Not all great restaurants have Michelin stars.
But having a Michelin star (or some) almost always guarantees hype. After all, it’s one of the highest honours a chef can earn for a restaurant, given its rigorous system of testing.
Ludicrously enough, despite Japan counting an obscene number of Michelin badges (second only to France) the humble ramen is bewilderingly unloved by the Guide’s inspectors. No slurp shops in the country were given any stars — until Tsuta nabbed one in 2015. It became the world’s first and only Michelin-starred ramen eatery, just three years after its opening.
The maestro behind Tsuta is Chef Yuki Onishi, who named his restaurant after his ivy leaf-shaped family crest. The Michelin-starred flagship is located in Sugamo, a neighbourhood in Tokyo, Japan. With world domination on his mind, Chef Yuki went on to set up more shops around the world, including Singapore, Taiwan and the US.
Then came one of history’s deadliest pandemics — which disrupted plans for international expansion, if Chef Yuki had any. He spent the year doing what he does best: tinkering with recipes and finding ways to elevate the dining experiences at his restaurants. The result is a major menu revamp for Tsuta in Singapore, of which more than 80% of the current offerings are new. If you’ve not been to the ramen chain in a while, now’s probably a great time to head back for a bowl or two.
Tsuta Singapore’s updated menu establishes it as a destination in its own right, with dishes that are carefully crafted, surprising and ambitious. Chef Yuki makes a point to differentiate his overseas outposts, so what you’ll find in Singapore is unique to our city. The crab soba, also Tsuta’s first, is set to be, I think, the bestselling bowl: each comes in a steaming, creamy bisque-like, umami-rich broth that contains enough warmth and decadence to survive a Siberian winter. Ours arrived with a crab carapace filled with Japanese snow crab meat that has been lightly seasoned and flame torched for a hint of smokiness, as well as Tsuta’s signature succulent Iberico pork belly and Kurobuta pork loin.
The R.H.C.P Mazesoba is a marvellous hybrid between a pasta and a ramen. A tribute to Chef Yuki’s favourite band, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, it has thick, perfectly al dente noodles drenched in housemade tomato sauce and topped with minced beef and housemade cheese sauce.
Thankfully, for purists who find some of Chef Yuki’s new creations too progressive (not me), there are the good old classics to be had. Tsuta’s signature shoyu and shio sobas are still on the menu, but not without some, shall we say, refinements. In the shoyu soba, the full-bodied, custom-brewed broth is uplifted with a splash of balsamic black truffle sauce, while the shio base is made with a mind-boggling blend of fish, clam, salmon, bottarga sauce, Okinawa sea salt, Mongolian rock salt and finished with a dollop of white truffle oil.
Come ravenous or with a (small) group, because the carby snacks are too good to say no to. Even if we were too full from all the noodles, we’d still order the pillowy and juicy teriyaki chicken bao to go — for when the post-lunch hunger pangs strike between, you know, 3 to 5pm. Also, in keeping with the ridiculous mala trend, the new menu also has a fragrant, palate-numbing soboro meshi (spicy minced pork on Japanese rice) for mala addicts in need of a fix.
Tsuta, #01-04 Funan Mall; B2-29A VivoCity and #02-242 Jewel Changi Airport
(All images: Tsuta)