Imagine a perennial Sakura season with beautiful petals of Sakura flowers at their blooming peak. The weather is still a little cold and you want something warm, comforting and yet in theme with your Japanese dream. Chef Masashi Horuichi appears magically to serve offerings from his latest labour of love – Sakurazaka’s Shabu-shabu.
In this iteration of Chef Masashi’s culinary creation, he fuses his Japanese roots with his European culinary training. Shabu-shabu, which is of Osaka in origin, is the equivalent of the Chinese hotpot. Think hotpot broth in a cast iron pot, hear the swishing sound of top grade meats in the boiling broth and picture yourself waiting fervently to feast upon all the enticing ingredients.
Chef Masashi gives you 5 choices of his full-bodied shabu-shabu broths – chicken, pork bone, Bouillabaisse, Ago Dashi and beef consommé. Chef Masashi’s French connection gives rise to the Bouillabaisse broth, a traditional bony Provençal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille.
Contrast this with his Japanese root that inspired the Ago Dashi broth – it is made by soaking dried flying fish into soup base; and this gives us the umami, the “fifth flavour”, attributed to human taste receptors responding to glutamic acid.
The same amount of Chef Masashi’s attention goes to the dipping sauces. Goma, Shiyo Ponzu and Tamari Ponzu are all but his distillation of how he wants you to dip the premium meats, and enjoy the complexity of the sauce, meat and broth, all in one mouthful.
The Goma sauce is a ponzu-based sauce with sesame (goma), seasoned with espelette pepper – its nutty sesame taste is great for both meats and vegetables. The pepper adds another dimension to the goma and I liked to dip vegetable into this one more so than the meats.
Shiyo ponzu is made with sudachi (a Japanese lime, instead of yuzu) and seaweed salt. I found myself dipping into this bowl of dipping sauce for all my meats – perhaps my palate prefers the acidity of the sudachi.
Tamari Ponzu is a citrus-based sauce commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It has a thin, watery consistency and a dark brown colour originating from tamari, an essence from fermenting miso (which is gluten-free). It is slightly more salty in taste compared to the regular ponzu.
Sakurazaka offers 3 different sets of shabu-shabu: the beef, pork and Bouillabaisse seafood sets. I had the pleasure of trying out both the beef and pork sets. On offer are selections of prime Japanese and European meats that include rarities such as Kyushu Shirobuta pork, Japanese Aomori rice-fed beef, F1 Joshu Wagyu beef and F1 Wagyu-Holstein cross-breed beef. Believe me, you – these are some of the best items that not many shabu-shabu restaurants in Singapore can offer.
Apart from shabu-shabu, Sakurazaka also offers sukiyaki as either the starter or hotpot. Sukiyaki refers to food, typically beef, fish or tofu, cooked on spades (hot stone). This dish does require some cooking technique as you need to time the cooking time of the meat on the spade so as to not overcook it – this is the fun part!
The best part is savouring the beef that I have just cooked. In my case, I had it as a starter. It was a very well marinated wagyu beef and having only spent a few seconds on the spade, it was slightly under medium rare. The taste, the texture and the explosion of flavour was just the kind of spectacular start I have expected to my dinner.
If you have chosen the shabu-shabu set, having assimilated all the sweetness and flavour from the meat and vegetables during the course of the dinner, the broth becomes very flavourful. As a Japanese tradition, rice is poured into the matured broth as the final part of the shabu-shabu course.
Chef Masashi imparts the European twist to this part – he uses the same type of rice that is used to make risotto and he adds cheese into the mix. The result is just amazing. Never had I tasted risotto in the guise of Japanese broth that has the sweetness from the meat that you have cooked in before this, coupled with the texture of the arborio rice and stickiness from the cheese.
The desserts, kakigori, come in the form of shaven ice with toppings – similar to that of the Korean Bingsu or our local Ice-Kacang, if you will. Chef Masashi’s re-imagined versions have toppings in both Japanese and European flavours – the Ujikintoki Green Tea and Hokkaido Milk kakigori, and Port Wine and Tiramisu kakigori.
My favorites from each side of the continent are the Ujikintoki Green Tea kakigori for its full-bodied green tea taste and for being the healthier choice; and the Tiramisu kakigori because I love all things Italian!
Sakurazaka, tucked in a cove of restaurants in Greenwood Avenue, is a place of comfort to enjoy some great food away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The quality of items that they use are unquestionably good, even down to the table-top stove – it is imported from Japan. For those who are inclined to enjoying sake or wine, Sakurazaka has a decent range to choose from.
Expected damage: From $100 per pax
Sakurazaka: 24 Greenwood Avenue 289221 Singapore | Tel: 6463 0333 | www.sakurazaka.com.sg
Opening hours: Lunch: Thursday to Sunday from 1130am to 3pm; Dinner: Monday to Sunday 6pm to 10pm.