Burnt Ends @ Teck Lim Road

Burnt Ends is no stranger to publicity as it has been featured on the New York Times, and named among the hottest restaurants of 2014 on Zagat.

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It is a collaboration between Loh Lik Peng (local hotelier/restauranteur) and Andre Chiang (of Restaurant Andre). Kitchen is helmed by Aussie David Pynt – who has had a long history with barbecue (in Aus & London), therefore – he makes the perfect fit at Burnt Ends, which as you might have guessed, serves smoked/ grilled/ wood-fired dishes.

As such, I would consider a good oven to be the backbone of support at such a restaurant, as all its dishes rely on it. Sure enough, their oven was custom-built to accommodate different temperature settings for different dishes at once. This can go up to 1,700 degC. Another system that caught my eye was the open grill, that can be lowered and raised using a lever. This was also custom and designed by David Pynt himself.

Look around the restaurant, it is small with only 18 seats along a bar counter. There is a no-reservations policy except for the chef’s table – which takes reservations almost 2 months in advance and has a min spend of $100/head. Of course, it is worth every penny. The open concept restaurant lets you witness the start-to-finish of your dish, and more interestingly, the theatrics of this lively kitchen. There is non-stop movement and action that adds to the unmissable burnt ends experience.

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I started with a warmed oyster ($6), which is a fresh raw oyster in delicious hot soup – I made out melted butter and white wine.

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Next we had the smoked quail eggs, their signature ($6 for 5). The egg is bouncy on the outside and when you bite into it, the yolk explodes in your mouth like a tasty revelation. The smokiness from the grill is perfectly conveyed to you via the eggs, which makes it the perfect introduction to the restaurant, and start to our meal.

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On a separate visit, we had the smoked quail eggs with caviar ($15 for one). It adds a decadent texture to the classic dish, but you can do without it.

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Fennel with orange and burrata was a well balanced blend of creaminess and tanginess – with added crunch.

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Their other signature is the Burnt Ends Sanger, which has in it pulled pork, cole slaw, chipotle aioli in a brioche bun ($20).

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The Iliocostalis ($14) was a small piece of beef, with crispy fats around it, and tender meat in the center. Served with mustard. Came highly recommended by our waiter with reason, if you are looking for a savoury starter, or meats in small portions.

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The only main we ordered was the flank with burnt onion and bone marrow ($23 per 100g). Even though flank is usually the cheaper part of a cow, this was amazingly tender. It was beautiful watching our chef cut up the piece of cooked meat to reveal the red rareness of the meat inside. Would do this again 1 million times.

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Dessert came in the form of a burnt lemon sherbet, blueberry compote, marshmallow and crumble. It would have been perfect without the blueberry which overwhelmed the dish and confused our tastebuds. ($12)

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I find the dishes reasonably priced for this standard. Definitely deserves a revisit.

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Bincho @ Tiong Bahru

Bincho shares the same shop space as tiong bahru’s acclaimed Hua bee mee pok. Hua bee makes use of the front half, so take the back entrance for bincho.

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Essentially, bincho is a yakitori restaurant. But that is quite the understatement. I visited for lunch – they do yakitori rice bowls set lunch for $25-30. It is definitely one of the best, and most value for money set lunches in Singapore.

My dining companion ordered a pork don while I ordered a chicken patty don (they go by their japanese names on the menu, but I cannot remember them).

The set lunch comes with a slew of side dishes, and first of the lot is this cooked chicken/ carrot/ radish/ onion dish, drizzled with a light soupy gravy. Heart warming and appetizing.20140701-090305-32585673.jpg

Next was the salmon skin salad. Who doesn’t like fried salmon skin, right? Dressing for the salad was also a winner.

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Chicken wings in sweet sauce. I was surprised by their generosity. There were so many side dishes, and all of them quite good.

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Miso soup was special, they added some beans/ bits inside to add a crunchy texture. It was fun to drink the soup. I suspect they cooked the soup with pork bone because there is a unique flavour.

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If you have a small appetite, you might already be full by now. But the dons finally arrive and they are amazing!

My chicken patty don came with sweet potato, zucchini, jalapeño, onions, ginger, and topped with raw egg. I cleaned up the bowl spotless. So delicious. The chicken patty was so thick and juicy. I enjoyed the vegetables too because I don’t like too much meat. And the raw egg just took it to another level. I can’t even. I suspect this might be their signature dish, because it is at the top of their menu?

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My dining companion’s pork don came with a generous serving of pork, onions, and ginger on the side. The pork was a bit tough in my opinion, but it isn’t my favourite meat to begin with. My partner liked it though.

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Ended off with either a black sesame or green tea ice cream.20140701-090001-32401780.jpg

The gastronomic journey was exciting, and very affordable. Everybody should try bincho. There is no reason not to! I can see myself going back again and again for lunch. I wouldn’t mind going alone, or with an old friend for a catch up session. Note that it is not suitable for big groups as it is a very small place.

If you are interested in dinner, they have set meals at $60, 80, 120. Which I feel is reasonable as there is a lot more food.

aside: a few interesting things…

-it would be nice to cross over to plain vanilla nearby for a post-meal coffee and cake. I love the outdoor spacious concept of this space.

-furniture, chopsticks, etc are shared between Hua bee and bincho. It is interesting to see their different takes on the same items. While Hua bee looks old school, bincho looks rustic chic.

-menus are written on blackboards on the wall. There are no paper menus. If you have difficulty reading, they will happily take the blackboard off the wall, and hold it up in front of you!

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Bam! Tapas Sake Bar @ Tras Street

I do enjoy a good sake every now and then, but realize it is never consumed outside of japanese cuisine. Whereas wine and beer are universally accepted.

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I guess the founders of Bam think so too – executive chef of now defunct Santi at Marina Bay Sands worked together with sake expert Derrick Lim to start Bam, where tapas plates are recommended to be paired with their extensive list of sake. The choice to serve sake in wine glasses is also a symbol of fusing two different cultures.

The adventurous concept does not stop there. Dishes incorporate fine ingredients from Japan, Spain and around Asia into Spanish style dishes. The results were impressive – creative, refined, and tasty.

The first dish we had was “kampong egg with baby sotong and chorizo ($16)” This was great, but to be fair, you really can’t go wrong with a runny egg. But to add, everything on the plate was so refined, even baby sotong. It was a perfect deep fried golden down, crispy and flavourful. The textures of the crispy + runny + ham = winning formula.

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Next, we had “uni with burrata, salicorn and chicken soft bones ($33)”. This was foodgasmic. With every bite I put into my mouth, I closed my eyes and imagined a better world. Creamy uni mixed with milky buratta, why has this never been done before? They are a match made in food heaven and I still remember the explosion in my mouth today. I will go back just for this dish.

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“Pasta a la plancha with prawns and sake butter ($26)” was a bit less revolutionary, but comfort food at its best. Fresh and plump shrimp!20140701-085643-32203912.jpg

We ordered a bottle of sake to accompany our food. And all in all it was about $200 for everything. Prices are a bit steep here, considering the portions. But if you are in a group of friends and you are sharing it, it isn’t that bad. Plus it is deffo quality food.

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I really like the concept, and am happy that sake is growing more popular in Singapore.

Bye!

The (New) Library @ Keong Saik

If you haven’t been to the library recently, it’s time to revisit. 3 months ago, it underwent a change in bar manager, and with that, a change in menu and concept.

It is still a secret bar, so you still need a password to enter. Most times, you can find it on their Facebook page if you know where to look. Otherwise, it isn’t hard to get in if you are game enough. The door bitch will give you a task and if you complete it, you are free to enter! We had the password, but we had fun making friends with the door bitch – and even gave her a mini concert because we wanted to do a task.

The difference between the library now and the library before, is that they have downsized their menu from the previous list of over 40 complicated drinks, to a shorter and simpler menu. So now, they spend less time shaking and stirring, and more time chatting and giving you a friendly and memorable experience.

This change was driven by the understanding that customers just want to enjoy a good drink, they do not want to wait 30 minutes especially on weekends for bartenders to mix 20 different ingredients and then blowtorch the damn thing before serving.

As a result, they now pre make all their drinks before the bar opens, and put them in tumblers. When someone orders the drink, they pour it out and add the finishing touches and serve. This cuts down on prep time and everybody is happy.

I realize this is a departure from many other bars who pride themselves on showmanship and freshness. But does it really make a difference whether they prepare it 15 minutes earlier or 15 minutes later, since you are not actually involved in prep anyway? If you are curious, ask them about their techniques and methods. They are more than willing to share. If you want them to show you prep from start, I’m sure all you need to do is ask. But for the sake of the majority, they will premake all drinks.

Personally, I am among the minority. I badger the bartenders to know every detail and ingredient. Otherwise, I would have nothing to write after paragraph 1.

The first drink I ordered, “butter rye effect”, contains burnt butter rye whiskey, fernet branca, fresh lemon and maple syrup. Great recommendation from my bartender aloysius. This drink is prepared by first melting the butter over heat, then adding whiskey and freezing it again. When the fat solidifies on top, remove the fat. Then add maple and lemon.

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My companion chose “rumford and sons” purely for the name. She is a Mumford groupie. And so is the bar manager! He even has the beard going on. Name aside, many people choose this drink for it’s homemade caramel raspberry jam. But I find it’s ginseng liqueur content more intriguing. I was surprised that a western company, Kamms and Sons, created this liqueur. Ginseng is usually preferred by Asian palates. Aloysius noticed my interest and gave me a tasting portion of the liqueur. It was medicinal yet degenerate in one.

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At this point, our friendly bartenders aloysius and armin decided to shower us with shooters. Thank you! When I asked what they were made of, they gently informed me that the name of the drink is “shut up and drink”. To encourage customers to just drink! But I guessed the ingredients and aloysius confirmed that the main ingredients were Pisco, aperol, lemon juice and grenadine.

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I was seduced by “the silver screen”, which is their twist on the old fashioned. But I decided to be adventurous and aloysius gave me their strongest. It’s called the “Mai o Mai” – containing homemade pineapple juice infused beer, passion fruit, lemon, green chartreuse, absinthe, a blend of Caribbean rums including 55% abv rum, 60% abv rum and a 78% abv rum. This is so strong that they have a limit of 3 of these per guest. Through out my drink, aloysius kept checking on us to see if we were okay. I was. In case you’re curious. When chatting to another customer, he informed me that this used to come with dry ice and stuff.

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We were very lucky, because the people next to us returned their drink (there was a mistake) so we benefited and gained a free drink. It was the “bloody Andy”, which is obviously a twist on Bloody Mary. It contains roasted tomatoes, horseradish infused vodka, yellow peppers, tobasco, Worcester sauce, and celery bitters. Spicy drinks don’t sit well with my tummy, so this was a nono for me. But I’m sure it has its fans.

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One of the first questions I asked when I realized the menu changed was, “is there still the bath tub drink??”. The bath tub is still around, but now serves a different drink from before.

All cocktails are $23, while the Mai I Mai cost $35.

Cheers guys.

The Beast @ Jalan Klapa

The poster child for southern cuisine is undoubtedly fried chicken, the ultimate comfort food. Lesser known southern classics include pulled pork, bacon, mashed potatoes, grit, cornbread, etc. Note that it’s definitely not for anybody on a clean-eating diet. Here’s what we had when we visited Singapore’s first ever southern restaurant & bourbon bar in the arab street area:

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Started with happy hour beers – $10nett per pint.

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Chili Concarne $14 is a no-brainer when it comes to sharing food among friends. It is hearty, tasty and easy to eat. It was served piping hot and we enjoyed the savoury start to the meal. However we realized later that we were served nacho chips instead of cornbread, that was stated in the menu. We wonder why?

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Chicken & Waffle $20 – Here, half a chicken is deep fried but without the sickening oily feel. The blend of sweet and savory when eaten with the waffles and maple bourbon syrup was perfectly on point. The gluten-free waffles were soft yet crisp. Quite mind blowing and finished this as quickly as it was served. MUST order!

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Jack & The Beast Stalk $12 – if the previous dish was mind blowing, this was definitely earth shattering. In this dish, green beans are deep fried with a SECRET seasoning. We tried getting it out of the waitresses, but they refused to divulge. If we had to hazard a guess, my dining companion said sugar while I say plum. So you can guess that it is sweet. MUST MUST order!

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Portions are big, and I would recommend ordering one dish at a time, as southern food is best enjoyed hot. Only move onto ordering the next after you have finished the previous dish. They cook pretty quickly anyway. Not forgetting the free flow salted popcorn that the waitresses were very happy to top up voluntarily.

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Onto the drinks – All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. The main difference between whiskey and bourbon is that bourbon must be made entirely in the USA. The distinctive flavors are often attributed to the spring water used.

If you are a bourbon beginner, do try their flights. These are sampling platters that allow you to taste three different bourbons. There is an introductory flight ($34) for beginners, or low/high-rye ($34) if you have more specific tastes. We went for the small batch ($36) flight because we wanted something exclusive, followed by a single barrel flight ($38) for a more premium experience.

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With flights, there will definitely be hits and misses but it’s a good way to expose yourself to various spirits, and understand the difference in tasting notes, aromas, palate, aftertaste, etc. If you need guidance, they provide notes for you to study as you drink.

I also tried a couple of cocktails; the Beast Smash, and the Scarlet Sour ($20 each). I requested extra sour for both, and made them doubles. Meanwhile, my dining companion progressed down the bourbon menu, one glass after another ($20 each).

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We also ventured to get shooters ($12 each)! Being a sister bar of Chupitos in clarke quay, they have similar daredevil shooters mixed from the weirdest ingredients. We ordered one of everything from the menu. And I would say Pickleback was the weirdest! It made me feel like snooki! It is bourbon mixed with pickle juice and I absolutely underestimated the intensity of the pickle because it was really overwhelming. It’s like eating a Macdonald’s cheeseburger and you want to pick out the pickles but you can’t in this case!

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Service was stellar – we made friends with every one of the waitresses. They were outgoing, friendly and funny. Bartender was knowledgeable about bourbon, not just about the taste but also the background stories of each distillery. She gave spot on recommendations everytime we requested for a specific type.

Chalks are provided in the bathroom to encourage customers to draw on the walls. No rude messages spotted as far as I know, and shows that the crowd is really decent. LOVED the adventure time cameo.

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In the southern states, it’s never about pretenses. It’s about carelessly over-indulging in too much fried food and good bourbon. And that is exactly what we did one fine Monday night after a hard day’s work. Swap out your heels for some cowboy boots and get ready for a really good time!

The total damage was $330 for 2 people, because we drink too much for our wallets’ good.

There is live music most nights but they failed to sing my song – “Why’d you only call me when you’re high?”

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Dinings @ London

Let this post go out to my dining companion; who brought me here knowing I would love it, who always seems to know what I would order from ANY menu, and who generously picked up the check for this meal. Thank you. (Disclaimer: My horrendous photography obviously does no justice to Dinings)

“Everybody talks about Dinings,” my friend said to me. Here’s why.

Chefs Tomonari Chiba and Masaki Sugisaki hail from Nobu London, but left to found Dinings – a Japanese small plates concept adapted from traditional izakayas. The innovative menu shows European influences, but authenticity and freshness are never compromised under these chefs. They cooked their way to place Dinings at the top of Zagat’s “Best Japanese Restaurants in London”.

For a top restaurant, there is not a trace of pomposity here. The decor is utilitarian and there is no dress code (my partner even advised me to change out of my dress into jeans instead). The waiters are so friendly and knowledgable, eager to talk at length about the menu, from cover to cover. This is because Dinings has always pride themselves on making customers feel comfortable in a friendly atmosphere. Be forewarned that the space can get quite cramped, but I rather enjoyed eavesdropping on neighbouring conversations.

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First dish to arrive was our tartar chips, which are homemade potato crisps, filled with avocado, toro fatty tuna, vegetables and wasabi-jalepeno sauce. This is a signature of Dinings, and there are other variations of these chips if tuna is not your thing. Whatever you do, this is a must order. I had a conversation with my colleague the other day wholly on the chips at Dinings. (£8.50)

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The seabass carpaccio with fresh spring truffle and ponzu jelly, some say the best dish at Dinings (according to our waitress). Get used to it, because every dish here is decadent as hell. Check out the generous layers of truffle on top. The sour and tangy flavours whetted our appetites. However, we noted that if this dish were to come later during the meal we would not like it as much, because the sourness is very strong. (£19.80)

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Tuna tartare with fresh truffle was an off the menu item. Can you tell that I love my starters? (£17.80)

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Wagyu beef tataki with ponzu and porcini oil (£18.85) Picture below from zagat because my own picture sucks.

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Time for some hot food, because everything before this was cold. The grilled aubergine with sweet miso was a beautiful giant half piece of aubergine, great texture (firm yet melt in your mouth), cooked in sweet miso paste and served piping hot! This would convert even eggplant haters! I still dream about the flavour! (£6.70) We also got a miso soup with salmon that is not pictured, (£4.75).

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Seared yellowtail belly with yuzu kyosho (yuzu with a black pepper kick – another signature at Dinings) (£5.45)

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Scottish salmon “zuke” style topped with caramelized onion-soy-jam. (£4.95)

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Seared Yuzu-soy marinated Santa Barbara shrimp sushi topped with kizami-wasabi, which is a Dinings version of wasabi. (£6.45)

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Seared wagyu beef sushi topped with foie-gras and sweet soy (£8.45)

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I always have the best dessert at Japanese restaurants. Below is mustard shiso ice cream, topped with a pork slice. (£6.70) The mustard was mild, yet undeniable. So ingenious and one of the best things I’ve had in life. I like to think of it as a new age salted caramel.

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We booked 2 weeks in advance and the total damage was £150 after tax. Amazing meal and will definitely come back.

Hashida Sushi @ Mandarin Orchard

Hashida Sushi is a fine dining sushi establishment at Mandarin Gallery. This is master sushi chef Tokio Hashida’s first restaurant outside of Japan. Choose from three lunch sets – $80, $120 or $250. For the higher end set lunches, you will get more premium seasonal fish, sashimi and others. We settled for the modest $120.

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We sat in a cosy six-seater room, and other people only joined us 1 hour later. So we had our chef all to ourselves! Our chef, Kimura Tomoo, was extremely knowledgeable, with years of experience at restaurants in Tokyo’s ginza, roppongi and akasaka areas. He very earnestly described every dish, ingredient and preparation method to us despite struggling with English at times. There were never ending stories, and so much to learn; for example the origins, the seasons, and the culture in Japan. His passion was an integral part of our experience at Hashida.

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By the way, see the knife there. That is an $8000 knife.

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To start with, we had a soya bean skin yudofu, with salmon roe and bonito jelly. Vegetarian monks used to eat this in ancient Japan, but without the roe of course. Very mild and clean flavours from the soya skin, complemented perfectly by the jelly and roe.

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Chawanmushi with scallop and white asparagus. It was soupier than usual chawanmushi. This soup was made from sakura leaf, since sakura is in season now. (Sakura starts to bloom from the south of Japan around this time, and proceeds upstate until it reaches the north in about May. During this season, Japanese enjoy sitting under cherry blossom trees and drinking sake, much like our Chinese mid-autumn festival, where we eat mooncake and drink tea.)

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The meal officially begins and sushi is served. There were 9 different sushi. The first sushi was ishikaya (striped sea perch). It is an amazing white fish with a bouncy texture, and you can taste the sweetness very subtly creep up on you.

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Kampachi (amberjack) has an almost rubber-like texture, like a firm jelly that is very chewy. Quite similar to the previous fish.

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Shimaji (Jack mackerel). Sushi is all about the balance of flavours. Instead of the usual wasabi in sushi, our chef replaced it with Japanese lime instead, because wasabi would be too strong and overpower the taste of the mackerel. The Japanese lime adjusts for the perfect balance of flavours.

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Maguro (blue fin tuna) you might think is uninteresting at first, but our chef used a special marinade to prepare the fish. It is made from soya sauce, Japanese sweet wine, sake, and others that I cannot remember right now. Notice how only the alcohols stuck with me. Hmm. Maguro is not my personal favourite fish, but I do love the dressing very much.

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Taira gai (pen shell clam), is an interesting type of shellfish that I would describe as a crunchy scallop. You can only find it in south Japan. It was served aburi style, and this was a dish that truly blew us away.

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Same kawa (a kind of small halibut) was also another noteworthy fish. Some people nickname it shark’s skin, because it looks like it on the outside. The texture was fatty and soft, like melt-in-your-mouth, but not too fatty as it still held a level of firmness.

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At this point, we were served some miso soup, a welcome warmth after all that cold food. This special miso soup came with a generous number of clams.Miso soup and its paste vary with each prefecture in Japan. This particular miso soup we had is said to have liver detox properties, which delighted us because heaven knows we need it. Our chef encouraged us to drink up too :p

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Ever the crowd pleaser, the appearance of uni ensued in about 5 minutes of photo taking. A truly decadent dish that needs no words at all. We all go a bit weak for uni don’t we? And to say they were generous with the portion would be an understatement. There was SO MUCH!

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Our final sushi was a chutoro, also a perennial favourite.

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The tiny unsuspecting yellow cube below is a tamago, but don’t let it fool you. Before we dug in, our chef kept proclaiming that it was a cake. And I didn’t really get it, until I actually sank my teeth in. It is a very special tamago, very sweet, with a sponge cake texture. Super fluffy like those Japanese cheese cakes. That’s why in the past, Japanese used to eat tamago as a dessert rather than as sushi.

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We have reached the end of our gastronomic adventure, but even the closing was epic. Japanese fruits – strawberry and melon were unbelievably sweet.

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If you are interested in going for dinner, it is omakase style. But you can speak to your chef if you have any preferences, allergies, or budget. It is useful to note that Hashida is a sushi restaurant, so there is little to no hot food served, besides maybe chawanmushi and aburi style sashimi. If you favour beef/duck in your sushi, you will find none here as fresh fish is the star at the restaurant.

A special mention to my dear friend, who generously treated me to this meal. I am very grateful you introduced me to Hashida. It is always a joy to dine with fellow foodies, and enjoy the finer things in life together. Good things are meant to be shared. In total, it was $290 for two people after tax. We are coming back again soon!

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