|Japan Food Town banner in Wisma Atria. Just keep going up the escalators to the fourth floor.|
Japan Food Town is set to offer authentic Japanese cuisine straight from Japan from 16 July 2016. The food hall, on the 4th level of Isetan Singapore (near Food Republic, basically above Starbucks) at Wisma Atria mall, is the first of a series of Japan Food Towns planned around the world.
|Look upwards to see the washi paper ceiling decor, |
which is meant to evoke steam rising
from a cooking stove.
The 20,075 sq ft space seats roughly 628 guests at any one time. The interior was designed to bring out ‘ma’ (間), a modern Japanese sense of space. Japan Food Town flew in traditional Sakan (左官) craftsmen to create textures that mimic natural materials such as stone and copper from plaster. Prior to Japan Food Town, the Sakan craft could only be found in Japan. Kitchen tools such as plates and bowls arranged in between outlets add to the anticipation for the outstanding food served.
The health-conscious will be interested to learn that Japan Food Town has an official gourmet rice that is a healthier choice, in use by more than half of the tenants. Kinme Mai (金芽米) from the Toyo Rice Corporation has a smooth, creamy texture and a subtle fragrance that complements other foods very nicely.
A special polishing technique ensures that the rice retains most of the healthy components which are often stripped away by traditional techniques, such as fibre, vitamins and minerals. The gold rice germ (kinme) is retained. According to Toyo Rice, Kinme Mai contains roughly 10% fewer calories than an eequivalent amount of white rice. Restaurants offering Kinme Mai will have a sign prominently featured at their entrances.
|Sushi table lady at the opening of Japan Food |
All tenants are taking advantage of the logistics services, sometimes on a daily basis, to import more than half of ingredients they require. Diners can thus enjoy Kinme Mai as well as Matsusaka beef (松阪牛), and Kindai (近畿) maguro (bluefin tuna) to Singapore. The bulk procurement slashes shipping expenses by roughly 50%, enabling Japan Food Town to keep its menus at an affordable range.
Japan Food Town features a nice selection of casual dining outlets offering quality Japanese cuisine at affordable prices. Each restaurant has been hand-picked based on its strong reputation and rich heritage, and is exclusive to the food hall. Almost all of the brands are new to Singapore. The tenants include:
Hokkaido island’s unique geographical location, in the north of Japan, means access to the best of both sea and land. Hokkaido Izakaya has been certified by the Hokkaido City Council to promote Hokkaido produce in Singapore.
According to the Japan National Tourist Organisation, Hokkaido's fresh fish and seafood offerings include crab, scallops, sea urchins, salmon roe, salmon, herring, flounder, cod, arabesque greenlings, squid, octopus, shrimp, abalone, surf clams and kelp that are considered among the best in their categories. The crab is particularly recommended when in season, while the is exceptional. The uni (海胆, sea urchins) feed on the kelp, giving them a unique flavour. Hokkaido Izakaya sources seafood from Yakumo town, oysters from Akkeshi town, vegetables and cheeses from Furano city, and beef from Kamishihoro city.
|Signboard, Hokkaido Izakaya.|
For the preview Hokkaido Izakaya served Wagyu (和牛) beef, scallop, salmon sushi wrapped in a leaf, salmon roe, a seashell, and vegetable puree with uni. The food styling was exquisite, and the food flavourful with a wide range of textures and flavours that complemented each other.
Hokkaido Izakaya has another outlet in Tanjong Pagar that opened in December 2015. It is part of the PJ Partners Group which also owns Salt Grill & Bar.
Inaniwa Yosuke is known as Sato Yosuke in Japan. Created in 1860, Sato Yosuke’s Inaniwa udon is an unchanging 150-year old handmade tradition from the town of Akita. The udon takes three days to make using water, salt and flour. Unlike the thick udon that we are used to, Inaniwa udon is an addictive silky, chewy ("Q") and slender noodle, more like a soba in appearance. Sato Yosuke’s original outlet is based in Chuo, Tokyo. This was one of my favourites.
|Prepacked udon is available.|
|Chilled Inaniwa udon in a soy based broth. This is meant to be eaten with a touch of wasabi. They also had the udon a sesame broth for sampling.|
Here's the menu:
|The Inaniwa Yosuke udon menu.|
|Entrance to Bonta Bonta.|
|For the media preview Bonta Bonta served chicken and eel on rice.|
The Yomoda Soba stand draws long queues daily in Tokyo. Favoured by locals and celebrities alike, Yomoda boasts fresh, quality soba made on-site. The hot spicy soy milk chicken soba (S$22) is recommended.
|Yomoda Soba's diners eat al fresco style.|
|The al dente soba was unusual for me. A must-try experience.|
The soba was al dente ("Q"), unlike the usual soba found in Singapore, and quite a pleasant experience. The tasting portion was complemented by a perfect tempura ebi (エビ, prawn).
This is the menu:
|A page of the menu, Yomoda Soba.|
Tokyo’s Rang Mang Shokudo presents artisanal fried chicken (唐揚げ or 空揚げ or から揚げ, karaage) which has been marinated in buttermilk for six hours, then fried twice at low heat.
|Facade, Rang Mang Shokudo.|
|An example of an actual set meal that would be served at Rang Mang Shokudo.|
These are parts of the menu:
|Menu, Rang Mang Shokudo.|
|Partial menu, Rang Mang Shokudo.|
Takewaka’s first shop started about 28 years ago in the famous Tsukiji, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. Due to its close proximity to Tsukiji, Takewaka has managed to maintain many years of experience and relationships with fishermen and wholesalers there to pick the best-quality fish and seafood for Edo-style sushi (江戸前寿司)*. The sushi is prepared by Chef Sushi Takewaka, who comes from Tokyo, and the styling is to swoon for. Edo-style sushi is not necessarily raw nor eaten with soy sauce as is conventional sushi.
Try the kaisendon (海鮮丼, S$24.80), which features a mixture of fresh tuna, salmon, crab, tamago (玉子, egg), scallops and ikura (いくら, salmon roe).
|Sample dish presentation, bento style.|
|Sample sashimi presentation.|
|Sample Edo-style sushi selection.|
|Admittedly nothing to do with the food, but the way even the toothpicks are arranged shows the attention to detail that you can expect at this restaurant.|
Saba (鯖) is the Japanese name for mackerel. Sabar specialises in cuisine starring the fish, which is unusual even in Japan. Sabar at Japan Food Town is the first overseas venture for Sabaya, and its 11th Sabar restaurant, all of which specialise in mackerel as the main ingredient.
There is a lot of symbolism in their restaurant with the number 38 (三十八 which sounds like 'saba' in Chinese), from 38 seats to 38 items on the menu. Lunch is served from 11.38am to 2.38pm. Sabar mainly uses top-quality mackerel from Aomori, though Sabar itself originated from Osaka. Saba is often seen cured or grilled, not raw, but Sabar uses specially-cultivated mackerel which is perfect as sashimi. The premium Ojo (princess) mackerel farmed by the West Japan Railway Company in Tottori prefecture in Japan. Two pieces of Ojo saba sushi costs S$10, while the entire fish served as sashimi costs S$57.
|Ojo (princess) saba.|
|This is saba shirako (白子) - milt (sperm from the male mackerel). This Japanese delicacy was absolutely amazing. It looks like tofu and feels much smoother. Extremely rich.|
|Okada-san expertly skinned and deboned the Ojo mackerel in a demonstation of sugata tsukuri (姿造り). a style presenting the whole fish as sashimi, with the head and tail still in place and the sashimi slices in between.|
Watch how Sabar Singapore MD Okada-san prepares a mackerel for sashimi sugata tsukuri style (Instagram video)
Tempura Tsukiji Tenka
This is the first restaurant the Tokyo Sushi Academy, Japan’s top traditional culinary academy, is opening in Singapore. It features tempura and donburi by Tokyo Sushi Academy graduates, exclusively for Japan Food Town. Tokyo Sushi Academy has a branch in Singapore which offers courses and team building activities.
|Diners can sit at the counter to watch the chef preparing tendon.|
|The pleasures of eating crisp, light tempura.|
The menu offers various tendon (天丼), or tempura placed over rice with a light sauce. The batter for tempura and the way it is fried makes or breaks tempura. I've only ever tasted light, thinly-battered, crunchy tempura at a food court in Oriental City in London, and at Azabu in Brisbane. And as of yesterday, at Japan Food Town.
This is part of the menu plus what a sample dish looks like:
|Tenka's menu plus sample dish.|
Shabu Shabu Tajimaya
Shabu Shabu Tajimaya is a spinoff from Gyuta, a humble eatery from Hyogo that’s operated on the motto of good quality food with reasonable price since 1997. Their buffet-style shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) and sukiyaki are very reasonably priced. They have all-you-can-eat 60-minute and 90-minute formats, as well as one more traditional sets with a fixed amount of meat.
|Facade, Shabu Shabu Tajimaya.|
|Just look at the marbling on the beef!|
|Twin broths on an induction cooker, with the beef cooking in it.|
The 'grade 5' beef I tried was absolutely to die for (grade 5 beef is the highest quality possible for Wagyu beef). Boiled in water, the paper-thin meat cooked quickly and literally melted in the mouth in a burst of flavour, We were provided with a ponzu style sauce as a dip which went very well with the beef.
Here're the parts of the menu about the 90-minute meals:
|Shabu shabu selections.|
Osaka Kitchen brings teppanyaki using Wagyu beef and okonomiyaki right in front of diners. Yakisoba is also available.
Several restaurants are yet to open. Nabe Seizan, for example, will only be open 17 July. The original Seizan restaurant in Japan is a two-Michelin starred kaiseki (an exquisite multiple-course banquet) restaurant currently helmed by the Tokyo-born chef Haruhiko Yamamoto. Chef Yamamoto strives to bring out the true flavour of each ingredient rather than rely solely on sauces. Nabe Seizan will offer nabe (鍋物, なべ物) cuisine, 'one-pot' dishes. Seizan’s original outlet is located in Mita, Minato in Tokyo.
Yakiniku Heijyoen will be open in August. Yakiniku Heijyoen takes top quality black hair wagyu from all over Japan, then ages it for tenderness and to bring out a deeper concentration of beef taste and flavour. Yakiniku Heijyoen goes by the name Heijyoen in Japan. Its main outlet is in Tokyo, Japan.
Japan Food Town is a joint venture established by Cool Japan Fund, a public-private fund, in collaboration with the JAOF and its corporate supporters at an investment of about S$8.5 million. Makoto Yoshikawa, Managing Director of Japan Food Town Development and Board Member of JAOF, called Japan Food Town a "multi-sensorial expression of the country’s culture and culinary gems brought together under one roof".
In a statement Yoshikawa explained that many Japanese early-stage companies and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have found it difficult to expand their businesses overseas in countries such as Singapore because of challenges such as ingredient procurement, staffing and lack of the appropriate space. "Through this project, the selected restaurants will be able to clear the toughest hurdles of overseas development and focus on offering consumers in Singapore with the same high level of service and food quality one would expect in Japan,” he said.
“I believe that through offering Singapore a truly authentic Japanese dining experience without those exorbitant prices, customers will appreciate a real sense of Japanese hospitality. We call this Omotenashi (おもてなし), where you will be warmly welcomed and respected,” he said.
Japan Food Town is at 435 Orchard Rd, #04-39/54 Wisma Atria Shopping Centre, Singapore 238877
Hours: 11am to 11pm every day
Prices: Starting from S$10
Seating capacity: 628
Learn how to cook Kinmei Mai
The opening celebrations on 16 July, to be held at Isetan Wisma Atria Level 2 (street level facing Orchard Road) from 12pm to 6pm, include Japanese cultural performances and free giveaways.
|Hayate performed twice during the media preview.|
Look for a performance by Hayate, a ten-member shamisen band created by the popular Yoshida Brothers (吉田兄弟), whose first album saw 100,000 copies sold. Hayate aims to create a completely new genre of shamisen music, pushing the limits of the shamisen to the max with rapid, complex yet completely synchronised rhythms that almost appear improvised. Two of the three players at the media preview shared that they had been playing the shamisen for 15 years.
There will also be Taiko drums and a live demonstration of Japanese calligraphy from celebrity calligrapher Tomomi Kunishige (國重友美), who invented the idea of eikanji (英漢字) - kanji composed of strokes that also spell the English word of the same meaning. Kunishige will also be launching her first private exhibition in Singapore.
Watch a snippet of Hayate's spirited performance at the media preview (Instagram video)
*The Sushi Encylopedia explains the history of Edo-style sushi
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