No money to treat Chiobu to a $400-meal at Waku Ghin, so the next best option was to bring her to Izy, short for izakaya (Japanese drinking house), helmed by Chef Kazumasa Yazawa who worked 5 years at Waku Ghin.
While the food is modern Japanese, the decor reminded us of a cool American jazz bar. But the eatery played songs from the 60s and 70s, like Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” and “Hello Goodbye.” A drunk old man sang along. Acid jazz might be more appropriate for the setting.
The same drunk old man raised a ruckus when he first stepped into the restaurant. Since this is a modern concept, most seats are bar seats. His company of 4 were given bar seats and he shouted at the server, ‘I DON’T WANT THESE SEATS, I MADE A RESERVATION! DO YOU WANT A FIGHT?” Woah, his normal behavior was already other people’s inebriated belligerent behavior. But did he say he didn’t want bar seats during reservation? No. If you don’t want bar seats, say so during the reservations, don’t shout at the server. I feel sorry for servers.
Other seating choices include: a communal table or a secret chamber-lounge at the back of the restaurant. But it is really more fun to sit at the bar and watch the chefs work; just don’t sit in front of the josper grill (very hot). We watched a young cook, Gabriel Kok, armful of tattoos, plate our food with extreme care and felt his dedication. By the way, the chefs and servers are pretty izy on the eyes. Is it a prerequisite to be hot to work in an open kitchen?
While the customers’ temper couldn’t be controlled, the service could. If there is time, Kazumasa-san and servers would banter with customers, creating a convivial vibe. But the service could be improved. I emailed to make reservations, no reply. When I telephoned to make reservation and tell them about my email (in case they double-booked me), the receptionist gave a curt “oh,” no apology. Another instance: as a chef was blocking the server’s way behind the bar, the server collected my bowl but couldn’t reach for Chiobu’s bowl, and Chiobu had to pass to her. The same server placed two spoons in front of me, expecting me to pass a spoon to Chiobu. Instead of making this seem like a self-service place, what the server could have done was to go around the bar to our side and collect or give us utensils. (What were servers doing in the open kitchen anyway? They would only be in the chefs’ way.) Usually, I won’t comment over minor slippages, but this is not a chain restaurant. It is a classy one and I paid $340 for two. I expected tiptop service. But in all things else–such as getting the servers’ attention and getting our water refilled–were good.
We were l(a)zy, didn’t want to browse the menu, and opted for omakase ($145+), a 8-course menu, with the best 8 dishes from the a la carte menu. [Prices stated in brackets are a la carte prices.] And the food was marvelous, probably the best 10 Singapore meals we have this year.
Chiobu and my favorite dish was the wagyu bowl ($40). The wagyu was beautifully josper-grilled, and when I ate it with the generous serving of truffle, there was a feeling of bliss. The bliss was unbearable I had to close my eyes and mmmm like on a Taiwanese cooking show. The only flaw of this dish was the rice–it didn’t taste like Japanese rice, too long-grained, not sticky enough. But Chiobu said, “You don’t eat rice anyway!”
My other favorite dish was Hokkaido yellow tail ($26), which, though could be fresher, had a wonderful aroma of char from the josper grill. It was as delicate and balanced as a summer flower in bloom; more heat and it would have withered, a slight breeze and it would have fallen apart.
Chiobu’s favorite dish was another fish, Hokkaido fresh tuna tartar ($35) with mountain caviar— the sea and the land, there was a haiku or a Navy ad in there somewhere. At first bite, it was extremely salty, which quickly mellowed into a tasty, fresh tuna aroma.
Even common Japanese dishes, karaage (fried chicken, $20) and goma tofu ($18), were divine. The tender yet crispy karaage, despite deep-fried, was light and the meat felt healthy and less greasy than elsewhere. The goma tofu, or sesame tofu, was a rainbow of ever-changing taste with each bite: it might be salty in a sea of popping roe, or citrusy of yuzu, or even taste like peanut butter tofu. (Strangely, two days after this dinner, I craved for this karaage.)
The only dish that I didn’t quite like was the treatment of foie gras ($25), which was finished in the josper grill. The crust was extremely char, which I liked, but it didn’t melt in the mouth, as foie gras should. It also tasted a little like satay, robbed of foie gras’ natural and distinctive buttery essence.
For desserts, I preferred the junmai ginjo sake custard with yuzu granatha ($13), that had a refreshing bittersweet citrus-ness (like grapefruit) with the crunch of ice while Chiobu, who didn’t like bitter things, preferred the banana caramel ice-cream with rosemary ($12, pictured below), which was nice too.
I was very glad to have picked this place to celebrate Chiobu’s birthday. Although we waited some time between courses for the food to be served, and although the restaurant didn’t provide a complimentary birthday cake (be more generous lah), the food was exquisite and elegant enough to quench any qualms. It was costly–I suggest going for a la carte to reduce price–but I thought worth it to splurge on my dear sister. Happy Birthday, Chiobu!
27 Club St, Singapore 069413
T: 62203327 (reservations highly encouraged)
Rating: 3.656/5 stars
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.