Shinji by Kanesaka

Aji (horse mackeral) sushi – Photo courtesy of Shinji by Kanesaka

I’m no sushi savant. Those petite pillows of vinegar-laced rice draped with raw fish rarely excite me to the point of exuberance.
But there I was, still ruminating about the sushi at Shinji by Kanesaka (“Shinji”) almost 2 weeks after a dinner there.
No, I did not just returned from Tokyo. 

I was on a mission to discover Singapore’s best omakase restaurant for cnngo and I think I’ve found it at Shinji in Raffles Hotel.
I would have visited Shinji sooner had detractors not cautioned that the restaurant lacked lustre. To that claim, I can now conclude that these detractors are not fans of Edo-mae sushi (a classic style of sushi preparation that dates back to the Edo period of 1603 to 1868); or that their palates have been tainted by those foie gras or caviar-studded sosaku sushi (or creative sushi), currently all the rage in some Japanese restaurants.
I don’t have a preference, not for sushi. But I do know an excellent sushi when I taste one – breathtaking fish, deftly cut then served on slightly warmed, hand-pressed sushi rice.

Team of Japanese chefs at Shinji by Kanesaka – Photo courtesy of Shinji by Kanesaka

At Shinji, the sushi is prepared behind the hinoki-wood sushi counter by a team of 5 clean-shaven Japanese chefs. Chief among them is master chef Koichiro Oshino, who spent the last 20 years plying his craft with Shinji Kanesaka, the 2 Michelin star Tokyo chef this restaurant is named after.

Toro (tuna) sushi – Photo courtesy of Shinji by Kanesaka

To the unaccustomed eyes, the starkness of these northwards-depilated chefs may appear unnervingly monastic. But as the dinner unfolds, your focus shifts to their edible work of art. Not least the degustation of sushi by Chef Oshino – about 10 morsels of them – which may include a shima aji (yellow jack), ika (squid), otoro (fatty tuna), aji (horse mackerel), maguro zuke (soy-marinated tuna), ebi (prawn), anago (saltwater eel) and tamago (egg custard). Some are dressed under a whisper of soy and wasabi, others are crowned with a dollop of minced ginger and chopped spring onions, yet some served sheer alongside grains of salt for dipping.

But, mind you, Shinji is not just a sushi restaurant. It is a menu-less omakase restaurant; which means that no choice is afforded to diners, you simply surrender to Chef Oshino’s whim. And while the spotlight is on the parade of Edo-mae sushi made famous by Shinji Kanesaka (in Singapore), the succession of other fish and seafood plates that ensue – all 13 courses of them, to be precise – are no less stunning.
Lest you come expecting top grade wagyu, be aptly reminded that Shinji only serves fish and seafood in its omakase. There’s an addictively sweet and pungent deep-fried baby ayu fish, in-season during our visit at the inception of summer; a trio of graded bafun, murasaki and brine uni (sea urchin) sashimi on a bed of diced nagaimo (mountain yam) with seaweed jelly; and botan ebi ko gunkan, a sashimi of botan shrimp topped with pearls of coral-green botan eggs alongside deep fried botan head.

5-hour steamed awabi (abalone) – Photo courtesy of Shinji by Kanesaka

The cooked food’s equally stellar. Think cubes of tuna cheek grilled yakitori style with leek or, if the chef fancies, a marbled hunk of tuna steak. If you’re lucky, you might even land the 5-hour steamed Hokkaido abalone, perfect on it’s own or with a sprinkle of salt. Or the Hokkaido hairy crab, which is first blanched, painstakingly picked of it’s flesh and stuffed back into it’s own shell, then served with a vinegar-spiked dashi dip. 

The arrival of a rice dish, in our case the sweet and creamy uni don, sea urchin tossed in rice and topped with chopped tuna, would signal the finale of your omakase journey.

The sheer breadth and depth of Shinji’s omakase is thrilling. I wish I could say that there was something that I did not enjoy from the lengthy course meal. There wasn’t. But I should highlight that, much to my chagrin, the petite shijimi clams that arrived in hordes with the concluding clear broth were too minute to be eaten; I much prefer the voluptuous and more pleasurable variety. In that instance, size mattered.
Shinji’s delicious bites of omakase shin will set you back by S$450 per head. Not cheap, but that’s a fraction of the cost of a return trip between Singapore and Tokyo.
When this writing career eventually pays (better), I am returning for Shinji’s omakase shin on my own dime. Till that happens, perhaps the more wallet-friendly omakase wa (S$300 per head) will be my ticket to sushi epiphany.  

Shinji by Kanesaka | Raffles Hotel #02-20, 1 Beach Road | 65-6338 6131

Rating: 26.5/30


© Evelyn Chen 2013

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