, with a few trips to Tokyo under my belt, friends in Singapore who’ve suggested different restaurants and a gentle awakening of my curiousity, I’m starting to get my head around it.

To start with there is so much variety in the type of Japanese restaurant that you choose. It’s not like French or Italian where most restaurants cater to a standard list of popular dishes (granted there can be much variety but most restaurants cover several bases). With Japanese you have Yakitori (chicken skewers), Izakaya (Japanese pubs), Sushi, Teppanyaki etc. I evenfound this great list of 30 different types of Japanese restaurants! I’ve managed to write about the 5 Most Affordable Sushi Restaurants in Singapore and this has been one of my more popular posts. And last week I wrote about my tentative steps into Japanese BBQ which have so far proved very pleasing indeed.

There’s a long way to go before I get to an ultimate guide on Japanese restaurants in Singapore, but for now here are five alternative Japanese restaurants that each offers a different way of enjoying Japanese food.

Ikyu

Ikyu has been around for a little while now and has developed a good reputation serving a unique variety of high quality Japanese food. When you’re learning your way around any food you don’t necessarily want to spend a whole load of money on the experience until you know what you’re doing. At Ikyu the best way to try the impressive menu is to go for a set lunch. The choices are brief but well thought through. The set comes with a starter, the same no matter your main, with the highlight being a tempura sardine (although the batter was thicker than normal tempura).

Next up I was in need of an iron fix and went for the beef as a main. Although the serving was small it was beautifully seasoned and cooked. The picture makes it look a little overcooked but inside it was on the rare side of medium rare. A mackerel type fish was also enjoyed by my friend. There was also rice and a soup that was way too much on the ‘goopy’ side for me to enjoy (I like thin soup or thick soup but in between is not to my liking).

Icecream for dessert was also included in the set. Our sets were $35++ and $28++ respectively. Dinner is a more extravagant affair where you’ll pay $138++ for an omakase (chef’s selection) menu. I’d definitely venture back, the dim lighting, good service and good food are worth a re-visit. There is also a good choice of non alcoholic and alcoholic drinks including wine, cocktails, sake and shocyu.
Ikyu
5 Yong Siak Street, Singapore, 168643
Phone +65 6223 9003

Shin-Sapporo Ramen

It’s like every time I think I’ve worked out Japanese food then a whole other world opens up. Ramen is indeed a whole other world. I’m still learning but what I have discovered is that I like Tonkotsu broth or miso broth, both are lighter than the black style broth that is also usually available. What I really love though is the rich flavour, the fat addled soup becomes instantly moorish after only a mouthful. I like the accompaniments too and nearly always go for one with a runny egg to complement the meal. And I like to go for a variety that includes a slice of tender pork loin (yes, me who never used to eat pork).

Shin-Sapporo also do a good pork Katsu (crispy fried pork) and they have a few other options too. The branch at Orchard Gateway is usually quiet and easy to get a table so it’s a good choice if you’re in the area. A bowl of ramen is between $13 and $16++ and the katsu was $15.80++. They do charge for warm water which is a little annoying ($1++ for two waters).
Shin-Sapporo Ramen
277 Orchard Road, 238858
#B2-04A/5 in Orchard Gatway
phone +65 6702 4906

Fat Cow

As the name suggests Fat Cow is mostly about the beef. As I insinuated above about Ikyu one of the things that deters me from Japanese food is the cost. Especially if you’re still learning about the finer details of the cuisine you don’t really want to waste your money if you’re not sure you’ll appreciate the experience. One way to minimise cost whilst also getting good value is to try the lunch set. At Fat Cow the Wagyu donburi beef lunch set is $38++. The set consists of miso, salad and a small soup, plus your choice of a rice bowl to match and a dessert. The Wagyu donburi bowl is a heavenly combination of sushi rice, sesame seeds, beef and an egg.

This is one of my favourites with Japanese food, the egg mixed with fairly rare beef is a wonderful textural combination. The beef in this dish is not the highest grade, but it’s seasoned well and you can taste the slight marbled flavour. Not as much as some I’ve tried but still very good value for the price point.

I’d definitely venture back to Fat Cow for dinner. The Wagyu is Kuroge and is available from grade A3 to A5 (5 being the best). The combination of tables, private rooms and a bar as well as good service and food make it a great option. The ambience is typically Japanese (which is a little weird given that you enter at the back of the Camden Medical Centre) and this extends through to the quality of the food.
Fat Cow
1 Orchard Boulevard
#01-02 Camden Medical Centre, Singapore, 248649

Katanashi

Katanashi kind of epitomises what I love about Japanese food. It’s quirky, fun and full of variety. This typical Izakaya (Japanese pub) situated in lively Boat Quay is a perfect Friday night spot to sit and enjoy a few beers and great Japanese food. I’ve been here a few times now and I always enjoy the service and the food. I’ve also sat next to and chatted with Japanese expats who enjoy the combination, so given my own lack of experience on the Japanese food front, knowing that experts appreciate what Katanashi offers gives me good assurance.

We’ve tried rice bowls, the famous volcano, Chazuki (rice soup in a rich broth), omelette and seared salmon among many others. The only dishes that have disappointed were the octopus (raw) and the beef carpaccio. You can read more about Katanashi here.
Katanashi
77 Boat Quay, Singapore, 049865
phone +65 6533 0490

Sushi Kuu

I could hardly do a post about Japanese restaurants and fail to mention sushi. As I mentioned, there’s a whole post on the most affordable sushi in Singapore but I’ve also come across a new sushi restaurant thanks to one of my great friends. Sushi Kuu is tucked in the Palais Renaissance building that I didn’t even know existed until recently. It’s a very sedate restaurant, perfect for a quiet catch up during the week.

I left the ordering to the experts and was most impressed by a gorgeous salmon lettuce wrap. The succulent and just seared salmon was surrounded by a lettuce leaf and rice, making an easy roll for you to pick up and heartily stuff in your mouth. So good we had two servings between three of us. Sushi and sashimi is very high quality and it’s hard not to be impressed.

You won’t get away cheaply though, we enjoyed six dishes between three of us, plus miso and spent $85 per person inclusive of tax and service.
Sushi Kuu
390 Orchard Road (entered from behind at xx)
#01-07 Palais Renaissance, Singapore, 238871

Yazawa for Japanese BBQ

I’m going to go out on a limb and declare Japanese BBQ my favourite form of Japanese dining. I love the communality of it, the combination of cooking a few things yourself to feel a part of it but enjoying freshly prepared noodles alongside your beef as well. I love the smell (as long as the restaurant is well ventilated!) and above all the wonderful tastes and textures that are so much a part of Japanese food. I’m no expert on Japanese as you’ve probably realised by now. But I’m curious and willing to try almost anything.

Yazawa has been a great find for us, partly because it’s so near our house, but also because it’s a small restaurant that specialises in quality ingredients and a perfect minimalist Japanese environment. You’re hidden away in booths so it’s over to you to enjoy the experience and soak it all up. My biggest tip is to be inquisitive with the staff, they don’t necessarily speak good english so you may have to ask for assistance but get their recommendations and always try at least one thing that you’ve never tried before. You can read more about Yazawa here.
Yazawa
11 Unity Street, Singapore
#01-01 Robertson Walk (the entrance is on Merbau street)
phone +65 6235 2941

What is your favourite kind of Japanese restaurant?

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Penilaianmu: MagBe