SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) In an ideal sushi-eating Singapore, there would be a way to pluck a good chef from one restaurant, add the better ingredients from another place, the decor of one other, and the friendly demeanour and service of yet another, and create the ultimate sushi bar which also doesn't deliver a knock out punch to the wallet.
Think a more friendly chef from Ashino playing with ingredients from Shoukouwa's suppliers (quality has slipped a bit lately), with the efficiency of Shinji and the artistic flair of Hashida, in the latter's lovingly decked out new restaurant.
Since there is not one that fits all the criteria, we are left with a surfeit of almost-there, pretty-good, personal-favourite sushi bars that would require more than the Michelin guide to come up with an honest rating.
So - not going there.
333A Orchard Road,
#04-16 Mandarin Gallery
Tel: 6733 2114
Open for lunch and dinner, Tues to Sun: 12pm to 3pm; 7pm to 10pm.
That said, the new Hashida is really quite nice, with its impressive wide frontage on the fourth level of Mandarin Gallery.
It's moved two floors up from its original cramped location where chef Kenjiro "Hatch" Hashida would wow diners with his signature hunk of tuna that he would slowly shave and turn into moist oily morsels eaten straight or shaped into sushi.
That tuna is still a fixture in the new place, which is twice the size of the old one with one spacious main dining room and a couple of smaller rooms. With a new playground, chef Hashida gets to showcase his constantly evolving style of sushi and Japanese cooking.
The best way to enjoy it is at dinner, which is omakase only and will set you back S$350 to S$500.
You can specify your budget or leave it to him, but generally expect to pay around S$350-400 for a slap up meal.
Although primarily a sushi restaurant, much of Hashida's appeal also lies in the chef's modern aesthetic - which may or may not be a distraction depending on how much of a purist you are.
Many of the starters would fit perfectly in a French-Japanese restaurant - starting with a cold combination of clear tomato jelly layered with soymilk-dashi jelly for a refreshing silky mouth feel, with crunch from corn and edamame.
Even his sashimi platter is fashioned like a still life of water octopus, red snapper, fatty tuna and halibut lined up in a row with a drizzle of what looks like olive oil but is actually mild, really delicate green tea oil.
This hard-to-get oil requires an inordinate amount of leaves just to press a tiny amount, so it's used very judiciously here.
And instead of regular shoyu, chef Hashida pours out home-made irizake from a 400-year-old recipe that's made of sake, ume (sour plums) and bonito flakes for a fragrant, less salty dip.
What we like is his attention to detail, voracious appetite for learning and genuine desire to keep getting better.
All that is present in the winning, nattily composed plate of grilled milky sweet tile fish and a tangle of sauteed shredded burdock that's addictively sweet-savoury, sharing space with a wobbly smooth cube of monkfish liver marinated in a sweet sauce and lightly grilled.
A swirl of pumpkin puree completes the pretty picture.
A lineup of sushi follows, from the crunchy ishigakigai (shellfish) to kampachi (amberjack) that he cuts into three thin slices to soften its chewy texture and drapes it over a tiny amount of rice, which is moulded with just the right amount of looseness, without being overly compacted.
The slicing gives the fish a smooth, even texture and using less rice means lower carbs and more fish to savour on its own.
The overall fish quality is medium to high, with the high still being the shavings from the giant tuna hunk as well as the generous uni and ikura rice bowl.
Compared to dinner, lunch is an underwhelming affair, with sets priced from S$80 to S$250.
This is where you really feel the difference in quality, with the best stuff saved for the evening.
We try the S$120 Ayame and the S$180 Tachibana, the main difference being a sashimi course and a couple of more premium cuts of fish.
Both sets start off with a palate-whetting creamy yuba seasoned with ikura and dashi-soy jelly; and an intriguing chawanmushi that layers corn custard with steamed egg, topped with grilled Hokkaido corn.
The sashimi platter in the more expensive set is a fairly basic combo of water octopus, slightly seared red snapper, medium fatty tuna and botan shrimp.
Decent quality but nothing premium.
The young chef who tends to us is perfectly friendly and competent, doling out six pieces sushi of average fish quality, but almost making up for it with a generous bowl of uni-ikura rice and a slice of luscious, glistening chutoro as a final tease.
While it's true that you get what you pay for, the swing in experience between lunch and dinner is too wide to ignore, especially now that it's in bigger premises with higher expectations.
Of course, everyone wants a piece of Hatch Hashida, but it takes a village - and in this case the whole restaurant and more consistent quality - to get it to where it should go.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.
This article was first published on August 8, 2016.
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