Donburis are dime-a-dozen in Singapore. Most are wallet-friendly and quite alright. But to make your calories really count, head down to Tamashii Robataya. It's better known for its market-style robatayaki (think grilled food served to you on wooden oars) but that's because the regulars have been keeping hush on Tamashii's amazing donburis. It's a concise list of just five items but we're talking about premium goods like grilled sea eel and foie gras, and saga beef – all topped with organic eggs from Japan.
TRY The Gyudon ($58). It's A5 saga beef, truffle shavings, Akita Komochi rice and an incredibly orangey organic egg – but here's where the simplicity of the ingredients really shines, with the flavours bound by the richness of the onsen egg. Pro-tip: it’s $10 cheaper at lunch if you’re fine with skipping on truffle shavings and getting a marginally lower grade of wagyu.
$58 for eight skewers of deep-fried morsels sounded ridiculous. But after completing our rounds of the city's kushiage (aka kushikatu) joints, we were convinced. Ginza Rokukakutei is in a class of its own. The perfectly puffed panko crumbs – thin, crisp and blond without the faintest hint of greasiness – is elegance unto itself. The quality of the ingredients, Aomori scallops and Kagomshima wagyu, is easily evident too. Given that cheaper joints can set you back by $30, we'd rather waltz up to this swanky restaurant to fine-dine in style.
TRY Chicken breast and shiso leaves ($5.50). Never thought we'd actively recommend anything chicken breast but this one - done croquette-style with minced breast - is ridiculously juicy, with a perky herbal hit from shiso leaves.
The Gyu Bar is mighty serious about their beef. They purchase grade A4 Kumamoto wagyu – for its excellent marbling and its clean flavour profile that doesn't overwhelm the palate – by entire cows to offer a full range of cuts, and the meat is air-flown chilled from Japan. To get yourself properly acquainted, spring for the Gyu Bar Platter ($98/130g) which spans eight different cuts of beef. And thanks to the stellar ventilation system, you wouldn't leave smelling like barbecue. Even better: The restaurant offers every customer a complimentary cup of sake (you even get to pick your own cup from the display!) as a welcome drink.
TRY Beef Chuck ($52 for 90g). Ordinarily, chuck is relegated to stews and slow braises but this Kumamoto cut is so marbled, it almost melts in the mouth after a quick sear on the grill.
For a truly superlative omakase experience, go for broke at Hashida Sushi. There are a great many omakase destinations in Singapore, but our heart belongs to Hashida Sushi for the upbeat rhythm of its omakase menu and the distinctive levity in flavours. The courses largely follow traditional formats, though chef-owner Kenjiro Hashida is also unafraid of going his own way, such as by pairing tempura with bonito salt rather than the conventional tentsuyu dip.
TRY Otoro Sushi (part of the $250 Hiragi menu). The buttery texture is mind-blowing and we're pleased to also report that the chefs here are extremely generous in draping the otoro.
Prawn reigns supreme at Jimoto Ya. All four ramen options are built around the amaebi (sweet shrimp) broth, which is combined with tonkotsu stock in varying ratios to cater to different taste preferences. For maximum umami, go for the Ebi Shio which has the highest percentage of ebi broth; the Ebi Curry sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. Another surprising deviation: Jimoto Ya serves their ramen with minced meat rather than char siu, but when the broth is this robust, that absence hardly matters.
TRY Ebi Shoyu ($17). This happy medium is uncannily like hae mee tng, but with a silkier mouthfeel that puts it firmly in ramen territory. Pro-tip: Add some ginger paste to the soup for a burst of brightness.
Tonkatsu by Ma Maison is our go-to whenever we've got a major craving for deep-fried cutlets. It goes without saying that hire (filet) and rosu (loin) cuts are the signatures, but there are other surf-and-turf choices such as cheesy chicken roulades, jumbo prawns and oysters. Load up on your unlimited refills of shredded cabbage to make yourself feel a tad healthier.
TRY Miso Rosu Katsu Set ($23.80). We like our meat a little fattier and juicier, hence the rosu preference. The miso sauce lends a deep, umami complexity too.
If you can't hightail to Japan, Shinji is the hallowed shrine within Singapore waters for sushi – perfectly sliced sashimi on perfectly warmed vinegared rice. That said, there's a bit of an irreverent atmosphere at Shinji: The chefs are known to entertain birthday celebrants with a bit of song and dance - complete with wacky shades and party hats! Omakases are the main arrangement (from $250 at lunch) with appetisers and cooked dishes, but we find those other components distracting and unduly heavy on the palate; you might be better off asking to swap out the cooked dishes for more sushi and sashimi.
TRY Uni Rice Bowl (part of the mid-tier omakase sets, or from $50 a la carte). It's a hedonistic bowl of indulgent ingredients – uni, negitoro, and ikura. Need we say more?
With its two-page menu, Kamoshita is probably home to the most extensive oden collection among local izakayas. Besides the hot oden staples that most Singaporeans might already be familiar with, chef-owner Koki Miyoshi also offers seven cold oden items like tomatoes steeped in chilled dashi broth, and even a small 'from oden' selection which features small plates derived from oden classics. Case in point: a potato salad made with spuds from the oden.
TRY Deep-fried zuchini with chicken miso ($7). This cold oden-style zucchini slices might taste too clean at first, but you'll quickly discover them to be a great vehicle for the umami bomb that is the housemade chicken miso. Pro-tip: mix a little chicken miso into the soup and slurp it all up.
Public Izakaya just nails that trippin' vibe of Tokyo's time-honoured pubs. It's almost always packed to the rafters and for good reason. The music is fab, prices are friendly on the wallet, and of course, the food always hits the spot – no matter which outlet you end up at. Sumiyaki, oden, tempura and donburi are all par but the takoyaki here just blows the competition out of the water. Plus, happy hour all day, err' day.
TRY Buta Kakuni ($14). It's comfort food at its best – tender, slow-braised pork belly, deep caramel flavours, and an incredibly rich onsen egg.
Chicken rules the roost at Shriokane Tori-Tama. Both locals and Japanese crowd the space and the menu helpfully includes illustrations of the meat and organ parts (from $3.50). Among the more exotic nibble like cartilage, tail, windpipe and cockscomb. Tori-Tama's sets make a good starting point ($27 for seven sticks) and there's a handful of beef and pork options to round up the skewers list too.
TRY Otafuku ($3.50), lymph nodes cut from along the neck. It's on the chewy side - but immensely flavourful - and parts of it as liver-like creaminess.
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