Shinji by Kanesaka
A stark white colonial complex stands in the center of Singapore's downtown, surrounded by modern monoliths and heavily trafficked roads. The Raffles Hotel, built in 1887, is one of the world's finest and remains the gold standard for Singapore - if you're visiting and looking to spend $700+ a night, look here, not the Marina Bay Sands. Raffles also seems to be the inspiration for every Singaporean hotel that came after it: construct a beautiful building with fantastically modern accommodations, then fill the empty spaces with high-end stores, fine dining, and lush landscaping. Walking into the lobby is a bit like the first time you see The Grand Budapest Hotel's interior; you get transported to another time and another place. And if you're not a guest, like me, you get transported back outside.
I'm hesitant to recommend this, but if you visit Singapore, go to The Long Bar the hotel. The Long Bar is most definitely a tourist trap - the people you see in there are more than likely the same people who will be dining at the Clarke Quay Hooter's that night - but it has a very cool Malaysian plantation design to it. This is the place where the sickly sweet Singapore Sling was invented, but that doesn't make it any better. I'd rather stop in for a beer or bourbon than get a $30 cocktail that tastes like hummingbird food.
Choosing where to spend my limited meals in Singapore is a challenge; this is a city with 10 fine-dining establishments on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list, plus an insurmountable number of wonderful local restaurants and hawker stands. I've agonized over menus, my mind a barrage of haute cuisine and fine ingredients.
The first of my splurge meals was at Shinji by Kanesaka at Raffles. Shinji is the Singapore outpost of Shinji Kanesaka's 2-Michelin starred Tokyo restaurant. Kanesaka's executive chef is Koichiro Oshino; I was lucky enough to have him as my chef during my meal there.
A little too confident in my ability to cope with the Singapore heat, I arrived at Shinji drenched in sweat, dehydrated, and possibly suffering from a little heat stroke. Walking through the lattice door into the restaurant - which is just a small room with a bar wrapping around the 3 sushi chefs - felt like something out of a movie. As the door slid closed behind me, the oppressive heat, the bustle of the city, the stark white walls of the colonial hotel, dissipated. Within 5 minutes I was transferred from 2015 Singapore to early-1900's luxury to a cozy Tokyo restaurant.
I sat between Oshino-san and another sushi chef, watching them prepare for service as I cooled down. I originally intended to get the Tsuki lunch set (12 pieces, $125), but I ended up going with the Hana (9 pieces, $75) due to my internal organs shutting down.
The meal began in near total silence, as other diners had not yet arrived. Oshino-san welcomed me, asked me if there was anything I didn't eat (no), and we began. I was given a bowl of thinly sliced daikon (radish) dressed with a ginger sauce and seaweed in a light sesame sauce. A simple starter and palate cleanser.
My descriptions for the sushi itself will be minimal. Shinji's focus is on balance, harmony, and honoring the ingredients. We didn't speak much during the meal; it was more like watching a movie or play than anything else. For many of the dishes, it's simply a piece of fish dabbed with soy.
Something that sets apart a great sushi place from the average is the rice. This cannot be emphasized enough. The slight vinegar flavor, the perfect temperature and texture; it was the best sushi rice I can remember eating anywhere. The more obvious difference is the quality of fish, all of which is picked by Kanesaka himself at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, then shipped to Singapore.
The first piece of sushi was Suzuki (sea bass), followed by Ika (squid). The squid was cut so thinly you could see the dab of wasabi through it. When editing the photos, I had to lower the white level of the squid - it was so white, it nearly disappeared over the plate and rice.
The most beautiful piece of the meal goes to the Chu-toro (medium fatty tuna), though the otoro (fatty tuna), the most highly-sought after piece of tuna, trumped it in flavor. It melts in your mouth like butter.
Kuruma ebi (Japanese Tiger prawn) made a striking appearance on the plate, but was my least favorite piece. I couldn't discern anything particularly special about it; I would have greatly preferred uni. The negitoro (tuna with spring onion), on the other hand, may have been the bite of the night. The fatty tuna was chopped and tossed with thin slices of onion, creating a balance of soft and crisp, fatty and sharp.
Continuing with the tuna theme was marinated maguro (tuna), a ruby cut of fish that had been marinated in soy.
Anago (saltwater eel), compared to unagi, is fishier, the texture more fragile and flakey. I would have preferred uni. I'm really sad I didn't get uni. After the anago came Aji (horse mackerel) and Suimono (clear soup). My body was still cooling down at this point, so I didn't eat much of the hot soup
My last piece of sushi was tekka maki, a simple tuna roll. It was served with pickles and, without question, the best tamago (egg) I've ever had. Unlike the more traditional tightly folded tamago, this was an egg custard that had been set. One of the goals I'm setting for myself is figuring out how to recreate it; it had enough sweetness and creaminess that it would be paired with a dessert.
The meal closed with a dessert that, like the sushi, appeared simple, but packed a wallop. The pumpkin pudding was incredible. The pudding itself was a mix of vanilla and pumpkin, topped with toasted pumpkin seeds and a sweet pumpkin sauce. At the base was pureed pumpkin.
The meal was sushi at its purest, but this was one of those that I'll remember more for the experience than the food. There's no doubt the sushi is world class, it's just that I want more complexity when I eat. That's why I love Niche, Sidney Street Cafe, and Publico back in St. Louis; I like to get a plate that makes me wonder "how did they do that?" or "how did they think of that?" For me to fully enjoy Shinji by Kanesaka and to fantasize about going back would require me to do the $250 omakase, I think. Still, I'm glad I went.
This restaurant has moved.
#02-20 Raffles Hotel
1 Beach Road
+65 6338 6131