This was another of our ‘treat ourselves’ occasions; a few times a year we splash out to try somewhere hailed as one of the world’s best restaurants – this time referring to ‘Asia’s Top 50’ list. Shinji at Raffles Hotel comes in at number 21; Japanese fine dining from 2-star Michelin Chef Shinji Kanesaka, his first restaurant outside of Japan.
We didn’t love it, we didn’t hate it, it was certainly an experience.
This is a classic example of trusting the list (well, it’s one of the world’s best, of course we are going to love it) without really being fully prepared for what we were going to get. When I say this is traditional Japanese, I mean this is REALLY traditional, old-age Japanese cuisine. And our palates quite frankly are used to westernised Japanese food (sushi-for-dummies, made with more familiar ingredients). I like to think that we eat pretty much anything, and will certainly give anything a go once. But some of the items on this menu were just a step too far.
The restaurant itself is beautiful; simple, elegant. You sit at the counter and watch the chefs at their stations, wielding knives like paintbrushes and treating the ingredients in front of them with utmost respect, transforming them into little plates and dishes of impressive works of art. The menu here is omakase, meaning it is entrusted entirely to the chef (and went through from appetiser, sashimi, nigiri sushi, cooked dishes and Japanese fruit). Each dish which came out surprised and delighted in its precision and beauty.
However, when it came to taste, it was more surprise than delight. Caveat – I have no doubt that these are the finest ingredients, considered delicacies in Japan and beyond, but they were just not to our taste. The strength of some of the flavours; smoky and incredibly fishy monkfish liver, sea urchin, enormous salty fish egg roes – they were just overwhelming. I think they are what you call ‘acquired tastes’, and we certainly haven’t acquired them yet. Some morsels were delicious such as the cooked black cod which was soft and melt in the mouth, and the hand-pressed nigiri sushi was fresh and light. Tiny little fish ‘Noresore’ which are very young conger eels (picture top right) tasted of the lovely sharp dressing, and was perfectly enjoyable, but the fish themselves were a bit chewy and tasteless.
We had a really enjoyable evening, loved watching the talented chefs at work and the beauty and artistic detail of plate after plate. However, we wont be going back! The food was just too much for our more westernised tastebuds, and we didn’t really enjoy it, which made the eye-wateringly expensive bill at the end even harder to swallow than the sea urchin. If you really really love Japanese food and are prepared to pay top end prices for highly prized ingredients then please go, as it really is quite an experience. If you can only manage to eat the mayonnaise smothered California rolls when you go to a sushi restaurant, then this probably isn’t for you.
Shinji by Kanesaka, Raffles Hotel, 2-20, 1 Beach Road, Singapore, 189673