When I saw the sleek, modern black polished surfaces with red chairs for the decor, I mistakenly thought Seki is a fine-dining restaurant. But it turns out that it is a mid-range restaurant at a fine-dining setting, helmed by Chef Tony who has 30 years of experience in Japanese food. Ingredients are imported directed from the famous Tsukiji Market in Tokyo every Tuesday and Thursday.
Seki Kamo Salad ($8): black pepper smoked duck with deep-fried spring roll skin, sesame seed, cabbage, drizzled with special dressing.
A nice textural contrast of crispy spring roll skin with duck and the special dressing is tangy and appetizing. The black pepper leaves a tingling aftertaste in the mouth, which may be unpalatable to some people, like The Ex who attended the tasting with me, but I was fine with it.
The swordfish sashimi is topped with a wasabi pickle, giving it a slight bitter aftertaste. I can’t say I like it but it isn’t a bad thing, just up to your individual taste.
For the yellow tail, Chef Tony complained that a blogger “anyhow write, saying that the hamachi is tough.” Chef Tony serves a less tender variation of hamachi, but to make it softer, Chef Tony slices it thin.
Although it could be less dry, the Ex said, “The creamy cod sauce counteracts the dryness of the fish, tinging it with a little spice.” It may be too charred for some but I especially like that it is charred, giving it an extra dimension, contrasting the milky salmon taste to the char. The complexity of this dish makes it my favorite dish of the lot.
The correct way to eat sushi is just to eat it straight as the chef should have already mixed the soy sauce and wasabi within the sushi. At Seki, the sushi is a bit different as Chef Tony adds more than just condiments; for instance, for the scallop sushi (pictured above), seaweed and mint are added. A second difference is that Chef Tony doesn’t add soy sauce so you have to add yourself.
Fun to watch, the searing locks in the flavor of the tako sushi and gives it a charred scent. However, the wasabi within might have been laid generously, giving a slight choking/wanna-cry sensation.
Because this is tasting, we are fortunate to enjoy the more expensive stuff. However, It is fair to say that there is a range of prices: if you want to pay more, there are exquisite sets but if you don’t want to, most of the items are very reasonably priced. For example, the sushi is as competitively priced as those conveyor-belt chains. A pair of unagi (eel) sushi will set you back by only $6, which is slightly more than the sushi chains’. Why not pay a little more for fresher sushi–you don’t know how long the sushi has been going around on those conveyor belts–better ambience, and friendlier service? (A few reviews have stated that the service isn’t ideal, but when we were there, the servers were quite experienced. The restaurant may have taken in the account of the reviews and improved on their service.)
Other relatively worth-it items include a bowl of udon at only $8 and bento sets for lunch are going for a one-for-one promotion. So for $25, the most expensive set, you can get two bento sets. Definitely value-for-money!
Many food bloggers who have written on Seki are ambivalent about it. We are going out on a limb, and going against the grain. Overall, the food is not going to blow your mind but it is not bad for the price and we weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the experience. Sitting beside us were two customers who were happily chatting with the chef. The food made the man so happy that he opened up to us: he revealed that he was from Catholic High, which used to be at Orchard Road, and told us the history of Orchard Road when he was still a student. So if we are around the area and craving for mid-range Japanese cuisine, Seki is one of our considerations.
PS: Thank you, Keith, Juliana, Tony and the staff at Seki for the invited tasting and the hospitality.