December 1, 2016
Izakaya is Japan’s version of a modern gastropub. Walking along the streets of Japan, one can easily find alleyways lined with Izakayas where Japanese office workers put aside their day’s troubles and indulge in sake or beer along with some simple grilled or fried dishes.
Thankfully, you don’t have to go all the way to Japan – we experienced it right here in Singapore during a media tasting at Shukuu Izakaya.
Shukuu Izakaya is perfectly situated along Stanley Street to provide the nearby office workers that little respite from their daily grind.
Started by four friends who share their love for Japanese cuisine and culture, their commitment and passions are shown through the most authentic and relaxing dining experience for guests who step through their doors.
Shukuu Izakaya stands out along the street with its vibrant bright lights and red lanterns that are placed at the entrance of the restaurant. The restaurant is warmly lit and features the use of traditional wooden tables and chairs that are placed pretty close to each other (which again is pretty common sight in Japan).
We loved how the beautifully painted Japanese murals and paintings added to the whole atmosphere and made us feel so at ease while dining there. Oops, perhaps it was also due to the many Sakes we had.
It’s easy to tell if an Izakaya bar takes their craft seriously from their knowledge of Sakes and food pairings. Psst, no Izakaya experience is complete without having a drink or two.
We were introduced to the various sakes we had for the night by one of the owners, Luis Liu who is both an SSI International Kikisake-Shi and SSA Certified Sake Sommelier. So rest assured you’re in good hands even if you have no clue about the Sake options.
Expect to find around about 60 different types of Sakes from various renowned breweries in Japan at any point in time at Shukuu Izakaya as stocks are brought in every few months.
We were surprised to find out that ShuKuu Izakaya has their own Sake, made by a storied brewer, and bottled specially in a traditional Tokkuri (clay flask).
To get things off to a start, we ordered the Kaze no Mori Akitsuho Junmai Shiborihana Sake which comes from the Nara prefecture in the Kansai region of Japan that is brewed using Akitsuho rice giving it a bold and distinctive flavour.
A distinct thing about this Sake is that it is a unpasteurized Sake (Nama Genshu) that gives it a gentler aroma earning it the poetic name, “Wind From The Forest”.
The Sake options here rotate every few months with prices ranging from $43 – $53 (300ml) and $103 – $248 (720ml).
The Yasai Miso ($8++) is a classic start to any Izakaya meal. A fresh and healthy assortment of Japanese cabbage, cucumbers, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes are provided to dip with a sweet and spicy red miso sauce.
It certainly was a refreshing start that got our appetites going in anticipation for the next dish.
Another appetizer on the menu the Maguro Yukke ($12++) is Shukuu Izakaya’s inventive take on the beef tartare. The premium sashimi grade bluefin tuna is sliced and tossed in a Japanese layu (chilli oil) dressing and served with a quail egg.
Mix it all up then savour the smooth, fresh chunks of firm tuna flesh with a hint of spiciness that cuts through perfectly.
If you’re a beef lover like me, you definitely need to order this. The Gyu Ponzu ($7++) shines proudly, showcasing thinly sliced beef fillet that is seared and tossed in a ponzu sauce for that light citrus sweetness before being topped off with a dollop of flying fish roe for a umami finish.
Fried to a crisp, the Kawa Ebi-Age ($7++) consists of crunchy river shrimps that I just can’t stop popping in my mouth. Squeeze some lemon juice to accentuate the sweetness of this dish.
For the second Sake pairing, we had the Kuheiji Kanochi which is brewed in the century old Kura of Aichi prefecture. Expect a sweeter flavour profile that features notes of grapefruit, strawberries and acacia.
The Sake boasts a more sophisticated and sharper flavour towards the end, making it a smooth and easy drink to have.
The Sashimi Moriwase ($28++) features three kinds of fish: salmon, bluefin tuna and hamachi (yellow-tail) belly that is served on a cold stone platter. The salmon belly had the right amount of fattiness for me, along with the firm tuna and surprisingly good Hamachi belly which I would totally order again if I could. Afterall these highly desirable cuts are only available in very limited portions.
Don’t be deceived by the colour of this dish. The Kani Miso ($9++) is a crab tomalley and miso paste that is packed full of umami goodness, you can still find chunks of crab meat in each bite. This would be my go-to spread for breakfast if I could.
Ah Chicken Skin… the oh-so sinful, yet lip smacking delicious bar snack that I have grown to love so much. This Torikawa Oroshi Ponzu ($7++) is served with grated radish and citrus sauce for the added zing to each bite.
One of three of Japan’s most sought after squid species for its natural sweetness and flavour, the Surume Ika ($16++) is cooked to perfection. The squid manages to retain its chewiness without being too stiff and carries with it a bold smoky aroma from the grilling over charcoal flames.
The third Sake pairing we had was the Nishida Denshu “Country Squire” that hails from the Aomori Prefecture that is nestled on Honshu’s Northern Tip. You know the brewers are good when there are only 50,000 bottles available for sale each year.
A Sake that’s really easy to drink due to its smoothness, and it manages to achieve a delicate balance between sweetness and umami which is a rare find among breweries in Japan.
If you prefer your squid deep fried, this is it! The Ika Kuro-Age ($10++) is lightly battered with a squid ink and tempura flour mix that is light, crunchy and flavourful at the same time. The creaminess of the mayo adds a different depth of texture to the dish.
The ability to prepare Charcoal Kushiyaki is the true mettle of an Izakaya. The Tochigi Wagyu A4 Ribloin ($9.50++ per stick) is well marbled and deliciously tender. With just the right amount of fat-to-meat ratio each bite oozes with the pride of the land of the rising sun.
To pair with our skewers, we ordered the Sharaku Junmai that comes from Fukushima, renowned for its scenic lakes, lush forests, and snowy winters. It has an aroma filled with mild candy vanilla flavour and has a heavy body with rich flavours of rice and fruity hints of melon and apricot.
How can anyone resist juicy plump Hokkaido scallops wrapped in bacon? The Bacon Scallop ($8 for 2 pcs) comprised the best of both worlds. The natural sweetness of the scallop pairs well with the saltiness of the bacon strips.
Reba ($4++), chicken wings that are char-grilled and sprayed with sake for a hint of sweetness. Crisp on the exterior, the juices of the meat are retained on the inside making each bite temptingly juicy and so flavourful.
The humble Tsukune ($4.50++) features soft and juicy chicken meatballs that have a surprising bite to it from the chicken cartilage. The balls are coated with a sweet Yakitori sauce, which we finished in no time.
Order the Sliced Beef’s Tongue ($14) to enjoy the soft chewy textures along with the heavier meaty flavours. A true test for the chefs as they would have to carefully sear the thinly sliced beef without overcooking it.
We ended off the meal with a simple dashi broth with a homemade oden ($2.5/pcs, $12/6pcs). The warm broth was packed full of flavour and complemented by the chunky Japanese fish cake. You can opt to have this with Udon noodles as well.
The oden with Dashi broth was paired with Shukuu’s exclusive Sake that comes from Nikko, nestled in the scenic snow-capped mountain region of Tochigi prefecture.
With a long lineage and history dating back to 1842, the brewery is headed by its 7th generation leader. Made from Tochigi original Sake 14 rice and locally grown Gohyakumangoku the K901 yeast is added to achieve an aromatic tinge of fruits.
We chose to have the Sake warm, which is prepared at a fixed temperature to truly showcase the characteristics of the Sake. With a heavy body and an accompaniment of nuts and cream cheese notes the semi-dry finish and umami will linger in your mouth after drinking.
Shukuu Izakaya has embodied the essence of the culture and pride that Japanese cuisine is built upon. With fine Sakes that pair with an array of delectable bar snacks and dishes, its easy to get lost in enjoyment and forget about the worries of tomorrow.
Expected damage: $40 – $60 per pax
*This post was brought to you by Shukuu Izakaya