New restaurant

The Bar at Waku Ghin
L2-03 The Shoppes
at Marina Bay Sands,
2 Bayfront Ave, Singapore 018956
Tel: 6688 8507
Open daily from 5pm to 11pm.
No reservations

You know how small your money is at Japanese restaurants when S$200 is considered a bargain dinner. Especially in these highly inflated times when we’ve had S$200 sushi that barely meets the nutritional requirements of a small cat. There may be those – not us – who think nothing of shelling out upwards of S$300 to S$400 for a standard omakase, but there are also eternal optimists – like us – who will brave tacky fake hinoki-clad lairs dangling that magic number with a promise of ‘value for money’ satisfaction. Only to learn, yet again, that expectation will always taste better than reality.

Of late, we’ve decided to drop expectations and take our chances with reality. And we picked Waku Ghin to do that.

At first sight, it seems antithetical to equate Waku Ghin with value for money. It’s the culinary equivalent of a casino – once you step in, it’s going to take all your money. Even more so after an 18-month refurbishment which has made it new and pretty and pricier with an entry level menu of S$550 at its Chef’s Table or private dining rooms hidden in its labyrinthian space.

You can save that for the next time interest rates drop low enough for you to re-mortgage. Until then, take your S$200 and bet it at the bar, where its casual menu with five-star ingredients will reap you some winnings of the edible kind.

We’re not saying that the Bar at Waku Ghin is cheap. Not when S$25 gets you a mere handful of fried chicken nuggets. But you will pay it because one bite makes you feel like you’ve been vaccinated and gone to Gyeongdong market in Seoul. Or at least we wish it so. It’s karaage in origin, but done Tetsuya Wakuda style – juicy chicken oysters marinated with less salt, subtle but distinctive seasoning, and a crunch that isn’t heavy-handed but more of a split second gentle crackle.

But the point is that you’re paying only for what you want, not the cheap fillers that pad up so-called value-for-money set menus. You can compose your own meal from what’s written down, or let the kitchen come up with something based on your price – and the mantra here is that the bar uses the same quality ingredients that are used at the chef’s table. If you want chutoro, it comes from the same block of wild caught tuna from Shizuoka prefecture that’s served in Waku Ghin’s inner sanctum, and the same goes with the uni, wagyu, nodoguro and the like.

The bar doesn’t take reservations, so it’s first come, first served at either the counter where you can sip a cocktail (or many kinds of sake) and nibble on Spanish-style bikini sandwiches (S$28) – olive oil grilled toast stuffed with truffle, parma ham and gooey melted cheese – or sit down for a proper meal in the smallish dining area.

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A lovely lingering finish of the sea

If you go a la carte, you can fill up quite easily with a mix of sashimi, oysters and wagyu on rice for under S$200 a head. Canadian, Australian and Irish oysters weigh in at S$6 to S$8 a piece and are so fresh and meaty, it’s as if they all just met at the airport and cabbed down to the restaurant together just moments ago. The Irish oysters are the smallest but pack the strongest flavour with a lovely lingering finish of the sea.

One of the young chefs makes his rounds of the dining room carrying a slab of tuna like he was hawking it to the highest bidder. He shows you which part you’re going to get later, when the soft, sweet slices of semi-fat chutoro (S$58) are lightly tossed in a ponzu-ish dressing and decorated with thin chives and micro greens.

There’s also firm, plump Tasmanian ocean trout (S$30) done aburi-style with a heady smokiness and a hint of yuzu, showered with finely shredded leeks and tender greens underneath.

Another Tetsuya special is fish and chips (S$28) a beer battered favourite that yields a light crust covering milky fillets of Japanese snapper, and thick chips with fluffy interior. A dreamy tartare sauce pulls chef Wakuda’s Aussie comfort food together.

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The best way to try everything is to give the kitchen a budget and the chefs will send out tasting portions of whatever you feel like having. Slices of wagyu are grilled to a crisp with a juicy interior, glazed with a teriyaki sauce that perfectly balances sweet and savoury, and served on chewy pearls of rice (S$45). Nodoguro is a splurge (S$65) – slightly overcooked but still managing to release its distinctive oils into the rice for fragrance and flavour.

There’s also a list of a la carte sushi which you can mix and match into your own set meal – we reckon $200 can get you a decent 8- to 10-piece combination but why limit yourself when there are so many other things to try, including a simple but elegant pasta tossed with fresh tomatoes and perky lobster chunks (S$38).

Desserts are in a class of their own and vary on a daily basis. A chocolate coffee souffle is light and intense, paired with confit kumquat and vanilla ice cream. Equally good is a take on apple tartine, reinvented as apple compote sandwiched between crisp buttery wafers.

There are no great surprises in the cooking at the Bar at Waku Ghin. In fact, it’s almost predictable but in a comforting way – a produce-driven philosophy embellished with fine, classic techniques. Forget quantity. Spend your $200 wisely here and you’ll leave happy and yes – stuffed.

This article was originally published in The Business Times.

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