Hanare Japanese Cafe, Singapore

finally got to try the much raved about teppei barachirashi one night after work last week; it was the perfect¬†way to reward myself after a whole day of being cooped up in the office! we didn’t have it at teppei itself because teppei only does omakase at night (and i hear they are fully booked for their attractively affordable omakase dinners for months); neither did we have it at hana hana (also opened by teppei and located right next to it) which serves teppei’s lunch menu in the day, but focuses on yakitori at night. that left us with hanare, another off-shoot by teppei (that makes them a trio of restaurants) which offers a japanese buffet as well as some simple set meals in a really fuss-free and family-friendly environment. hanare is located a stone’s throw away from teppei and hana hana, at the top floor of a shophouse along tanjong pagar road. look out for the signs they place along the walkway so you don’t miss the doorway with this staircase that will take you right up to the cafe: 20140710_183435 helps in working up an appetite ūüėČ we were there right when they opened at 630pm, and were among the first few to arrive. i was really pleasantly surprised because i imagined we’d have to queue after hearing horror stories about the snaking queues at all 3 teppei outlets during lunchtime that start forming at least half an hour before they open (do these people not need to work?!)! since the prices at hanare are the same both at lunch and dinner, i would say it definitely makes heaps more sense to go for dinner; avoiding lunch crowds is always the way to go! as the word “cafe” in its name suggests, hanare is meant to offer a very simple no-frills experience. decor is really simple and doesn’t feel much like a japanese restaurant at all; in fact the whole set-up seems a little makeshift, with basic tables and chairs and bare walls.20140710_183901 you place your order and pay at the cashier before taking a seat. there are a few options to choose from – the japanese buffet (at a really affordable price of $19.90), the bara set (equally affordable $17.60), and the hanare special (just $12)!20140710_183551 we were there to try the famed teppei barachirashi, so we went for 2 bara sets. the bara set comes with a bowl of the barachirashi as well as a free flow of 4 side dishes. the side dishes available as part of this set change on a daily basis if i’m not wrong, and on that particular day, this was what was available: 20140710_183636i do think the presentation of the dishes can be improved on but for the price we paid, i really¬†didn’t think there was any reason to complain. the 4 sides available that day were (from left to right in the above picture) salad, a stew, edamame, and something that tasted like a cross between a fishcake and potato cake in some kind of sweet sauce (clearly i wasn’t really a fan of this… hahaha). as part of the bara set, you can also help yourself to the white rice, miso soup and japanese tea available at the buffet table. 20140710_184158took a mix of the side dishes to snack on while waiting for our barachirashi to be served. the salad greens (tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce) were actually very fresh and made for a refreshing side dish when paired with the sesame dressing that was provided. the edamame seemed slightly overcooked to the point of being a little soggy, but the beans within weren’t affected so no complaints about this either (gotta love edamame!). as for the stew, i think it was meant to be something like oden although there was no fishcake in it (if i’m not wrong, japanese fishcake is usually a key ingredient in oden); instead it was a mix of carrots, radish, lotus root and chicken. i really enjoyed it, especially because i am a huge fan of daikon and lotus root!!! the broth was light and tasty, and i had quite a few servings of this. finally we come to the unidentifiable fishcake-type thing which i really did not fancy, especially because it was cold after being left at the buffet table for quite a while. had half of a piece and left the rest… service is efficient and our barachirashi arrived really soon after we placed our order. it was all quite exciting finally seeing the bowl of chirashi¬†that i had seen countless pictures of sitting very very pretty right before me: 20140710_184259 the first thing that struck me about the bowl of chirashi was that i could barely see the rice hidden below the chunks of fish. definitely a good sign! as evidenced by the picture above, they were really generous with the fish for the price, and i have to say that the fish was really quite fresh. there was a mixture of tuna, salmon, scallop, ikura, yellowtail etc, and all of it was thoroughly seasoned with a soy-based marinade (if my tastebuds did not fail me). topped with some seaweed, spring onions and sesame seeds, it made for am extremely tasty bowl of chirashi. my only qualm was that the sashimi could have been better chilled while the rice could have been cooled down a little more before serving. it was as if they just scooped straight out from the rice cooker (in fact, they probably did?) and piled seasoned fish on top of the rice; i felt the rice was seriously lacking in rice vinegar and everything else that makes sushi rice sushi rice, it felt like i was basically eating a bowl of white rice. also, the rice was so hot that some pieces of sashimi appeared to have cooked a little after mixing it all together?! definitely not how i like my chirashi… all that said, can’t deny that this was still a great bowl of sashimi goodness, especially for the extremely affordable price. so how does teppei’s chirashi compare with its counterparts¬†at my other favourite haunts (ie aoki and sushi bar)? i actually think they’re all different so it depends on what you’re looking for! at the sushi bar, the chirashi is basically very fresh and delicious pieces of sashimi very generously laid atop a bed of rice; it is completely unseasoned, just good, sweet, thick slabs of unadulterated sashimi. at aoki on the other hand, there’s just something amazing about how everything is put together¬†and some magical aoki touch is added to it, making quite possibly the most perfect bowl of mazechirashi ever. the fish pieces at aoki are small but provided extremely generously (still has the highest fish to rice ratio, in my opinion) and yes, quite clearly, aoki still has my vote¬†for the best bowl of chirashi in singapore; even if not the best, definitely my favourite. at teppei, the seasoning is soy sauce-based which makes it tasty, but i think i prefer a lighter seasoning so that the flavours and freshness of the fish isn’t lost. took a quick look at what they offered as part of the buffet spread, and found that the food was very simple and home-style. don’t expect any fancy or fine japanese cooking or foods; what they had available as part of the buffet spread consisted of a lot of japanese curries, katsudon, gyoza, siew mais, soba etc:20140710_183744 20140710_194046 i’d probably give the buffet a miss, but the chirashi is something i am likely to return for if i’m looking for a cheap japanese meal in the tanjong pagar area. if i’m pining for chirashi¬†and desperately need to satisfy a dire craving¬†though, i’d probably be more content if i head to the sushi bar or aoki. don’t get me wrong – it was definitely a good bowl of chirashi and i will return for it, but for some reason (perhaps the strange temperatures of the rice and fish?) i probably wouldn’t constantly miss¬†it as i do with aoki’s… have to acknowledge the fact that the former is definitely much much more wallet-friendly than the latter though!

Hanare Japanese Cafe
99B Tanjong Pagar Rd
Singapore 088520

20140710_183508Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset another pic of the chirashi for good measure PS. perfect place for dessert after the meal, keeping with the japanese theme, tsujiri tea house at 100am mall for the best matcha soft serve ever!!! IMG_20140710_234908 best best best

The Sushi Bar, Singapore

home for the holidays, and this is one of the first places i checked out with the sister when we were looking for somewhere to eat in town that wasn’t gimmicky/part of a chain. she had tried it with her friend a while back and given it her stamp of approval, so this is where we went before our annual tradition of getting christmas nails done ūüôā ah, its good to be home!

located in far east plaza, this relatively new hole-in-the-wall sushi shop is very randomly located (quite like everything else in far east plaza) opposite a hair salon, surrounded by clothing shops. it opens for lunch at 1230pm, but when i arrived at 1215, there was already a queue of 2 people that had formed outside, as my sister had rightly anticipated. by 1230, the queue had grown to this insane length:
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it occupies a corner shop, and though not tiny, it isn’t very huge either. decor is extremely basic and service is rather slow so i definitely wouldn’t recommend this for a fancy celebration or a special occasion. it is good for a quick (if you don’t count the long queue and the relatively slow service) japanese fix that’s reasonably priced and of good quality, though.20131218_123308they do 50% reservations and 50% walk-in, but when i called to try to make a reservation, i was told that they were fully booked for lunch and dinner for the entire week. which explains why i was an ultimate aunty and headed down to join the queue at 1215pm so we could secure a table.

worth the hype? based on what we had that day, i’ll definitely return, so i suppose the answer would be yes?

we had the aburi salmon with soft shell crab maki:
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aburi salmon with soft shell crab maki – $16.90

we all really enjoyed this! they have normal aburi salmon maki too, but this one with soft shell crab was recommended by a friend so this is what we tried! i must say sushi bar does their aburi salmon very well – torched just enough to cook a thin top layer of the otherwise raw salmon, it gives the generous pieces that hug the rolls an almost melt-in-your-mouth effect. the rolls are stuffed with perfectly ripe avocado and soft shell crab that was fried nicely and most importantly in fresh oil.

20131218_125154people will probably ask how this compares to shiok maki, and i would say this is lighter but as satisfying a maki! as you can see from the picture, there isn’t any heavy sauce that distracts from the roll itself; in contrast, shiok maki is drenched in a thick cheesy sauce that is delicious don’t get me wrong, but makes for a very different roll.

and the chirashi:
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normal chirashi – $24.90

they have 3 chirashi options – the basic, the normal, and the premium. we opted for the normal one and i was extremely pleasantly surprised by the amount of sashimi that topped the bed of rice. i can guarantee that it was as delicious and satisfying as it looked! not only were they generous with the number of slices of sashimi, each individual slices was also thick and very very fresh. this definitely exceeded my expectations because the quality of fish was honestly not what i was expecting from such a random shop in far east plaza of all places hahaha. my favourites were the scallops and aburi salmon, as well as the yellowtail and swordfish! actually, even the salmon was really good. okay – everything was good!!! we were given 3 slices of each type of fish (except the scallop and aburi salmon where we were given 2) – in total that made for about 20 things that topped the rice, and the fact that each piece was so good was fantastic. i was sashimi-ed out and extremely satisfied by the time i had made my way through the box.

i would definitely recommend sushi bar to people looking for affordable but good quality japanese food along orchard road. i was very pleasantly surprised and it did meet my expectations; it is quite a hidden gem given what you get for what you pay! the service and ambience is far from top-notch, but the food makes it worth the queue (and anyway the queue isn’t so bad if you go early, as i did! alternatively, you can make a reservation.). moreover, the prices on the menu are nett; there is no additional gst or service charge, which is always nice! hurray for exciting new food options along orchard road (Y)

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The Sushi Bar

14 Scotts Road
Far East Plaza #03-89
Singapore 228213

ps. check out my christmas nails that i got done after lunch:
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so pleased. annual sisterly traditions make me happy ūüôā
MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Aoki, Singapore

i could visit aoki every day (okay fine maybe not every day but every week) to have their chirashi. i love it that much and it is seriously that good!!! i’d probably go as far to say that aoki serves one of the best (if not the best) chirashis on our sunny island.

i had always thought aoki was extremely pricey and so never really considered visiting it until i read about their amazing chirashi in the papers and found out that they had a very reasonably-priced set lunch menu! the first time i visited was with the mother, and we enjoyed it so much that even before finishing the contents of our bowls before us, i think we already decided that we needed to go back at least once more before i left for london.

aoki offers their set lunch menu from mondays to saturdays, and it comes with a complimentary starter, a salad, miso soup, pickles and a dessert trio (my favourite part after the chirashi heehee). at $35++ for the chirashi (and i think they charge an additional nominal sum for cover charge), i think its extremely reasonably priced given the ambience and quality of food served.

on the first occasion we visited, the complimentary starter was some kind of pickled lotus root dish which was yummy, and not only because i love lotus root:
20130909_134933two of my favourite things in one – lotus roots and sesame seeds! yum. it was a tasty yet light appetiser that cleansed the palette, readying us for the meal ahead.

when the mother and i returned with the sister and father in tow, we had some sort of smoked fish-tasting thing instead:
20130921_133249my dad found it a little too fishy for his liking but my dad is someone who is exceedingly sensitive to “fishy” tastes, so don’t let what he thinks mar your impression of this dish! the rest of us really enjoyed it; it was very flavourful and reminded me of meat that has been slow-cooked and braised for hours – soft and yummy when you bite into it!

the actual set lunch (sans the complementary appetiser) started with a salad:
20130909_135704the salad was nothing extraordinary – the greens were fresh (wouldn’t expect anything less from such a reputable restaurant) and the dressing was the standard japanese salad dressing. on both occasions however, i felt that it could have been better chilled before serving (but maybe that’s just me – i like my salads cold).

and finally, on to what makes me want to return again and again and again (and again and again):
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mazechirashi

a standing ovation please, for the best chirashi i’ve had in singapore. i swear this is amazingly good stuff – if you are a chirashi lover, you will die and proceed promptly into food heaven. they are extremely (and i cannot say this enough, EXTREMELY) generous with the sashimi toppings. it doesn’t bother me at all that the sashimi used for chirashi are normally odd chopped-up pieces that aren’t good enough to star in a sashimi platter, not when the odd chopped-up pieces of leftover sashimi taste this good.

i think it is the combination of the right mix of condiments and textures and the fact that they are all in abundance in the bowl placed before you that make this a winning dish. i am normally not a fan of tamago at all, but what they serve here is super delish (of just the right sweetness) and perfectly done. the sashimi is extremely fresh, and they even have uni added to the mouth-watering mix!

also, to exemplify just how generous they are with the amount of condiments they add to your rice, these are pictures at various points of the demolishment of my bowl:
20130921_14115620130909_143326always more condiments than rice left at any point in time!!! which is amazing, because the annoying thing about chirashi is that you sometimes get left with a pile of rice and nothing exciting to eat it with. like i said earlier and am going to keep saying until you believe me, best. chirashi. ever!!! (i salivate thinking about it while back in london)

what better way to end off the meal than with dessert? at aoki, they really ensure that you get a sweet end to make a satisfying meal even more so by serving a platter of 3 desserts with the set lunch, instead of just one dessert. the 3 desserts they serve change daily, and on my first visit there, this is what we got:
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L to R: grape sorbet, plum wine jelly, mochi

i was expecting the grape sorbet to be too sweet like grape flavoured things tend to be, but it was surprisingly not at all! it was pleasantly sweet and certainly not overly so, leaving a very refreshing aftertaste on the tongue. as for the plum wine jelly, my mum really loved it for how daintily flavoured it was, while i thought it was good but wouldn’t rave about it. maybe it was because i had it after the sorbet, but i thought the flavours were not strong and distinct enough. the mochi coated in soya bean was yummy though; perfect texture and consistency!

on my second visit there, this is what we had for dessert:
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red bean ice cream, sesame pudding, plum wine jelly

i have never had red bean ice cream that tasted like this (potong is normally my trusty source of red bean ice cream); it was really yummy – creamy and just lightly flavoured with red bean. the sesame pudding was also delicious especially because i love all things sesame (white or black i’ll have it all)! its consistency was a bit like a dense tau huay (traditional kind, not lao ban pudding kind!) and i loved the taste of it though i felt it was a bit heavy and really filled you up. comments about the plum wine jelly are same as above!

i wish i had discovered this place in the earlier part of summer so i could have visited a few more times before coming back to london! but its okay, my consolation is that i’m sure its not going anywhere any time soon so i can go as much as i want when i’m next home. the chirashi is definitely going to be one of the first few things i need to eat; i am already missing my good and reasonably-priced (comparatively) japanese food!

be sure to make a reservation when you visit though, as the restaurant is small and fills up really quickly, especially with the recent raised awareness about their affordable set lunches (that are also served on saturdays yay)!

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Aoki Restaurant

1 Scotts Road, #02-17 Shaw Centre
Singapore 228208