Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lunch @ Shiraishi

I just went to Shiraishi for lunch yesterday. This has been a long awaited meal for me because Shiraishi is the last untested place on my list of potentially good sushi restaurants in Singapore. (Or so I thought until I typed this, and realised I've not tried Akane yet) It wasn't my original intention to post my impressions in a blog but after writing them out I thought what the heck, I might as well. Any readers out there would hence have to excuse my lack of food photos to entice you with in this entry.

Shiraishi's lunch menu consisted of sets ranging from $30-80. Nigirizushi (hand moulded sushi) and chirashizushi (assorted seafood on rice) were at $30 while the rest were various larger set meals that included more courses like sashimi etc. As my interest was mainly in nigirizushi I went with that.

The meal started off with a small appetizer mash potato salad, not much worth mentioning about it but it was decent. It was then closely followed by my nigirizushi a few minutes later, consisting of ikura (salmon roe), maguro (lean tuna), chutoro (medium fatty tuna), hotate (scallop), ebi (boiled shrimp), tamago (omelette), sake (salmon) and a silvery fish likely to be aji but I'm not sure. The hand rolls were tekka maki (tuna roll) and kappa maki (cucumber roll). Not everything was worth mentioning but some interesting pieces were:

Ebi: I'm not usually a great fan of boiled shrimp and personally I consider it inferior to having amaebi (raw sweet shrimp). However the ebi here was good that it retained a fresh prawn flavour as well as a lovely texture with a bit of bite to it. Quite enjoyable, and I noticed that they trimmed the end of the shrimp tail to a neat little "V" which was aesthetically pleasing.

Sake: It is not too common to find salmon in sushi restaurants that pride themselves in being good and authentic. That said this was surprisingly delectable. The portion of salmon served was lean, with an distinctly undulating surface due to fine striped graining which provided a pleasing texture on the tongue. The salmon not being overly fatty was a plus.

Tamago: Tamago is one of the standard dishes by which a sushi restaurant is traditionally tested. I think there is a trend towards aiming for a more and more cake-like style of omelette in the fine dining sushi restaurants nowadays, and Shiraishi's tamago was in that style. Served on a mound of rice, the tamago slice was a pale yellow colour with both sides bordered by an evenly toasted light brown. The taste is sweet, and not unlike a very smooth spongecake that readily disintegrates in your mouth, which I'm sure takes a pretty good recipe and technique to make. I am ambivalent about this however as I am of the opinion that if I want spongecake I will go eat cake instead of sushi, and I do prefer an eggy flavour to dominate rather than sweetness. However if you enjoy cake-like tamago this is a good place to have it at.

Other pieces like hotate (raw scallops) were good too, being very fresh and bean-curdly smooth. Unfortunately were some misses in the lunch set as well. These were mainly in the makis, like the tekka maki (tuna roll), kappa maki (cucumber roll) and ikura (salmon roe) which came in a common gunkan-maki form. In all three cases the nori seaweed was moist when served and did not yield a satisfying crispness one would expect from maki. This is not very acceptable coming from a restaurant with Shiraishi's reputation. As is the common practice the nigirizushi lunch set was also moulded by what I think is a more junior chef on duty, so whilst the ingredients were good and fresh the technique in making the sushi has room for improvement. Some might argue that you get what you pay for.

Realising that I might not have had tasted what is fully representative of the restaurant's standard (and not being 100% sushi-satisfied from just the lunch set), I went for a few a-la-carte pieces. These were made by a different chef, whom seemed like a more senior chef. The pieces I ordered were a bit less straight forward, and as I expected they were in a different league from what was served in the set meal. My a-la-carte orders were:

Iwashi (sardine): These are a fish that are a bit on the troublesome side to prepare as it requires the chef to pick out the fine bones out of the fish after fileting it, usually with a tweezer. It is not too pleasant to get a piece of the raw sardine bone in your sushi and they can be quite a few of them in the undeboned filet. But otherwise the fish is very smooth, and is nice with a topping of spring onions and ponzu sauce as served here. It is not the peak of the Iwashi season as yet, so they were not as fatty as they could be but these pieces were of standard.

Sole Fish (never had this before and can't remember the Japanese name for it): This is the first time I've tried sole sushi and the chef served it up with sea salt and a squeeze of lime. The white slice of sole fish was of a good thickness, looking like a piece of exquisite white jade on the sushi rice. The lime juice and sea salt enhanced the subtle flavours of the fish that were slightly floral even. That combined with a pleasantly mild chewy texture made quite an impression and on the whole I was quite satisfied with this. The season for sole peaks in late June so there's still time to enjoy this seasonal fish.

Anago (conger eel): Anago sushi is one of my favourites and if done well can put me right into sushi heaven! It consists of a conger eel boiled in a shoyu based poaching liquid, heated in a toaster oven to lightly broil it, then brushed on with a gooey, sweet anago sauce. Its finally sprinkled with a small bit of aromatic yuzu rind that gives a subtle citrusy aroma that cuts through the richness of the eel. The serving in Shiraishi was a big piece of eel that covered over the rice mound. The chef mentioned that their supply comes from Kyushu where the conger eels are fattier relative to eels from Tokyo. It was generally good but not the best I've had. But still good.

I was served all the a-la-carte pieces as singles apart from the Iwashi which was a standard pair you normally get in most sushi places. But this may be due to size of sardines and that it's not too good to serve the remaining end of the fish to another customer.

The meal was rounded off with a bowl of tuna soup and dessert. The clear tuna soup comprised of tuna broth, Japanese leek, tofu and boiled tuna bits, with a side condiment of chilli pepper powder which I thought was an interesting combination. It makes a simple and good replacement for miso based soups, with enough savouriness to cut through after a meal of shoyu dipped raw fish. That was followed by dessert, which was small piece of refreshing sour jelly which I forgot to ask the name of, and hojicha (brown roasted tea). I really appreciate these small refreshing Japanese desserts at the end of a meal, more so as I know they are not a speciality of sushi shops and many don't serve it.

The service in Shiraishi is attentive without being intrusive, but there was something quirky going on that I must mention. I've never experienced this in any restaurant before; whenever my teacup has been drained to about half full, the servers actually replaced the teacup with a new cup of very hot tea. I don't mean a refill, but rather they actually took the cup away and gave me a new one. This was repeated several times and as a result my tea was always blisteringly hot throughout the meal, making it hard to drink. I'm still not sure why they did this. Another thing that didn't make the experience as ideal as it might have been was that I felt my meal was a little hurried, nothing overt but just the little things liked being served my courses in quick succession. To be fair though, I did arrive late in the lunch service.

The damage for lunch was about $70, with the a-la-carte orders being $28 in total. Overall, the experience of eating at Shiraishi is positive. The nigirizushi lunch set is a bit of a stomach filler which can be good or bad depending, but the a-la-carte dishes holds up to the restaurant's reputation for being one of the better sushi places in Singapore.

#03-01/02, The Ritz-Carlton Millenia
7 Raffles Avenue
Singapore 039799
Tel: 6338-3788

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