Dining in a high-end Japanese restaurant here can often end with a shock when the bill arrives. This is especially if you leave it to the chef to decide what to serve you and forget or are too face-conscious to ask the price.
That is why I appreciate the growing number of fine-dining omakase restaurants here that post fixed prices. They are not cheap but at least you are prepared for the bill.
My latest favourite is Hashida Sushi, which opened 1 1/2 months ago at Mandarin Gallery. The intimate restaurant, which seats up to 30 people, is owned by a group of local partners but the restaurant is run by chef Kenjiro "Hatch" Hashida.
The 34-year-old chef had been working with his father, master sushi chef Tokio Hashida, at the original Hashida Sushi in Tokyo's Kachidoki district for two decades. He was sent here to helm the restaurant's first offshoot, and judging from what I've tried at both dinner and lunch, he is more than ready for the task.
Dinner is priced at $300 and $450, which makes it one of the pricier restaurants in town though I hear a $250 menu may soon be available too. Lunch is more affordable, with menus priced at $80, $120 and $250.
My choice is the $120 menu and it is good. I am not stuffed at the end but I am full - which is how you want it if you're going back to the office afterwards.
On the menu, it just says "starter, signature chawanmushi, broth, premium nigiri sushi and dessert". The details depend on the chef and what he has on hand.
At my lunch last week, the meal begins with an amuse bouche of shiitake mushroom with green beans and sesame sauce before the actual starter - a refreshing combination of chilled fresh beancurd skin sheets on black pieces of seaweed jelly. Scattered over it are orange pearls of ikura (salmon roe), fresh broad beans and edible flowers.
It is a great way to start a meal on a warm day, with varying tastes and textures to tickle the palate. But all the flavours are still very light, so you do not get overwhelmed right at the start.
Following this is the restaurant's signature chawanmushi, a smooth egg custard in which are pieces of shiitake mushroom and fugu shirako (puffer fish milt or sperm sacs), which the chef discreetly describes as male eggs.
The shirako is soft and smooth, with a slightly smoky flavour. Embedded in the egg custard, it stays hot, which is a good thing because it gets fishy when it turns cold.
Next comes the round of sushi, prepared and served piece by piece. I appreciate how care is taken to vary the textures and flavours with each subsequent sushi, so the palate doesn't get bored.
Starting with karei (summer flounder), a white fish given a twist of lime to freshen up the taste, the meal continues with sushi topped with kanpachi (amberjack) brushed with soya sauce, penshell that's lightly grilled on top and shiro ebi (baby shrimp) seasoned with Italian rock salt - four pieces of nigiri sushi altogether. The penshell stands out with its smoky flavour from the grilling, while the salt adds a nice balance to the sweet shrimps.
Winding down the lunch is a steaming bowl of clear seaweed soup with a scallop ball in it. It has a clean taste, with a few slivers of citrus zest to perfume it. And it's comforting.
But just as you think that's the end, there's a last surprise - a chirashi sushi with the rice topped with delicious sea urchin and salmon roe. It's so good you wish there is more of it.
There are three choices for dessert: cheesecake, macarons which the chef makes himself or a mizu manju dumpling. The macaron, which comes in flavours such as cherry blossom, is very good - light and not overly sweet.
I have tried that earlier at a pre-opening dinner I was invited to, so this time I opt for the mizu manju. And it's even better than the macaron.
The dumpling is made from kuzu starch, and is translucent with a springy texture that resembles a firm agar-agar. It comes filled with mango and red beans, in a bowl filled with ginger syrup.
The dumpling tastes refreshing but when you drink the ginger syrup afterwards, the flavours transform in the mouth as the spice takes over the palate. It has a pleasant aftertaste and makes a lovely end to the meal.
If money is not a problem, dinner is a more luxurious experience. You also get to experience a hand-carved tuna sushi that not only involves a bit of showmanship but also tastes really good.
For the last piece of sushi, the chef brings out a large slab of tuna belly that looks almost like a side of beef. He then shaves off a slice and rolls it over sushi rice with a touch of freshly grated wasabi.
There is more fish than rice, and the way the aromatic fish oils fill your mouth as you chew on the sushi is simply heavenly. You get to choose between chutoro (medium fatty) or otoro (fat belly), both of which are good though I prefer otoro.
If the chef is in a good mood, he may actually give you a piece of both. When he asks whether you want another piece, don't be shy. Say yes.
SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
333A Orchard Road 02-37 Mandarin Gallery, tel: 6733-2114
Open: Noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 10pm (Tuesdays to Sundays). Closed on Mondays
Price: Lunch from $80 a person, dinner from $300
Mizu manju The translucent dumpling is refreshing with its filling of mango and red bean, while the ginger syrup gives it a spicy finish.