Japanese food is hands-down the most popular cuisine in Singapore, and there are no lack of options. Whether it's some fresh sushi, hot-off-the-grill yakitori or a comforting bowl of ramen you are craving for, Singapore's got it covered. Here are our top picks for when you really wanna treat yo' self.
Best chirashi don
There’s always a queue at Omoté; and most of them flock to this casual Japanese restaurant for its affordable chirashi bowl. At just $12.80, each bowl of sushi rice comes topped with a heaping spoonful of diced seafood. Have it on its own, or jazz up your meal with premium uni, fresh scallops, and other seafood imported from Japan. It is best enjoyed with a drizzle of house-blend soy sauce – specially created for the restaurant and its seafood.
TRY The mentai chirashi don ($23.80), a snazzy version of the standard affair. You get the regular chirashi don but it’s smothered in a rich and creamy mentai sauce that Omoté makes daily and torched right before it’s served at your table.
Time Out Singapore in partnership with Omoté
Best kappo-style restaurant
Leading the revolution is Esora. The Lo & Behold Group’s first Japanese establishment is a treat for the senses. Even at night, the space looks washed in natural light streaming in from its cloud-like washi paper dressed skylight. It casts a warm glow on velvety smooth yellow cedar wood counter where the magic happens. There, chef-owner Shigeru Koizumi prepares kappo-style cuisine with utmost precision. Bringing together his experience cooking at three-Michelin-starred Nihonryori Ryugin in Tokyo and Singapore’s very own two-Michelin-starred Odette, he welds modern cooking techniques with an obsession over produce to create the perfect dining experience.
TRY The menu changes almost every week, following the micro-seasonality of ingredients, so you never really know what you’re going to get. The only choice you get to make is if you want the five-course lunch menu ($128), seven-course ($218) or nine-course ($278) dinner menu, or the more premium and customisable chef’s menu ($348).
Best casual modern
Joining the stable of bars and eateries under Coterie Concepts like Sum Yi Tai, Mona Lounge, and Eliza, Chi Kinjo is a modern Japanese izakaya that specialises in mod-sushi and whiskey highballs. Helmed by Chef Lamley Chua, the menu is split between starters, maki, aburi nigiri, hot small plates and hot big plates.
TRY While tradition is something that is honoured, Chua levels things up with flavours from South America with the sashimi ceviche ($18) and the Chinese-inspired Miso crispy pork belly ($24) and the selection of aburi nigiri ($12 for 2). Drink highlights include the classic whiskey highball ($12) and the refreshing Gin & Ginger ($16).
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.
Best halal izakaya
Hararu Izakaya is Singapore’s first Muslim-owned Japanese izakaya that offers tatami-style dining. Specialising in Japanese grilled cuisine using traditional charcoal grills, Hararu aims to make authentic Japanese food accessible to everyone. Besides yakitori and rice bowls, you can also enjoy the mocktails on the menu.
TRY If a restaurant specialised in grilled stuff, make that the bulk of your menu! Starting with the chargrilled squid or Surume Ika ($16) and other dishes like grilled chicken teriyaki ($14) and grilled Wagyu beef skewers with garlic miso sauce ($44) make for great sharing dishes.
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.
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