Tucked in a corner of Taman Sutera — home to countless other restaurants, cafes and bars — is none other than Warakura Japanese Garden.
A popular dinner destination for Singaporeans who are shopping at the nearby Sutera Mall, it serves a wide variety of delicious and value-for-money Japanese fare spanning across three thick menus.
To accommodate the weekend crowds (especially dinner time on Saturdays), they’ve taken steps to make the waiting time as comfortable as possible. One such example is large massage chairs stationed outside for that are free for use.
Of course, there’s also a waiting area with regular chairs as well.
You’ll also get to enjoy coffee and iced lemon tea on the house while you wait. A large tray of fruits as well as biscuits will be available for the waiting dinner crowd as well.
An instant photo booth lets you upload a selfie (or wefie) from your phone and print it via the machine as a souvenir after your meal.
The interior is decently spacious with a mix of tables, booths, counter seats and even private rooms for larger groups of diners. There’s even an al fresco dining area but I’d suggest going for that only during dinner time as it can get quite hot outdoors in the afternoon.
To start ourselves off, we ordered some Salmon Mentai Nigiri (8.90 RM for two pieces, approx. S$2.80). The aburi-ed salmon was thickly sliced and came garnished with a generous amount of creamy mentaiko mayo.
As a result, each bite was incredibly (perhaps overly so) rich and delightful. I suggest asking them to hold back a little on the mentaiko.
Next up was the Mango Salmon Maki (21.90 RM, approx. S$6.94), which was topped with its namesake ingredients and then filled with tempura prawn, crab stick and cucumber.
While the addition of mango may seem strange, the sweet and acidic element it provided was necessary for cutting through the richness of the mayo.
Our first main dish came in the form of the Tempura Zaru (20.90 RM, approx. S$6.62). Among the variety of noodles available, we opted for somen (thin wheat noodles).
The presentation was rather impressive. Instead of the usual bed of ice cubes, the somen was served in a beautifully-carved ice bowl.
There’s also a variety of garnishes for you to add to the dipping sauce, such as sesame seeds, wasabi, tenkasu (bits of batter), grated ginger, spring onions and a whole quail egg.
Personally, I did away with the quail’s egg and wasabi (tip: if you want to avoid the burning sensation of wasabi, don’t let it get wet) and added everything else to the dipping sauce — except for the tenkasu, which I added to the noodles instead to keep them crunchy for as long as possible.
Honestly, I couldn’t believe that amount of tempura that was served at this price tag. There were three prawns and an assortment of other items such as mushroom, crab stick, eggplant and sweet potato laid against a bundle of tempura somen in the shape of a fan.
The prawn within the light and crunchy tempura batter were dense and meaty. Unsurprisingly, it was my favourite piece.
Strangely, daikon radish is available but they don’t serve it until I asked, so don’t hesitate to ask for a serving.
The Salmon Belly Sashimi (28.90 RM, approx. S$9.16) is another must-order. Resembling a flower, five thick slices of salmon belly surrounded a ‘rose’ of regular salmon slices that was further topped with a spoonful of ikura (salmon roe).
Accompanied with a side of grated wasabi, this was quite value-for-money considering the portions and presentation.
The salmon belly always takes some time for it to be served but there’s a reason why — just look at the knife-work on each slice of salmon! Aside from aesthetic purposes, a practical reason for the many slits on the layer of fat is to make it easier to chew.
Each slice was incredibly fresh, rich and buttery, to the point where I had to eat each slice in two to three bites to fully savour them.
The Teriyaki Chicken Don (16.90 RM, approx. S$5.35, comes with miso soup) was decent as well. The chunks of chicken were thick and juicy while the little dollop of miso (bean paste) at the side was a nice touch.
Overall, a safe main dish for those who don’t fancy sashimi or sushi.
Our last main of the day was the Salmon Don (32.90 RM, approx. S$10.42, comes with miso soup) which was arranged beautifully with 12 slices of salmon beneath a salmon ‘rose’ as previously seen in the sashimi. A grand total of 15 salmon slices!
But that’s not all. Beneath the layer of salmon slices, you’ll find a sprinkling of marinated minced mushrooms which lent a nice touch of earthy savouriness to every spoonful.
Pardon the blue hue on the salmon. The light came from a nearby fish tank housing live lobsters and other shellfish, which you can order to be prepared in a variety of cooking methods.
Aside from the already huge repertoire of dishes on the regular menus, Warakuya also flies in seasonal fish such as kodai (Japanese Snapper) and aji (horse mackerel) at pretty competitive prices but you’ll have to visit early because they tend to get snapped up by late-afternoon.
I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Warakuya. For its price and quality, this is actually one place I wouldn’t mind queuing for. Of course, the free drinks, snacks and massage chairs do make the wait more bearable.
Expected damage: 16.90 RM – 49.80 RM, approx. S$6 – S$16 per person