The appetite for omakase meals among diners in Singapore seems insatiable. Some have shuttered during the past two challenging years, but there is a steady stream of new restaurants and revamps waiting to take their place — like sushi pieces moving relentlessly on a conveyor belt.
Opening on Wednesday (22 June) is Jinhonten, a Kappo-influenced omakase restaurant in Shaw Centre, which is the latest concept of homegrown food and beverage company Les Amis Group. The group has four other Japanese restaurants — all carrying ‘jin’ in their names, but specialising in different aspects of the cuisine.
The opening of Jinhonten comes after the closure of the group’s multi-brand restaurant, Socieaty earlier this month due to challenges posed by the pandemic. The dining industry is a fast-moving one and with Jinhonten, the group is back on the more familiar (and lucrative) turf of Japanese cuisine with head chef Issey Araki, who has built up a following from his eponymous restaurant in Orchard Plaza and at KYUU by Shunsui.
Jinhonten also marks the Les Amis Group’s first Kappo-influenced omakase that banks on chef Araki’s extensive network of ingredient suppliers network. Seasonal seafood and produce are procured from the markets in Toyosu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Fukuoka, which gives him the liberty to change the menu every few weeks. There is only one prix-fixe menu each for lunch and dinner ($180++ for an eight-course lunch and $450++ for a ten-course dinner).
In a pre-opening preview lunch that The Peak attended, we were treated to a treasure trove of ingredients — some not commonly found in restaurants here. Chef Araki hoisted a hulking 18kg Menuke (red rockfish) before filleting to blushing pink, fat-laden slabs. He also lifted a palm-sized Kuro Awabi (black abalone) from Yamaguchi that was steamed for 4 hours, before slicing them into slender tender slices. The dish is served with a briny abalone dashi and a liver sauce adds a velvety oomph to the shellfish (Look out for the chef’s deft knife skills as he scores thin lines on each slab).
Jinhonten, which is located in the nucleus of a circular restaurant space, consists of a 10-seat counter that faces a fastidiously-tidy kitchen. It sets the scene for the chef’s playground of kitchen tools — a Japanese binchotan grill, cypress box steamer, and a rack of razor-sharp knives as he goes about his kitchen routine serenely (despite the pulsating soundtrack by shamisen virtuosos Yoshida Brothers).
The menu features a diverse mix of cooking techniques, such as steam, shabu shabu and the use of the charcoal grill for its Yonezawa beef, which is exclusively served here at some Les Amis Group restaurants.
Another signature item is the handroll. This time, it is topped with Nodoguro (blackthroat sea perch) that arrives searing hot from the binchotan. The luscious oil from the fish and tare sauce drips and drenches the rice sandwiched in a roasted nori sheet in this exquisite handroll. Speaking of being on a roll, the Les Amis Group will also open a casual Japanese concept in the outer area surrounding Jinhonten in the next two months.
The Peak Peeks At
1. Chef’s Lucky Charm
A quizzical sight on the kitchen counter is an adorable pig plushie that sits in a bowl. It turns out to be chef Araki’s lucky charm who has accompanied him at various restaurants.
2. The donabe rice course
Save space for the Donabe course, which arrives at the tail-end of the meal. The beautifully fragrant rice, which has been cooked in a cypress box steam, features a liberal amount of shredded Hokkaido hairy crab. The crab imparts both umami and sweetness into the claypot of rice, together with pickled vegetables. Tip: Mix the side condiment of crab liver sauce to up the creamy factor.
(Related: Sushi Yujo is a promising omakase upstart)