Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Chikusen Japanese Restaurant - An Oriental Affair

Nestled away among the shophouses of Tanjong Katong is this cozy Japanese restaurant that is almost inconspicuous to everyone but the most ardent of observers.

Inside, the decor is cool and elegant, with a sense of tranquility and serenity. The owner of this joint is an effervescent man, clearly in love with all things Japanese and is a sake fanatic.

The head chef is not Japanese though, but do not let that detract you from the lovely Japanese cuisine that is served here.

Fabio Lee has a name that suggests pasta might be on the menu instead, but this executive chef has a wealth of experience that spans more than 25 years in the Japanese culinary scene here.

Not only that, working from behind the bar counter, he is jovial and energetic, and possess enough charm to ensure that his diners are not only satisfied with his food, but are equally entertained by his banter at the same token.

Chef Fabio at work

I was there for their spring menu, and for this season, Fabio and his culinary team has put together an affordable set of dishes that will delight those seeking a good Japanese respite.

Chikusen also serves omakase cuisine as well, so for those who enjoy sitting at the bar waiting to be surprised by the executive chef, this is also a very suitable outlet to patronize while downing sake at the same time.

Deep Fried Salmon Skin

Everyone loves deep fried fish skins, and the salmon variant that was on offer that night was no exception. Beautifully crisp, and served with a side of mayo and roe, it was just the perfect way to start any evening of gastronomy.

Grilled Bamboo Shoot

I have always admired how the Japanese can take the simplest of ingredient and make it a glorious dish. This grilled bamboo shoot was a perfect example of that culinary philosophy. Nicely presented, the singular piece of bamboo shoot was sweet and had a crunchy texture and just the right amount of char for some lovely smokiness.

Nanohana or Rape Blossom

Nanohana is a spring vegetable, it was served here with just a touch of dashi and soy. It was appropriately delicate and though not particular outstanding, it was a subtle dish en route to the more substantial stuff that was about to follow.

Momotaro Tomato with Wasabi Yuzu

This momotaro tomato was nothing short of a revelation. That refreshing and natural sweetness emanating from the tomato was just out of this world and almost impossible. Even without the yazu dressing, this dish would have been amazing. The wasabi yazu brought it up a few more notches with the right amount of gentle acid and balance. Delightful.

Trio of Sashimi

The sashimi here was duly fresh, as the fish are all imported directly from a supplier in Japan. And they have a fairly exotic selection as well. The bonito mackerel was my personal fav, though the sea bream and sayori were equally sweet and delectable as well. If you like good sashimi, you will enjoy yourself pretty much here.

Braised Rockfish

I believe I had rockfish only once and did not really enjoy it then. I remembered it as very dry and tough, but the one I had at Chikusen was simply marvelous. It was actually braised and it was done to perfection.

The meat was beautifully moist and tender, and the braising liquid was used as the sauce as well. Full of soy flavors, it had that perfect savory depth to flavor the sweetness of the delicate fish meat.

Black Pork Sukiyaki

I was informed that the Japanese like their sukiyaki super sweet and indeed it was . Despite that, I really enjoyed the black pork tremendously. The meat had an incredible amount of texture and flavors that was just simply too good to describe. I just wished the sweetness was a bit toned down and it would have been a perfect dish for me.

Yaki Somen

The surprise of the evening was this simple plate of somen. Tossed lightly with a simple sauce and served with some intricately chopped spring onions, this is the perfect spring dish. Light, subtle and delicate, it epitomizes the simplicity of Japanese cuisine.  

Plum Jelly

We finished the night off with this equally simple but delightful dessert. The colorful plum jelly was also a very good way to detox oneself after a heavy meal and that sweet and sour taste was perfect to wash away the oily flavors away.

Chef Fabio Lee

It was a long but very fruitful night of dining. It was clear that Chef Fabio has a lot of passion for his food, and his warm smile resonated every time he brought a dish to our table. Clearly, he enjoys feeding his diners.

For a place that is somewhat exclusive, Chikusen does not feel pretentious or pompous at all. Quite the opposite, despite the high caliber of food on offer here, Chikusen feels more cosy and homey than most Japanese restaurants.

It is also representative of the owner's mentality to not to be just posh and expensive, but to offer fans of good Japanese fare a lovely place to dine and relax after hours.

We sometimes forget that the best dining experience is not just about having the best food or possessing the most expensive ingredients, but simply a joy of sharing one's passion with everyone else.

As armchair critics, Singaporeans tend to be pretty critical of almost everything these days, rightly or wrongly. Chikusen is a reminder that sometimes, we just need to chill and simply enjoy everything for what it is, and not to put a label or rating to every plate we consume.

Food is about sharing, not comparing. With that, I share with you the gastronomic delights of Chef Fabio at Chikusen.

309/311 Tanjong Katong Road

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