Restaurant specialising in puffer fish offers Japanese delicacy all year round

Grand Tasting Tour menu. -- PHOTO: FAIRMONT SINGAPORE
Grand Tasting Tour menu. -- PHOTO: FAIRMONT SINGAPORE
Executive chef Koji Tsukamoto (left) and sous chef Toshi Miyanagi (right) head Fuku Fine Fugu Kaiseki Restaurant. -- PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Executive chef Koji Tsukamoto (left) and sous chef Toshi Miyanagi (right) head Fuku Fine Fugu Kaiseki Restaurant. -- PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

A 65-seater specialising in this Japanese delicacy has opened in Mohamed Sultan Road

Fans of fugu, otherwise known as the puffer fish or blowfish, will not need to travel to Japan to enjoy the delicacy. They can order it all year round at new restaurant Fuku, which opened two weeks ago in Mohamed Sultan Road.

The 65-seat restaurant, opened by first-time restaurant owner Kanida Yuji, 36, and a silent partner, serves fugu kaiseki-style, offering a variety of dishes using various parts of the fish.

Among the dishes it offers are fugu tessa (thinly sliced fugu sashimi served with Japanese baby leek and ponzu sauce with spiced radish), fugu karaage (deep-fried fugu) and fugu tecchiri (fugu hotpot).

It also serves hard-to-find fugu dishes such as fugu shirako or milt, and hiresake, which is fugu fin that is sundried and then grilled before it is steeped in sake.

The kitchen is headed by executive chef Koji Tsukamoto, 40, who has more than 20 years' experience in preparing and cooking the fish.

Traditional set menus range between $150 for a six-course meal and $580 for a special nine-course meal that requires a five-day advance booking.

About 70 to 80 per cent of the menu consists of fugu dishes, including a la carte dishes such as fugu chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) and the fugu shirako.

Mr Yuji, who declined to say how much was invested in the restaurant, says he decided to specialise in fugu dishes to fill a gap in the market. He says: "There are many Japanese restaurants here specialising in sushi, ramen and yakiniku, but not fugu. It's also very difficult to import it into Singapore."

Indeed, checks with several Japanese restaurants here showed that only a few serve fugu dishes and only usually when it is in season.

Chef Tetsuya Wakuda of fine-dining restaurant Waku Ghin at Marina Bay Sands says the fugu season typically begins in December and runs until February.

In his restaurant, fugu is imported from Shizuoka prefecture and can be served in different ways, including carpaccio-style (thinly sliced) with ponzu dressing and in a risotto dish.

Botan Japanese Restaurant in Pekin Street serves fugu all year round but only as an appetiser, in which the fish is seasoned with mirin and grilled (fugu mirin boshi). Other restaurants such as Mikuni at Fairmont Singapore and Nadaman at Shangri-La Hotel Singapore also serve fugu, but only towards the end of the year, when the fish is in season.

Chef Mervin Goh, 42, chef-owner of the Akashi Group, says he will prepare fugu dishes at his restaurant only upon request, serving it sashimi-style or boiling the skin.

He says: "To me, it tastes like another white meat and may not be something people will break the bank for, unlike sea urchin or tuna belly. But it is worth trying at least once."

To have the fish available all year round, Fuku imports both wild and farm-bred Tora fugu (tiger puffer fish) - considered a premium species of the fish - from the Kyushu region of Japan and from Shimonoseki, a city in Yamaguchi prefecture which is known for its locally harvested fugu.

What makes fugu a delicacy is the fact that it can be potentially lethal due to the poison tetrodotoxin that it contains. It can paralyse a person and cause death if the fish is not handled properly and its toxins are not removed.

In Japan, chefs must be licensed by the government before they are allowed to prepare and serve fugu to diners.

For most species of puffer fish, the neurotoxin is found primarily in the liver, ovaries and intestines. A spokesman for the the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority says Singapore allows imports only of cleaned puffer fish, with its internal organs removed. This ensures that the fish will be safe for consumption here.

While Japanese customers make up the bulk of its clientele, Mr Yuji hopes Singaporeans will give fugu a try. He says jokingly: "Singaporeans have a very big antenna for food. It's like, 'Wah, a new Japanese restaurant. What is that, puffer fish?'. I think they'll be interested to try."

Programme manager Serene Siew, 36, who tried fugu and enjoyed it, is looking forward to tasting the menu at Fuku.

She says: "I had grilled fugu before, which tasted like barbecued pork and was delicious. I don't mind trying new fugu dishes, just as long as it's not the sperm."

melk@sph.com.sg