There are restaurants that serve immaculately plated bites on gleaming porcelain, and there are restaurants hidden in a basement, behind a rusty door and down a dank, dingy alley. The dining experiences in either, for those in the know, are often equally worthy of attention, even though the latter could do with a nicer welcome mat.
Newly opened Shin Terroir, accessible only via an entrance tucked away from the busy thoroughfare of Tras Street, doesn’t have that problem.
A stone-laid path, marked by a large, shady tree, indicates the means of egress and lets diners know, subtly, that they’re in for a treat.
Modern Japanese yakitori is the name of the game, presented via a grill-focused 15-course omakase menu.
Behind the counter are homegrown chef Nicholas Lee and his Hokkaido-born counterpart Takeshi Nakayama, together working a custom three-tier Osakan grill stacked with glowing Kishu binchotan briquettes.
These coals, made from a type of Japanese oak from Wakayama, are said to burn especially hot and long – both endearing qualities for yakitori chefs, who, having spent several months under the tutelage of a Osakan grill master, are now eager to coax subtle flavours out of excellent produce.
It is unsurprising that smoke and fire feature in almost every course on the prix fixe menu, once you’ve gotten past starters like a refreshing ice plant and Japanese tomato salad.
There’s kinmedai (alphonsino fish) seared over smouldering coals perched on fork-tender daikon in an oden broth; a tasting flight of old-school yakitori favourites, featuring Toh Thye San’s French poulet, including the tebasaki (chicken wing) and kawa (chicken skin); and contemporary creations specific to Shin Terroir, such as a ‘mille feuille’ hewn from chicken gizzard, chives and a crisp outer shell of chicken skin.
Other twists to the conventional yakitori formula can be found in a specialty tsukune, a seared patty of minced chicken, pork and mountain ham, paired unusually with a soy-marinated egg yolk in lieu of the typical raw egg yolk; as well as a chicken liver, finished with a sprinkle of sweet spiced cookie crumbs.
Surprises can also be found in the beverage list, which includes over 150 labels from the famed Burgundy and Champagne regions of France along with the customary Japanese sakes. Most of these are available in the restaurant, though it is advisable to call ahead to secure rarer labels.
The restaurant seats 10 at the counter, with room for six in the private dining room, for dinner service only.
80 Tras Street. shinterrior.com