While Japanese restaurants are aplenty in Singapore, it’s always refreshing to see more traditional Japanese eateries setting up shop. At the newly-opened Jinjo, the niche is authentic sumiyaki, or traditional Japanese charcoal-grilling.
Tucked away on the second floor of Shaw Centre, the restaurant literally occupies a hole in the wall. It’s so well-hidden that I walked right past the doorway the first time!
Fun fact: The doorway is intentionally designed and built low so diners have to bend down to enter the space. Not only does that mark the start of your dining experience here, but it also represents respect with guests being made to bow before entering the restaurant, as in Japanese custom.
In terms of the interior, the space is modern yet brimming with wood elements for an authentic Japanese touch. There’s also a sake bar for guests looking for an after-work drink.
Or if you want to catch all the masterful grilling action, grab a seat right in front of the grill.
At Jinjo, the sumiyaki dishes focus on the art of Japanese charcoal-grilling. Most of the ingredients are sourced selectively from different prefectures across Japan, and are proudly featured in the meal. Why, you can even complete a gastronomic tour of Japan’s prefectures in one sitting!
Start off with Jinjo’s Yaki Goma Tofu ($6). I kid you not, this unique sesame tofu was so soft and creamy at the core, but grilled slightly for a light crispness on the outside.
It’s combined with two types of miso sauce, original miso and Aichi red miso that comes from Head Chef Makoto Saito-san’s hometown. Both sauces add a sweet and salty tinge to the tofu, but I preferred the Aichi miso for its strong roasted flavour.
Jinjo’s grilled meat menu includes rather unusual offerings, including the Seseri ($18) which is actually chicken neck served Miyazaki-style! While initially skeptical, I finally plucked up the courage to try it. No regrets, as the meat was seriously tender and quite unlike anything I’ve tried before.
The meat is even char-grilled over hay to infuse a smokier flavour. Together with the spicy ponzu sauce, the hint of citrus gave the meat a delicious tang. I actually ended up fighting with my companion over who would get the last few pieces!
One of Saito-san’s own creations is his rendition of Chawanmushi ($12). You must be wondering where the egg custard is in the picture. It’s actually beneath the americaine sauce, a savoury tomato broth with flavours that reminded me of prawn bisque.
Soft and smooth, the chawanmushi was delicate in each bite, which was contrasted by the slight crunch of the sakura prawns. This dish may look a little different from regular chawanmushi, but the rich flavours harmonised well with the americaine sauce.
Another must-try is their Konsyu-No-Sakana (market price) or catch of the day, which is rotated weekly to keep diners coming back to try something new.
Interesting enough, the chefs don’t actually pick the fish, the vendors do! The fish is delivered as a mystery to the chefs, who take it as a challenge to beautifully cook any fish regardless.
For our meal, we had a bonito fish served with a soya bean sauce. Pan-seared on the skin side, each slice had a crispy skin layer alongside the tender flesh. The punchy citrus sauce also helped to cut through the fattiness of the bonito fish and bring out more flavour.
Charred nicely on the edges, the Tontoro ($15) or pork jowl was another interesting cut. I wasn’t much of a fan of the pork jowl as the meat had a bit of a chew.
Nonetheless, the meat was fatty enough and actually very flavourful despite the light seasoning.
Naturally, this sumiyaki restaurant also serves a unique selection of yakitori. Here we have an interesting Bonjiri ($7) that is bishop’s nose, or more crudely known as the chicken’s bump.
Turns out, the meat of that part of the chicken is deliciously fatty. The meat was also grilled well to keep the outside of the meat crisp while soft and tender on the inside. A piece of advice — dust a little of their chilli seasoning made from five different spices for a little kick.
For something a little less meat-heavy, indulge in these Satsuma-Imo ($20) that come from Chiba. It might seem a little pricey, but these roasted sweet potatoes were really delicious and cooked perfectly without being too mushy.
Slab on a bit of butter with each bite; trust me, these are calories worth putting on.
End off on a sweet note with the Jinjo Warabimochi ($10). The Japanese rice cake had a jelly-like texture that wasn’t too chewy, and topped with kinako powder that made the dessert reminiscent of muah chee.
Do drizzle the Okinawan brown sugar syrup generously as it adds a deep caramel-like sweetness to the mochi.
At this traditional Japanese enclave, sake is definitely a must to accompany your sumiyaki meal. You can even choose one of these dainty coloured glass cups to enhance your sake experience.
With over 100 labels to choose from, you’ll be spoilt for choice. My recommendation is to go for Jinjo’s very own: Jinjo’s Private Label ($100 for 720ml, $200 for 1.8l).
It has 50% rice polishing that gives the rice wine a sweeter and smoother finish. For someone quite new to sake, I found it very easy to drink. Definitely, a good choice if you’re having your first sip of sake!
I’ve seen several Japanese restaurants with traditional concepts, but none quite as exciting as Jinjo. The unique cuts were grilled gracefully under chef Saito-san, yet still perfectly balanced that I did not wind up having the expected jelak-ness after eating grilled meat.
The meal may not be an everyday affair price-wise, but this is the kind of restaurant you take that special someone on occasion. When I exited through the low-hanging doorway, I actually felt more like I had completed a journey of many diverse flavours. I’ll be back, hungry for more.
Expected Damage: $30 – $80 per pax