Which new Japanese dining hotspot in Singapore is booked out until August?
The Orientalist House, by F&B veteran Michel Lu, is making a splash thanks to newly installed chef-in-residence Reiko Yoshikawa. But the private diner has stopped taking reservations thanks to an overwhelming response.
If you had tried to make a reservation at private dining establishment The Orientalist House just a fortnight ago, the books would have been wide open. Pick a date, any date, and odds are, you would have scored yourself a place at its long, narrow table for eight.
That’s no longer the case now that new chef-in-residence Reiko Yoshikawa has moved in and shaped up the dining experience with her charming brand of “homestyle” Japanese food.
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To be clear, if when she says “homestyle”, she means what’s served in a mansion for food-obsessed nobility, then it is indeed plausible. However, I cannot imagine that food of her ilk is served in a regular Japanese home on a regular day.
I’m sure if I asked any Japanese friend if they sometimes cook premium eels by grilling, steaming and grilling them again, or serve said fish as part of a donabe made from rice grains husked in small batches, the answer would be a hard no.
That’s exactly what Yoshikawa, a culinary consultant, instructor and certified sake sommelier served us one rainy evening last week. It was the heartiest dish among the slew of other delights such as gently torched kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) with a spritz of sudachi (Japanese lime) and yuzu salt specially chosen for its subtly damp quality.
Also part of the procession of unpretentious, elegant dishes was a lovely marinated pen shell grilled to meaty tenderness and served in a crisp sheet of nori to yield the most satisfying wrap.
Especially impressive were six-year-old scallops from Iwate, deftly grilled and anointed with a fat pat of Calpis fermented butter (no, the butter is not made from Calpis, but by the manufacturer itself) that tempered the rich umami of the scallop’s dashi-soy seasoning.
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No doubt, picking scallops that are precisely six years old is hardly a home-cook move, but before relocating to Singapore, Yoshikawa was also a guide at Tokyo’s Tsukiji and Toyosu markets.
Though now based here, she continues to maintain long-distance relationships with suppliers (she jokingly refers to them as her boyfriends), whom she speaks to on the phone every Monday to pick produce for her meals. This gives her the advantage of importing unique items such as prized Satonishiki cherries and eels from Aichi prefecture.
Seafood aside, another rare delight she served was velvety yuba (bean curd skin) sourced from one of the last remaining yuba houses in Tokyo with a centuries-old history.
Once a luxury for samurai and nobility, she explained, the yuba here is served wrapped around minced prawns seasoned with kewpie (Japanese mayo, perhaps the most homestyle element of the meal) and fried so that it ate like an incredibly tasty and delicate ngoh hiang. Served alongside this ambrosial nugget was a sliver of the uncooked yuba accompanied by the barest dab of wasabi to accentuate its ethereal flavour.
With menus priced at S$138 and S$198, Yoshikawa’s dinners are incredible value for money in a city where fine Japanese meals start northwards of S$250 for dinner. Thanks to the power of social media, response to Yoshikawa’s dinners at The Orientalist House have been “so overwhelming” that the establishment has stopped taking reservations.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in the history of my career,” said The Orientalist House owner and industry veteran Michel Lu. “Within 48 hours last week, we were booked out till August.”
Lu said the plan is to release dates for August sometime in June.
“Because Reiko is doing most of the cooking herself, we are still exploring the best way to accept reservations while ensuring that she has time to rest and take breaks in between.”
Your best bet for a reservation then: Register to be notified when new dates are released on the establishment’s website.