This is not a time for sushi. The whole ritual of having a Japanese masterchef in front of you, fashioning individual morsels to eat before its temperature changes is a distant memory. Especially when you’re now holding a takeaway portion of chirashizushi like an emergency surgeon holds a donor organ, trying to speed home in time to wolf it down while it’s still cool.
Circuit breaker measures mean that all Japanese restaurants – sushi or otherwise – have either closed or switched to takeway. Yes, you can still get your sashimi fix but modified for easy packaging and transportation. That means chirashizushi – seasoned sushi rice topped with either slices of sashimi or a mixture of cut up bits and pieces of fish, shrimp, salmon roe and uni and pickles. But no two chirashis are created equal as each chef incorporates his own style and sashimi selection according to price and personal generosity.
At Aoki, its Maze Chirashi (S$45) has always been one of the best lunch deals in town pre-Covid-19, so it’s not surprising that it’s the star item on its limited takeaway menu that includes a selection of cooked rice bowls, makis and some grilled items. Compared to its other high-end sushi/omakase counterparts, Aoki’s prices are the friendliest, and you can get a pretty substantial meal for just under S$100 if you pick judiciously.
The chirashi is packed in a plastic faux lacquer Japanese bowl, decorated with multi-coloured chunks of very decent quality cubed sashimi including marinated akami, white fish, omelette, salmon roe and fatty tuna. It’s a fun-to-eat combination, nothing luxurious about it – a comforting workday treat in normal times, and a semi-luxurious takeaway that comes with a little container of salad greens dressed in wafu vinaigrette.
With Aoki’s next door neighbour Shabu Shabu Gen closed for the Circuit Breaker month, its curry don (S$26) has migrated to Aoki’s takeaway menu. We have fond memories of the curry – the only affordable item on the menu of the fancy hotpot joint specialising in premium wagyu. The reality, though, is a thick, goopy sauce with just three cubes of meat in it that is ok if you counter its ho-hum blandness with its accompanying sweet pickles.
If it was the only curry in contention we would have let it slide, but then we had a taste of Ki-sho’s Hida Wagyu Curry Don (S$38) which totally raised the stakes of what Japanese curry should be. That is, a robust mellow stew with a lingering spiciness, firm potato and carrot chunks for texture, and bits of melting-soft meat within. Pan-fried slices of wagyu arranged on the rice are an added indulgence, rounded off with an onsen egg that you break into the whole mixture for extra richness and shine.
We almost forget that we’re actually comparing chirashizushi. Nonetheless, Ki-sho’s Luxurious Chirashi Don (S$98) shines – packed in a smallish cardboard tray that’s brimming with more premium quality seafood than actual rice. It eclipses Aoki’s for the quality but at double the price, it should very well be. The array of glistening sea creatures includes large ikura globules that burst in the mouth with as much satisfaction as some people get out of bursting bubble wrap. Almost every spare spot is covered by a blob of uni – sweet and mildly creamy bafun – joined by fatty tuna, shrimp, kampachi, and thoughtful slivers of pickled leeks that perk up the palate in between. A winner.
Whether you prefer this over Sushi Kimura’s All-Kinds Chirashi (S$95) depends on whether you like your sashimi in cubes or whole, unadorned slices. Sushi chef Tomoo Kimura’s entire takeaway menu revolves around different cuts of tuna – zuke, chutoro and otoro – served in different permutations with rice.
Of the three eateries, Sushi Kimura’s sushi rice stands out for its perfectly textured chewiness and savouriness, and after few bites we understand why he sells the rice separately – it’s really good enough to eat on its own. So it’s a perfect foil for the All-Kinds Chirashi which is designed for the sashimi fan with FOMO. You get a few slices of all three cuts on top of the rice so you can savour the cleanness of the zuke and the increasing fattiness of the chutoro and otoro. You also have the option of buying the sashimi and rice separately so you can go home and make your own nigiri sushi.
Because of the relative mildness of the tuna, the Toro Taku Roll (S$65), which encases minced toro in a roll of sushi rice is too bland to do anything for us. It also doesn’t travel too well even though Sushi Kimura is the only one of the three to provide a small ice pack (which melts completely by the time we get back). It’s a bit limp by the time we get to it, and needs a sweet pickle or something to break up the monotony of the roll.
That said, Sushi Kimura has the best, almost contactless service of the three. With wireless payment through PayNow, you can easily drive up to the rear lobby of Palais Renaissance and a sweet-natured masked staffer will meet you with your package on a tray so you just reach out of your car window to take it. At Ki-sho, you can pay wirelessly and drive right up to the restaurant’s doorstep, and stay in your car while the staff sorts out your order and brings it out to you. Expect a bit of a wait though. And at Aoki, you still need to pay the old-fashioned way with a credit card and signature.
Since none of them offer delivery options except for orders above S$250 from Ki-sho, takeaway is a minor inconvenience for now until the coast is clear to head to Japan. Which won’t be anytime soon, but at least the quality so far should help tide you over this period of withdrawal.
Aoki: #01-19 Shaw Centre, 1 Scotts Road. Tel: 6333-8015
Ki-Sho: 29 Scotts Road. Tel: 67335251 / 90616109
Sushi Kimura: #01-07 Palais Renaissance, 390 Orchard Road. Tel: 67343520 / WhatsApp: 84280073
This article was originally published in The Business Times.
(Related: Takeaway is the new fine dining)