“French Portions with Japanese Refinement”
I must admit that I haven’t noticed the existence of IKYU prior to this tasting as I only drop by the area for coffee in the hipster Tiong Bahru neighbourhood, known for its retro cafes or the occasional brunch.
Some of you might be like me, who have walked or drove by a few times, and haven’t ventured into IKYU restaurant yet. I’m glad to discover this fine gem of a Japanese restaurant (as well as a big car park with ample parking nearby) that I normally wouldn’t share with except my closest friends.
But since it is a tasting, particularly this time-limited Suntory Whisky and Food Paring set menu, it is an experience I’d like to share with the readers too.
From the outside, IKYU is unassuming and blends in well in the neighbourhood, but it unmistakably exudes an understated classiness. At first glance it doesn’t strike me as a Japanese restaurant, with an absence of wood that is typical of most Japanese restaurant – but it is evident that the careful attention to detail is present; from the neat polished concrete seating and flooring to the brushed pattern on the wall, which under warm cove lightning seems to reflect a golden accent.
I felt relaxed. The darkened interior, the soft jazzy music, the genuine friendliness and attentive staff bringing you a warmed lemongrass-scented towel had immediately set me at ease.
Befitting its namesake, IKYU (一休 could be translated as ‘one stop’ or ‘one rest’), if my interpretation is correct means a place to stop and take a rest.
I perched myself at the bar counter, arguably the best seat in the house, where I can both observe the chefs at work, as well as a converse with them to learn more about the food I’m having.
I am introduced to the jovial Master Chef Takumi Seki (former famed Chef de Cuisine of Hide Yamamoto at Marina Bay Sands), and excited to know of such a high caliber Chef in the hipster heartlands.
The Tasting menu started off with a Midori Lemon, speckled with what I believe to be mint leaves that refreshed my palate before the first course is served.
The Hokkaido Botan Ebi is served as sashimi with the prawn head deep fried, with fresh grated wasabi. It’s expertly delivered, pairing the sweet, juicy and plump Botan Ebi with the added crunch of a salty and refreshing Tsuburina (a naturally salty ice-plant widely known for its beautifying and herbal properties) as well as freshly grated wasabi to deliver a lightly spiced note.
I like how the Botan Ebi is much bigger than the typical Botan Ebi I had elsewhere even in fine dining Japanese restaurants from 5 star hotels. I’m so glad to know that IKYU fly their ingredients by air thrice weekly from both Tsukiji market in Tokyo, as well as Hokkaido from a private supplier.
Thus guaranteed the freshness of IKYU’s food. I also like how the prawn head is already served deep-fried in advance. Most people don’t really know how to eat the prawn head (as its edges are menacingly sharp), and left it to waste instead of getting it deep-fried for easier consumption.
I only learnt how to eat prawn heads in a fine-dining restaurant in Tokyo over 10 over years ago in my first trip to Tokyo, where the chef would take back the uneaten head to the kitchen and present it deep-fried. It produces the best prawn cracker which gives that added umami bite and crunch! Together with another sip of my tangy Midori Lemon, its a well-matched pair indeed.
Second course served is the Kanpachi Truffle Carpaccio. Thinly sliced seasonal Amberjack, with generous slices of winter truffle, drizzled with homemade Soy Vinaigrette and edible flower petals.
It is a delightful dish, paired with a Suntory Kakubin Whisky highball. The bubbly Whisky soda effervescent carries the aroma of the truffle in the palate effectively with a flowery note. I don’t know about you, but for me a truffle-filled burp is always a pleasant feeling.
A personal tip from me to not gulp down the Kakubin highball, but instead keep the Kakubin aside through the entire meal as it is a big drink intended for repeated sips. A refreshing drink by itself, not overpowering and in case you want to try different flavour of burps when combined with other dishes.
Meanwhile, the third drink, Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve is served neat on a Glencairn glass, and also comes with an old-fashioned whisky glass with a sphere of ice – the simplest form and widely agreed right way to enjoy a single malt whisky. I totally appreciate the way it is served, without having to say anything.
Into the noteworthy third course, I sensed IKYU up the ante with their Black Diamond French Ravioli. Black Truffle infused ravioli, filled with Goose Liver Pâté, served with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Master Chef Seki-san had spent a tenure in Paris, and he clearly recognised the elegance of French fine dining and incorporated French inspiration into his cooking style.
Don’t be fooled by its delicate portion, each black diamond-shaped ravioli is a joy to bite into, giving a burst of happiness. I only wished the ravioli was bigger, so I can chew a few more times and savour the moments of black truffle aroma (also commonly referenced as black diamond of the food industry) and intensity of the liquified Goose Liver Pâté.
I closed my eyes, took a slow sip of the fresh, crisp Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve whisky, slowly letting all the strong flavours intertwine and dance within my mouth.
The fourth course, Mangalitsa Pork Saikyo-Yaki, Charcoal Grilled premium Hungarian pig. For non-beef eater, this is like the Wagyu of Pork – well-marbled and masterfully grilled, which was an absolute delight especially when I ate it with the red pickled ginger.
The taste of the pork is extremely flavourful; I reckon its the Saikyo-Yaki marinate (a sweet miso marinate commonly used for fish like cod). Once again the dish is paired beautifully with a full-bodied, Oaky Yamasaki Distiller’s Reserve whisky that goes well with chargrills, and a pleasant lingering aftertaste.
The fifth course whisky pairing is an reinvigorating Suntory Mojito with fresh mint leave bits – an excellent palate cleanser to cleanse, reset and ready my palate for the flavours of the ocean!
This fifth course alone is my starred recommendation if you ever need a reason to visit IKYU. The unpretenious Mini Kaisen-Don – using simply the best Hokkaido Rice served with raw creamy fatty tuna (Otoro) and buttery Sea Urchin (Uni).
It was amazing to slowly experience each and every bite – I noticed tempura bits too, giving that additional element of crunchiness blended with melt-in-the-mouth, honest-to-goodness flavour. This is where the Kakubin Highball’s soda bubbles helps to bring the oceanic taste of Otoro and Uni alive!
The Chef checked on my appetite to see if I can still stomach more food and offered one of their popular Ebi Pasta, before moving into desserts.
Honestly, how could I say no to the offer?! The Angel hair Ebi Pasta, which is not part of the Pairing menu, is perfectly executed, al dente and infused with truffle oil and dressed with fried Ebi and Ikura. I can see why this is popular and is definitely something I will order again in a heartbeat.
Last but not least, the sixth course is the Japanese fruit Sorbet. Seasonal Japanese fruits is always a good way to end a meal. An Asian tradition to eat fruits after meals, Japanese fruits are always two notches sweeter and better than our local varieties.
The sixth drink finishes with a Hibiki 12 Years Old, saving (in my humble opinion) the best whisky for last. It is widely recognised as one of the best Whisky Blends, complex yet harmonious. Hibiki as per its namesake, resonates with the heart and soul of the discerning drinker.
I read some other previous reviews of IKYU that the tasting portions are small, and not substantial enough to fill up; there is a reason why French women don’t get fat and Japanese women don’t get old.
Master Chef Seki-San skilfully incorporates his international experiences, particularly evident is the French influence (delicate portions, big plates, with French ingredients like Truffles and Goose Liver) with his Japanese unwavering spirit in his insistence of using only the best ingredients, best skills and best service to deliver his version of sincere dining in IKYU.
IKYU is a place that prides quality over quantity. Besides, in a society of excess and increasingly obese Singapore, a little goes a long way in watching the waistline. The feeling of wanting for more, will keep us savoring and planning to be back for more.
The Taste of Japan Inspired by Suntory Whisky and Food Pairing menu is time limited starting from 1st April. For the food experience and quality, it is extremely good value when you consider it is a 6 courses dinner paired with 6 alcoholic whisky drinks, which would have been easily double the price to deliver a comparable menu elsewhere in city areas. Thus, IKYU is now my newly added gem of Japanese restaurant marked for revisit.
There is a Japanese philosophical way of life known as Wabi Sabi, accepting and embracing the imperfection in all things. The interior decor is deliberately designed to allow guests an unstifling dress code, but instead to enjoy the simplicity of the moment, served with sincerity from the heart and be at one with the food. Be seduced.
*Promotion ends 30 April 2015
Expected Damage: $98++ per pax