Yet another restaurant is trying to carve itself a niche in the celebrity chef dining scene, this time by putting an unconventional spin on contemporary Japanese fare. Sara Yap dines at SYUN
For the variety of food Singapore has to offer, Japanese restaurants are practically a dime a dozen. After all, the average local has seen his share of sushi franchises, multi-concept establishments and ramen chains peddling various permutations of pork-bone broth. Even with a celebrity chef tag, there’s no guarantee of attracting gourmands — recent years have seen an influx in eateries backed by culinary superstars, to the point where they unfortunately elicit more muted responses than excitement from diners.
Keeping all these in consideration, Syun — helmed by Kobe-born celebrity chef Hal Yamashita — strives to carve out its niche in a saturated market. The latest newcomer in Resorts World Sentosa’s stable of eateries, the restaurant is situated in the space formerly occupied by Kunio Tokuoka, an upscale establishment that enjoyed a brief lease of life before shuttering in 2011.
At first glance, Syun’s repertoire of offerings such as sashimi, sushi and rice bento sets seems fairly ubiquitous. But what the restaurant lacks in novelty or complex culinary techniques, it makes up with mouth-watering, meticulously crafted food.
Take, for instance, the ingeniously conceptualised Sea Urchin Rolled by Wagyu-Beef appetiser. The dish comprises a thinly sliced slab of raw wagyu beef wrapped around a generous chunk of uni (sea urchin) and sprinkled with Spanish black caviar. While some diners shy away from uni because of its custard-like texture and salty tang, the Hokkaido-imported sea urchin in this roll is a crowd-pleaser — with its mild taste and melt-in-your-mouth consistency — that blends beautifully with the chewy, succulent beef. Nestled in a homemade yuzu shoyu sauce, the appetiser is served cold and is meant to be savoured whole, so diners can enjoy its unadulterated harmony of flavours. No surprise, then, that the restaurant considers it one of its bestsellers. It is also one of Yamashita’s signature creations.
The chef runs nine restaurants in Japan and Syun is his first overseas outpost. The kitchen is run by a team of seven chefs (a mix of locals and Japanese), with the Tokyo-based Yamashita flying in every few months to check on operations. According to restaurant staff, he is consulted on every recipe before it is added to the menu.
It seems Yamashita’s forte lies in combining wagyu beef and sea urchin, as his other specialty, a sukiyaki dish, also focuses on both ingredients. In this creation, tender strips of wagyu and vegetables such as enoki mushrooms and tomatoes are soaked in a syrupy shoyu concoction infused with mirin and sake, and cooked in a hot pot at the table. Then, instead of being sloshed in raw egg, the beef slices are eaten together with smooth chunks of uni. While the beef is scrumptious on its own, being well-marinated in sauce, it is the uni that spices up the creation by adding a briny twist to the flavourful mix. Those with a sweet tooth will undoubtedly relish every bite.
With such unconventional takes on contemporary Japanese cuisine, the restaurant’s unagi and foie gras teriyaki rice (part of its lunch menu) appears ho-hum in comparison. But don’t let its ordinariness deter you — the grilled eel and pan-fried duck liver are tasty and come in generous portions atop a bed of scrambled eggs and fluffy rice. Even those who may find the slightly gamey smell of foie gras off-putting can give this a chance, as the sweet teriyaki sauce helps tone down the scent and is a delicious accompaniment to the overall dish.
For dessert, Syun puts a spin on the usual matcha (green tea) ice cream by encasing it between halves of a crisp white glutinous rice biscuit resembling a macaron and wrapping the treat with a piece of paper, so one can easily hold and nibble on it. The confection calls to mind the old-school snack of ice cream sandwiched between layers of plain wafer and is a refreshing end to a hearty meal. My only gripe is that the taste of the biscuit overpowers the ice cream and its subtle tea fragrance. It also gets tiresome having to contend with chunks of wafer with every small bite of ice cream; perhaps just half a wafer would suffice. But it is a clever idea nonetheless and a promising attempt by the establishment to innovate on an otherwise predictable dessert.
By steering clear of gimmicks and doing what it knows best, Syun does a commendable job in whipping up good quality, unpretentious Japanese food. Aptly enough, its name translates to “spring” in Japanese — perhaps a hint of its desire to bring something fresh and different to the overcrowded dining scene. And if it stays on this track, it won’t simply need to ride on the coattails of its celebrity chef to remain relevant in the long run.
Festive Walk, Resorts World Sentosa, 8 Sentosa Gateway;
Tel: 6577 6688