For a long time, Japanese restaurants here had to offer something for everybody. So, many would serve sushi, tempura, ramen and gyoza. Many restaurants still do.
But one good thing about the waves of Japanese restaurants opening here is that many more are focusing on just one thing, whether it is ramen, tonkatsu, unagi or, at Sabar in Wisma Atria's Japan Food Town, mackerel.
At many restaurants, you can order grilled saba, which is difficult to get wrong and easy for the home cook to replicate. But Sabar's mackerels are larger than the ones you get in supermarkets and so very fat and buttery.
The fish goes into every dish except dessert. Even potato salad is topped with saba. It all sounds terribly monotonous, but the dish is served in so many ways that I do not tire of it.
Grilled Mega Toro-Saba ($38 for whole, $20 for half, $10 for quarter) is a must-order. Break through the crisp brittle skin and there is thick, flaky flesh, glistening with fish oil. Eat it with grated radish mixed with a splash of shoyu. Magnificent.
Also good is Toro-Saba Nitsuke ($16), where mackerel fillets are simmered in a shoyu, sake and mirin sauce. It is a little sweet and cries out for a bowl of rice, but the finely shredded leeks on top add some much-needed sting to the dish.
To start, order the Assorted Four Different Kinds Of Toro-Saba Sashimi ($25), with two slices each of raw, smoked, vinegared and shoyu-marinated mackerel. All are good, but the smoked one smells almost like bacon and I might order just that next time. Also good to whet the appetite is Aburi Toro-Shime Saba ($18), slices of lightly torched vinegared mackerel.
If you are wondering about the strange opening and closing times, 38 sounds like saba in Japanese. Now you know.
WHERE: Sabar, Japan Food Town, 04-50 Wisma Atria, 435 Orchard Road MRT: Orchard TEL: 6262-3453 OPEN: 11.38am to 2.38pm, 5.38 to 10.38pm (daily) INFO: www.japanfoodtown.sg/
TASTY PINK BIRDS
The idea of eating pink chicken might send shivers down the spine. So I applaud Prive at the Asian Civilisations Museum for sticking to its guns with its version of Chicken Rice ($17), new to the menu.
It uses Anxin chickens raised by Toh Thye San Farm in Johor Baru, which is run by a Singapore family. These tasty birds are perfectly cooked, served a little pink (photo) and safe to eat. I am still alive, just so you know.
If you are of a certain age, like I am, the chicken might remind you of the kind you ate as a child.
They are raised without growth hormones or antibiotics, given a special feed that includes herbs, allowed to run free in a closed pen and are bred for at least 75 days, almost twice the industry average.
All this care results in flavour, a startling - and delightful - discovery for those of us used to bland-tasting birds.
The aromatic rice that comes with the chicken is worth breaking the carb-free diet for. However, people who think the success of chicken rice depends on the chilli dip might be disappointed with this version. It is a rough hewn one with vinegar and lime juice and tastes a little too sharp. However, the chicken is so good that it seems a shame to drown it in sauces and dips.
Only 20 portions are available every day, so let the staff know how many you want when making a reservation. WHERE: Prive ACM, 01-02 Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place MRT: Raffles Place TEL: 6776-0777 OPEN: 8.30am to 10.30pm (Mondays to Thursdays), 8.30am to midnight (Fridays and Saturdays), 9am to 10.30pm (Sundays) INFO: theprivegroup.com.sg
INTENSE SWIRLS OF TEA FLAVOUR
We are in November now and the days should be getting cooler. Some days are, but the weather seems to lurch from grey and drizzly to hot and humid.
On one of these hot days, after an uninspiring lunch, I pop over to Matchaya, a kiosk in Icon Village. Its Houjicha soft serve (photo, from $5.90) saves the day.
I love green tea in all its forms but especially houjicha, which has a beguiling, smoky flavour because the tea leaves are roasted.
The intense flavour of the tea is apparent in every spoonful of the soft serve, enhanced by the finely ground houjicha powder sprinkled over the swirls.
Iced Matcha ($4.20) is also satisfyingly intense.
I feel cool, so very cool, after the soft serve and tea.
Now, would it be too much to ask for Matchaya to have seating? WHERE: Matchaya, 01-72 Icon Village, 12 Gopeng Street MRT: Tanjong Pagar TEL: 9837-3187 OPEN: Noon to 8pm daily INFO: www.facebook.com/matchayasg/
I love the idea of ayam penyet, where fried chicken is "smashed" before serving, and have eaten possibly too many servings for my own good.
Penyet Town, which serves a good version of the Indonesian dish, has other permutations. It gives the penyet treatment to chicken wings ($6.90), steak ($7.90), prawns ($7.90) and squid ($7.50).
But the one that catches my fancy is Terong Penyet ($5, photo). The chunks of eggplant are coated in batter and expertly deep-fried. What comes out are nuggets of eggplant coated with a filigree crust, crisp and greaseless.
That fiery chilli dip is addictive, but painful for a chilli coward like me to eat. Thank goodness for the squeeze bottle of kicap manis at the table.
WHERE: Penyet Town, 01-65/66 OneKM mall, 11 Tanjong Katong Road MRT: Paya Lebar TEL: 6341-6292 OPEN: 11.30am to 9.30pm daily