(THE NEW PAPER) - Given the manpower crunch at restaurants, technology can be a clever albeit soulless solution.
At Hokkaido-ya, a new concept by the Sushi Tei group, you order via a kiosk. Just key in your order, wait for the food to be ready, collect and eat.
If you find it hard to decide, the kiosk uses artificial intelligence to recognise your face, remember your previous orders and make recommendations.
It is slightly scary and sad (there goes another layer of human interaction), but also exciting because this is the way of the future.
Luckily, the food is old-fashioned and familiar enough to not make this totally alien, but there are some twists to keep it interesting.
Technology may be great, but it is useless unless the food is delicious.
There is something about prawns with cubes of egg that makes a dish visually appealing, and I respond positively to the Bara Chirashi Salad ($14.90). It is a refreshing bowl, but there is nothing new about the combination or the formula.
With some dishes, you just do not want to mess with perfection, which rings true in this case.
The truffle oil in the Truffle Salmon Don ($10.90) is gimmicky, but the cubes of salmon are fresh and firm, while the sushi rice from Niigata prefecture in Japan is smooth and has the right amount of bite. And combined, even the truffle oil cannot distract.
I am not fond of Japanese curry, so I am surprised that I am not repulsed by the Shirobuta Pork Katsu Hokkaido White Curry Rice ($12.90). The curry is pleasantly aromatic yet mild, with a mix of cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, onion and garlic powder.
For me, the lean and dry pork is the letdown. I wish there is an option for a fattier cut.
The must-try is the Hokkaido Beef Ramen ($15.90) in miso broth. There is an earthiness to the broth, complemented by pan-fried thinly-sliced Hokkaido beef. The meat is almost buttery in flavour, which adds to that luxe feeling. You will almost forget that you are in a wallet-friendly environment.
Butter makes everything better, but I do not know how that knob of butter contributed to the Hokkaido Butter Corn Hotate Ramen ($12.90). Perhaps it is the kind of butter used. The ramen is fine on its own, but this is just not a spectacular dish.
Where: 02-153 VivoCity, 1 Harbourfront Walk, tel: 6376 -8387; open: 11.30am to 10pm