If there’s any upscale dining offering that’s a safe business bet in Singapore, it’s omakase. The nation’s insatiable love for Japanese food -– from the classic sushi to all manner of lovingly-farmed produce from the east Asian island – makes for near-guaranteed popularity, as familiarity breeds eagerness to try new places.
It’s with this expectation of unlikely failure that we sample the recently-opened Sushi Yujo. It sits on the second floor of Amara Hotel in Tanjong Pagar, next to 100 AM and the plethora of Japanese competitors it houses – Public Izakaya, Maguro Brothers, yet another of Keisuke’s ramen joints. None of these are omakase, but that doesn’t mean they don’t pose a threat, especially as Yujo also offers a la carte of smaller sets and dons.
Not that the restaurant is overconfident. From behind a sushi counter that sits 13 (two more private rooms accommodate 6 and 10 respectively), Desmond Fong, previously head of Les Amis’ Sushi Jin, tries his best to impress – sometimes a little too much, with gold dust sprinkled on for dramatic effect twice during the meal.
The lunch omakase starts off with a kaiseki-style trio of baby abalone, monkfish liver in dashi, and sweet prawns with sea urchin, all of which are quite fresh – Fong imports his seafood from Toyosu market four times a week.
The sashimi – otoro (nicely oily), chutoro, scallop, amberjack, and sea urchin wrapped in flounder – is on par with other good joints, but not unusually delicious. Neither is the soup, a warming abalone broth with rapeseed, nor dessert (melon and ume jelly).
Fong’s standard sushi offerings too, are respectable but not earth shattering. On the plus side, he tailors firmly to local palates, for the best-received items over-the-top aburi concoctions, comprising collections of luxe ingredients Singaporeans adore: otoro with negitoro, truffle caviar and truffle shavings; Foie gras with uni, scallop, caviar and gold leaf.
But some courses stand out.
There’s a deliciously successful fusion offering of sea bream carpaccio with truffle oil, caviar, and shavings. Incredibly, it works: clean and earthy-smelling.
Abalone from Shizuoka, simmered in a claypot for four hours till tender but still bouncy, shines in a savoury, moreish sauce of its own liver. Balanced flavours make the dish acceptable, even to those who typically shun this ingredient.
Hairy crab (a special add on from dinner) finds an unusually cheery citrus pairing, served in a yuzu shell with refreshing vinegar jelly and bursting ikura, uni adding a creamy touch.
Most delicious of all: a single sheet of Miyazaki wagyu snuggling beside an onsen egg. Mixed with sukiyaki sauce, it’s essentially top quality gyudon, sans rice, gone in one mouth or two, worthy of a return meal to enjoy in don form.
Most omakase offerings are variations on the same theme: fresh, seasonal produce, imported from Japan, cooked to perfection. Sushi Yujo has adopted the same tack, and most of its regulation offerings – sushi, sashimi, soup and the like – are fresh and decent, befitting the price tag and locale, with aburi sushi that’s very likely to get nods of approval.
But it’s the moments of cleverness where its upstart potential peeks through, with unexpected pairings and familiar but flawlessly executed courses tweaked for mass appeal.
In all, it’s a pleasant enough omakase spot, and if the chef can but expand his hits to encompass his entire lineup, then this will be one Japanese spot for keeps.
(Related: Fusion Sushi at Sushi Jin)