N picked a secret restaurant to bring me on my birthday, and when we reached Santoro@Hinoki, I was like……. wait a minute, this is my friend’s dad’s restaurant! And the head chef, (Santoro) Li Kwok Wing who has 40 years of Japanese cuisine experience, who is my friend’s dad, just won the Washoku World Challenge 2013 Grand Prize on December 8, 2013. His winning dish was “Japanese Pumpkin under Snow” (Secchou Kabochia, 雪中蒸しかぼちゃ) which beat many dishes from chefs around the world! So exciting to have a Singaporean win this global Washoku competition!!
The first dish Hubbubu picked was the the Chef’s Recommendation for 2 persons – Tokusen Sashimi 特選刺身盛り合わせ ($110). The sashimi is extremely fresh! Every type of sashimi had its natural sweetness emanating with every bite. The fish slices were so firm, it tasted like meat. Among the platter, my favourites were the explosive flavourful roe and tuna served with vinaigrette and spring onions with such strong natural flavours, it tasted like tuna tartare. With the quality of the sashimi, Santoro@Hinoki has dethroned Chikuwatei as my favourite stop for sashimi in Singapore. If I want to spoil my loved ones on special occasions, I would go to Santoro@Hinoki for slightly fresher sashimi (but of course, pricier than Chikuwatei so only on very special ocassions!).
Next up, was the Washoku World Challenge 2013 Grand Prize winning dish – “Japanese Pumpkin under Snow” (Secchou Kabochia, 雪中蒸しかぼちゃ, $22). The Japanese Pumpkin is not as sweet as the Singaporean ones. The “snow” tasted like an egg white blend that really simulated the snow texture well. To me, this dish was like snow covering over the rich earth texture represented by the very fresh earthy Japanese Pumpkin. Beautiful presentation with flavours that makes one feel instantly transported to Japan.
We shared 2 Udons. First one was the Beef Wheat Flour Noodles (Gyuniku Udon, 牛肉うどん, $22). Very authentic and close to the udon flavours in Japan. The beef was extremely tender with thin soft layer of fat. The udon was soft but loose, a tell tale sign that the udon was hand made. Amazingly rich yet light flavoured soup. N loved this dish.
I personally preferred the Hinoki Truffled Udon ($22), served cold, but it is not the most Japanese tasting dish. Because of the truffle, this dish tasted mildly Italian. What I really liked is the blend of 1) cold udon, 2) crunchy cucumber bits, 3) explosive roe, 4) sweet crab meat, 5) fried fish mesh, every mouthful had a zesty zing.
I also want to highlight the good service @ Hinoki. Our Beef Udon was served too early, when we were still having the sashimi platter, before we asked for the udon. One of the more experienced servers immediately took the initiative to take the beef udon back and served us a fresh one later. The servers have an eye for details to let us enjoy the best of the dishes they serve.
Unprententious restaurant with fresh authentic Japanese cuisine. Definitely be back on special occasions to treat myself. It was also an interesting experience watching Chef Santoro get filmed by NHK, then getting interviewed by the crew to get our views on “Japanese Pumpkin under Snow”. N and I have to stay tuned to NHK now to see if we will spot ourselves 😛
Hinoki Japanese Restaurant
Address: 22 Cross Street, #01-50/53 China Square Central, South Bridge Court
Tel: +65 6536 7746
Operating Hours: Mondays to Saturdays, 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, and 6:00 pm to 10:30pm. Closed on Sundays.