When you step into Ushidoki’s main dining room in a shophouse on Tras Street, it’s clear that chef Hirohashi Nobuaki is not one to stick with tradition for the sake of it. The kaiseki master shifted his specialisation from seafood to beef two and a half years ago, based on one main approach: “(I applied) the ways I handle fish/ seafood to the way I handle the beef.”
This is a natural progression when you realise the chef began working at his father’s Osaka sushi restaurant at the age of nine. Just as Nobuaki did with fish, he’s identified specificities for each part of the cow: The cow’s tongue, for example, is best cooked braised, cut thinly to reveal its pink-tinged cross-section, and served in a yuzu-accented consomme. This opening course of nine leads with bright and natural flavours, textures and colours. The start to the lunch and mysterious non-beef dinner menus (he offers only four menus in total), we’d imagine, is equally uplifting.
His choice and combinations of ingredients, clearly, are essential to his success. Nobuaki works with only directly-imported Ozaki beef (Ushidoki is the only restaurant in Singapore that exclusively orders one cow per month from the farm). This is Japanese wagyu from one Miyazaki prefecture farm that harvests its cattle at 32 to 36 months, giving the meat at least four months longer to mature than regular wagyu farms. “(For regular wagyu cattle), although they’ve reached their maximum size, the taste is not there yet,” he explained.
He’s right, of course – regular wagyu, which is usually more fat than flavour, would have fallen flat against the generous black truffle, rich yolk and sweetness of the “Rosanjin’’ style sukiyaki sauce, the latter being Ushidoki’s house concoction that has been kept on a bare simmer in a copper vessel on the counter since the day the restaurant opened in October 2015.
With such robust produce and flavours, plenty of creativity and restraint is needed to not overwhelm the diner, which Nobuaki has mastered. Before the meal, if anyone had posited that a sake-cup-sized “bowl” of wagyu beef chirashi, topped with shiso flowers, shoyu powder and a piece of kombu in the silhouette of a cow would have been enough, we would have said: “You’re mad.” We’ve now changed our tune to: “You’d be mad to not try this.”