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bowl of hot soup. 

ippudo is synonymous with ultra-popular, delicious ramen in NYC, with massive queues snaking all the way out of the restaurant during meal times. and knowing this, when we visited ippudo NY a few years ago, i always ensured we went at off-peak times of like 11.00 or like 5.30 to avoid the crowd. still, the wait was roughly 30 mins – 1 hr, so you can understand the hype.

mind you, i think ippudo, NY is really quite good, and it has the crowds and the hype to prove it. well seasoned, delicious and nuanced soup broth paired with sinfully good char-shu pieces and noodles with a great ‘Q’ consistency, it’s the very definition of a good ramen.

so what about the singapore version of ippudo? hmm.. the queues somewhat remain, and its again good advice to come to ippudo at slightly off-peak timwes (read: earlier or later) if you don’t want to wait for too long, but its not as hyped as its NY sister. the menu is somewhat different as well, whereby the NY version stuck true to the notion of a ramen store with few other accompanying side-dishes, whereas the singapore one has incorporated quite a bit of other side dishes and mains, from hot/cold appetizers, salads and the likes (some look good to be honest, but when i go to a ramen stall, i go for the ramen).

so what about the ramen? i had chosen the shiromaru hakata classic with char-shu ($18) which promised a classically tasting, well-balanced ramen. and well, it fulfilled its brief. the char-shu was generously given — almost 5 – 6 pieces of well-broiled, flavorful meat that paired perfectly with the noodles and broth. the broth was a little light compared to local tastes but upon closer sampling, you could really sense that the flavors were firmly locked into the broth and masterfully nuanced. the only drawback? well.. the price and the stinginess of other condiments — to be honest, $18 is a little steep for a bowl of noodles, considering that other ramen contemporaries usually go around $12 – $15 and usually have much more other ingredients. ippudo’s ramen seems a little stingy by the fact that there is very little other ingredients added within the ramen bowl – i mean, the broth, noodles and charshu are all very good but not having almost anything else is a little sad. i mean, yeah you essentially could add in alot of other stuff like the onsen-tamago (half-boiled egg) and likes but these really hike up the price (i think each ingredient addition goes for around 2 – 3 bucks). so yeah, you could end up with a really expensive bowl of ramen if you want the full works.

didn’t try the rest of the dishes, but my previous experience of the akamaru ramen is that the soup broth is more intense in flavor and perhaps more suited for local flavors. to be honest i was pretty impressed by ippudo NY, but i can’t summon similar enthusiasm for ippudo singapore. i think the quality hasn’t exactly dropped — but the fact that it is fighting with some many other ramen contemporaries, be it tonkotsu king keisuke, ramen champion, marutama and the likes, all which aren’t too bad themselves and priced somewhat cheaper, means that it becomes that much more difficult to justify its price point or its hype. furthermore, we’re not comparing with the local variants of prawn noodles and chinese noodles and the likes, all which form some sort of competition with it.

ippudo’s worth a visit or two when you want the ambience and want a bowl of good ol’ hearty ramen. but its not gonna get the hype to make me a frequent patron at any rate.  6.75/10

ippudo mandarin gallery | 333A Orchard Road, #04-02/03/04 Mandarin Gallery, Singapore | japanese, ramen, pricey

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sun with moon has a pretty interesting history if i may say. this moderately upscale (more expensive than your casual sushi tei and ichiban boshi) started off at wheelock and gained much praises and rave reviews and quickly became the place to have a chic, delicious japanese meal what with creative favorites like their kamameshi rice and tofu cheesecake. at the peak of its popularity, it was practically impossible to get seats without prior bookings and the restaurant expanded to central, and then chijmes.

but then, somehow the expansion hasn’t done it much good, and the fierce competition at central (with all the other well-marketed and delicious japanese restaurants) forced the eventual closure of the central branch (now replaced with sque rotisserie and alehouse by emmanuel stroobant.. i wanna go try).  and to be honest, the standard at wheelock has also somewhat disappointingly dropped, so it was with a sense of reservation that we headed back for another try. (mind you, i was very tempted to just head to skinny pizza or cedele next door)

the restaurant is a chic, artfully designed space using much wooden elements and dim lighting to create an almost sensual effect. tables are nicely spaced apart so you get a sense of privacy to catch up on the latest gossip (its pretty obvious the design of the place is to attract girls somehow). i noticed that the ceiling had english translations of haikus sprawled across which to be honest, is tad contrived and a little trying too hard to be atas.

and mind you, they do charge quite a bit for their food (since they want you to feel that this is an upscale place). sushi of 8 pieces go for roughly 20 a plate whilst mains go for 15 – 20 and sets go from 20 – 40. you can’t just go on an ordering spree here as you could possibly do at sushi tei.

lets look at the food.

nixon sushi (4 pcs, $9.90) – grilled eel, cream cheese, egg and cucumber

i chose this because the japanese restaurant at cornell university does an absolutely heavenly rendition of grilled eel + cream cheese + avocado sushi roll (that’s called out of control) and i really wanted to taste something similar. and to be honest, this is disappointing. the flavors don’t mesh well together (honestly its lacking the avocado imo) and the resulting flavor in the mouth isn’t one that is cohesive or particularly memorable. and when you charge $10 for a plate of sushi, i would wish for a certain standard.

pork belly kamameshi with soft boiled egg, $16.80 (without soup)

a restaurant recommendation, the kamameshi is essentially japanese rice cooked in an iron pot, where the rice normally gets slightly burnt at the bottom, giving a nice flavor to the dish (something like a mild version of a claypot). to be fair, the pork belly tasted great and had the melt-in-your-mouth sensation but what confused me was that when i poked the soft boiled egg and mixed the rice together, the watery-ness of the egg made the rice kinda wet and there wasn’t that slightly burnt effect in the end. (i dunno.. maybe the iron pot wasn’t hot enough, but my mom’s salmon kamameshi worked out fine). all in all, its a decent, special dish that can’t be found easily at other japanese restaurants but be warned that the flavors are somewhat lighter than what we singaporeans are commonly used to.

tofu cheescake, $6.50

a sentimental classic – the tofu cheesecake is light, very smooth and also very tasty. i don’t understand the concept of the cage to be honest, in my opinion its another example of the restaurant trying too hard but.. ah well.. they’re trying. its a tasty, satisfyingly good dessert- almost like the japanese variant to panna cotta with berries compote, though the berries here didn’t exactly go very well with the cheescake. wonder why.

all in all, to be honest, this place isn’t as good as what it used to be during its heydays. but there’s still good food and its worth a visit once in a while when you have to meet those gal pals and chit chat/bitch/catch up and the likes. lol. or yeah, a good dating spot i suppose. 6.75/10

sun with moon japanese dining and cafe | 501 Orchard Road, #03-15 Wheelock Place | japanese, upscale, desserts

no nonsense, good japanese food

so chikuwa tei was a recommendation by my dear friend stephanie, who was raving much about the chirashi don one night in cell after i told her about kinki’s foie gras+hotate sushi. apparently it is by this grumpy chef that was originally from a wildly popular Wasabi-tei but whatever the history, I was craving some good chirashi after tasting some sub par, scrawny versions in places like mof @ japanese sweets & coffee at raffles city.

chikuwa tei is pretty much a no-nonsense, no frills japanese eatery that doesn’t spend much on decor or ambience — classic japanese filmsy wooden tables and chairs are placed neatly across the wide expanse of the room with nary an acoutrement or decoration. the only efforts at decoration lie at one side of the wall which is covered with a wallpaper of a cherry blossom scene. it reminds me of a canteen, but who cares about decor when you’re just there for value, nice japanese food and you have good company eh?

service is kinda typically singaporean auntie style, direct and straightforward without much pleasantries. we quickly ordered our chirashi dons ($24) and were promptly served with simple appetizers, miso soup and watermelon as dessert (ughh..). one thing i like is how quick the service is — if you’re hungry, fret not – the chirashi don comes real quick.

speaking of the chirashi don.. wowzers.. this thing is really fresh. and the assorted pieces of sashimi as generously thick, juicy and just really tasty. paired with copious amounts of wasabi+shoyu, it was one of my most satisfying japanese dinners to date. i mean, this dish is all about the freshness of the sashimi and how much you’re given. and i’m happy to say chikuwatei didn’t disappoint — there was shake (salmon), maguro (tuna), hamachi (yellowtail – bottom, next to the ginger), uni (sea urchin – that orangey piece in the center, surprisingly fresh and tasty!), mekajiki (swordfish – the pale pink whitish slabs at the left),  and hotate (scallop)! so much variety and each one so fresh and delicious!

all in all, a satisfying meal in a no-frills restaurant. good stuff! 8.0/10

chikuwa tei | 9 mohamed sultan road, #01-01 | japanese, traditional

tastes like japan.

i’m having a really japan-inspired week this week in terms of gastronomic selections it seems, what with chirashi-dons, okawas and japanese patisseries. mind you, i really love japanese food. the effort gone into both the aesthetic quality and overall presentation and taste of japanese food is really something, and there’s also a sense of home and sweetness involved with the taste of japanese food. traditional japanese food can come at quite a high price in singapore, so its nice to make the occasional visit to takashimaya b2 and visit the quaint and somewhat traditional-looking stores selling more interesting variations of the japanese cuisine. one of em’s yonehachi, a store selling different types of okawa, sticky glutinous rice with variety of ingredients.

chestnut okowa, $7.80

you can get the rice alone, or complete the rice with some typical japanese pairings like miso soup, hijiki and a small protein dish like karaage or shio salmon. but the focus is on the rice anyways.

pork curry okawa set with shio salmon, $13.80

i got the pork curry okawa, a new flavor that tasted somewhat of a non-spicy indian curry and not that of the japanese sweet curry. the rice smelt and tasted good, and ultimately very homely. i like. =) the other pairings are really nothing much to write home about, but forms constituents of a typical japanese bento meal. good enuff’ for me!

overall, a decent choice for people craving some japanese homely food. 7.5/10

yonehachi |  391 Orchard Road, #B2-04-1/2 Takashimaya Food Hall, Ngee Ann City | japanese, authentic, bento

pound out the flavor.

my dear friend’s review of tonkotsu king keisuke ramen piqued my interest small unpretentious ramen shop, considering that he pretty much used the words “best ramen in singapore“. boy that’s some tall praise considering how saturated the market has become for ramen. and yeah perhaps one of my posts in the future will be on the top few ramen places in singapore.

anyways, i don’t really understand why, but to me, you need a certain mood and time to eat ramen. ramen is a relatively heavy meal, consisting of a thick broth soup, noodles and other condiments which each determines how good the entire bowl will turn out. to me, ramen is only eaten on days when you have that “i need some tasty soup but not exactly prawn mee” kind of craving. but those days come quite often, so I guess it works out for ramen shop owners. =)

ok anyways, as per what the above review mentioned, there was a sizeable queue outside the stall when we walked from tanjong pagar mrt station toward the shop. and the queue moves slowly, simply because it moves only when patrons within have finished their meal and have vacated their tables. its that small a restaurant. please don’t come with like a bunch of 20 friends, because you wouldn’t fit inside. even with like 12 friends, you practically need to book the entire ramen shop because there are pretty much like 2×4-seaters, 3×2-seaters and a bartop seating another 4. but since people do realise that there are hungry hordes waiting for them to finish their meal, they are relatively brisk and no-frills after they finish their meal, which is much appreciated. =)

so we got in after queuing for around half an hour, by which the friendly waiter had taken our orders already via some handy sheet of paper-order where you indicated the type of ramen you wanted – normal, black spicy (a more peppery version that’s apparently the signature ramen here) and red spicy (i suppose to cater to the singaporean’s liking for red hot spicy stuff). you also chose the accoutrements you wanted, either inoli (seaweed), char siew, onsen tamago (egg that is boiled in a precise onsen (hot-bath) temperature to give a semi-runny, semi-hardened consistency with the yolk – amazing) or just be greedy and get all in. of course, me being me, i got the black spicy special ramen with all the ingredients added in. cheers.

whilst waiting for our orders, we took in the surroundings a bit. this place conjures up fond memories of kenka in st marks place, NYC, a really vibrant, hip japanese restaurant which i tried with sheryl+cheewei once and then another time whilst catching up with chen kiang after his work. ahhh memories.. the reason for the resemblance i suppose comes from the old shop japanese posters that were plastered on the walls, the crowded, packed-together seating and just a genuinely authentic japanese feel to the place.

kenka, st marks place, NYC

ok let’s get on with the food.

[ black spicy tonkotsu ramen special, $15.80]

 this thing smelt amazing, a wholesome aroma of peppery, meaty goodness which tasted really good upon first tastings. the broth is really interesting as the pepper adds a certain zing to the soup but does not mask the underlying pork broth flavors. noodles are thin and pair well with the soup. the onsen-tamago is to die for – perfectly made such that when you bite into it, it slowly melts outward giving a really textured response. seaweed was a little awkward to eat since it was essentially one big piece stuck to the side of the bowl, but after we broke it up and mixed it in with the soup, it also joined in the symphony of deliciousness within the brew.

note that this place serves free eggs and slightly spicy beansprouts at the side for u to supplement your meal, making for a really full dinner. they also provide condiments such as bonito flakes and the jap chilli flakes but imo its not too necessary. hmm my issues with this ramen? well two main points – one was that whilst it tasted amazing and special one first bites whilst everything was piping hot, once it slightly cooled down, the taste became slightly too overpowering, like you know how peppery bak kut teh that has slightly cooled suddenly doesn’t taste as nice? imo this place needs like warmers to maintain the heat within the bowl, or well, you just have to finish it fast and not be like me, snapping many shots merrily at it. -_- (i think the restaurant is banking on most people doing the former). another thing was that, the soup broth, on closer examination, really conjured some health worries within me because whilst it tasted amazing, i think i spied on chunks on pork fat within the soup which really sends my health-conscious mind into a cardiac arrest. lol.

overall a tasty, interesting ramen option that does duke it out well with other established ramen shops in singapore. do go try it once, though be prepared for the wait, and dun expect it to be some chill, cozy place where you can slowly finish your food, kick off your sandals and relax. be courteous. 7/10

tonkotsu king keisuke | 1 Tras Link #01-19, Orchid Hotel, S078867 | ramen, authentic

back in business.

[pomegranate and honey-miso black cod fish with gobo (burdock roots), ginger, scallion and sesame, $24]

so i met up with my good ol’ friend, alex today for some good ol’ contemporary japanese food (ha, oxymoron much).  its something i have been missing since trying hapa izakaya at vancouver. anyways, i had suggested this place called kinki, located at the shimmering location of customs house sited right by the bay facing MBS. mind you, the fullerton bay area has seriously glammed up since the last year i visited the area (which was errm never, because this place was never much of a talking point until recent times i suppose). looking exactly like the expats and banker’s cozy after-work chillout spot, the place is filled with sleekly designed boutique restaurants and the beautiful open-concept fullerton bay hotel. kinki fits right with this theme, giving off a nonchalant, casual vibe mixed with obviously expensive aftertones. you have the incongruous graffiti juxtaposed with sleek looking furnishings that opens out to a magnificent view of the bay courtesy of the full length bay windows.

anyways, lets talk about the name of this place. i suppose it serves a double entendre purpose of implying cheeky fun as well, but my friend searched ‘kinki japanese’ and the first hit was japanese girls. *shakes head*. ok to the food..

foie gras and scallop sushi, $22

this small creation set us back by $22, which is kinda shocking, but honestly, its worth the try and leaves you seriously craving for more. the foie gras melts in your mouth whilst the japanese scallop gives a great texture (what chinese call ‘kou gan’) creating a true gastronomic delight. THIS is what i love and miss so much about contemporary japanese food. the carefully nuanced use of japanese and western ingredients and cooking styles to create an exciting, elaborate culinary adventure. every bite brought about new sensations. lol.. and i’m not kidding – the combination of the buttery flavor of the foie gras paired with the sweet sauce and freshness of the scallop was truly great stuff. pity about the price.

note that after this dish we actually ordered a buta sushi ($18), some slow roast pork belly sushi that was gobbled up so quickly that i remembered about my camera only after the last grains of rice had melted in my mouth. -_-

kinki okonomiyaki (japanese pizza with bonito flakes, shrimp, scallop and bacon), $24

this was a little bit of a miss for me – i appreciated the western take on okonomiyaki by use pastry bread as the base for this dish and piling on traditional okonomiyaki ingredients and sauces, but to me, it was a little too way off to be called okonomiyaki. in other words, dun mess with my okonomiyaki biatches! the dish on its own was decent, the pastry bread was well baked and soft but i felt like there was a certain disconnect between the ingredients on the top (the prawn, sauce, bacon etc) and the pastry bread, as though the proportion of bread had overshadowed the fillings on top. this being said, the dish started to grow on me and by the last piece, i was starting to want more and was burping nice after-flavors.. lol.

another highlight was the pomegranate and honey-miso black cod fish paired with ginger, scallion, sesame and gobo (burdock root). initially i ate the fish without the acoutrements and felt like it was just a uniquely flavored and well prepared fish dish, but the pairing of the other components truly elevated the dish to a much higher level. the scallion, sesame and ginger lent the fish much of a japanese flavor to the pomegranate-tasting fish which really enhanced the flavor profile. the semi medicinal and off-bitter taste of the gobo further accentuated the sweetness and complexity of the entire dish. amazing stuff.

all in all, a really delicious gastronomic adventure. bill came down to round $56 per person but you did feel full. had it been cheaper, this would be moved to the top of my list, but now it stands as more of a once-off, novelty food excursion. yummz. 8.0/10

Kinki Restaurant + Bar | 70 Collyer Quay #02-02, Customs House, Singapore 049323 | fusion, japanese, chill-out

ramen, iron chef style.

methinks this is a really innovative venture at iluma shopping mall – round up a bunch of well known ramen chefs and pit them against each other iron chef style and allow the patrons to decide who is the king of ramen. the concept of the restaurant is similar to that of medz/shokudo/marche where you get a card to swipe as much food as you want, you grab a seat in the japanese-izakaya themed restaurant layout and then order your preferred ramen.

mind you, for the uninitiated, the nuances between the ramen of different districts can be quite daunting. and well, even for me, who has tried quite a few ramen stalls, i can’t tell you what makes different ramen of different districts unique. i only know that i like hakata ramen for their thin cut noodles and savory broth and am acquainted with sapporo ramen for their miso/shouyu/shio broths normally sweetened with the inclusion of corn.

so yeah, i was intimidated and well, went with my instincts and chose the Bario ramen, based on my friend’s prior recommendation.

Bario ramen – this one’s for the boys – $13

this ramen has character. and indeed, interestingly as it sounds, the characteristics of the ramen resemble that of a stereotypical macho dude that zhams all the ingredients and asks for second helpings at everything. in other words, everything in this ramen is loud and boisterous, like a drunkard japanese man stumbling out of an izakaya. the soup broth is good stuff – and with the addition of copious (and this is encouraged by the chef – 3 scoops of garlic = decent DUDE) amounts of garlic, the flavor profile becomes more unique and well.. nice. and well, this ramen honestly can be shared amongst two in my opinion, because the noodles are thick and heavy and the beansprouts mountain is really quite daunting a task to finish. i somehow felt the thickness of the noodle made it difficult for the flavor of the soup to entirely seep into the noodle, leading to a somewhat less tasty experience when u eat the noodle cos u taste alot of flour. ohh.. and the char siew is kinda miserable compared to the other ingredients, 3 pieces of char siew that ain’t much to talk about. =)

in a nutshell, Bario – full of flavor, overwhelming, not too nuanced.

tsukemen from tetsu

my sis and dad opted for the tsukemen – a dipping ramen where ramen and broth are presented separately and one has to dip the ramen into the broth and sip vigorously. the broth is thicker than other ramen soups and is also somewhat more flavorful. wasn’t too impressed with this because it just felt like zhup (sauce) and noodles without any other ingredients, but the broth was pretty good. worth a shot if one hasn’t eaten such dipping ramen before.

black shoyu ramen from menya iroha

my mom got this cos she didn’t want something too oily. hmm, this one actually is the most similar to the normal ramen we see at other ramen establishments. but the black shoyu does give it different, more edgy flavor profile. i think i preferred this the most in my opinion.

all in all, a decent place to soak in some japonisme and try all the quirky ramen you can stomach! 7/10

 ramen champion | 201 victoria street, bugis iluma, #04-08/09/10 s188607 | japanese, ramen, themed