Nobuya izakaya is a hidden find that even Hungry Go Where and Open Rice have no entry on the Tokyo-sized (read: small and cramped) Japanese eatery. At a food tasting at Shinzo Restaurant, I asked a Japanese customer sitting next to me what her favorite Japanese restaurants were. She replied the usual suspects, “Shinzo, Tatsuya, Hashida…and Nobuya.” My ears pricked like a bloodhound on the scent of a hare. Two days later, I was at Nobuya.
Opened since mid-February, Nobuya serves seasonal produce from Japan. The ingredients are personally selected by Chef-owner Nobukawa Yoshiyuki to ensure best quality. Both Chef Nobukawa and sake sommelier-cum-manager Nobuhiko Sano worked at fine-dining Mikuni for 10 years.
Two very interesting incidents: An angmoh couple walked in without reservations and Sano-san rejected them, saying it was full house. 30 seconds later, a couple, who were regulars of the izakaya, walked in without reservations and they got a table. Moral of the story: Make reservations, until you’re a regular. This is the Japanese tradition. Tip: If you want them to remember you, buy Chef Nobukawa, Sano-san, or assistant chef Grace Koh drinks. Another Japanese tradition.
A second incident: when you make reservation, they will ask if you are drinking. There is only ONE correct answer: YES!!! And if you’re a kiss-ass teacher’s pet with daddy issues who needs to score A+ in every test, then the A+ answer is YES!! I LOVE SAKE. After all, Sano-san is the sake sommelier and the manager. If you answer NO, you get a F; they will reject your reservation. It is a tiny space, they need people who drink to increase the income, and besides this is an izakaya (translation: drinking house).
To be fair, the alcohol, like the food, is affordable and very delicious. My friend said his draft sapporo (S $7/ M $9) tasted much better than elsewhere. There are 9 types of sake, and I prefer a sweet sake, and had Sow (glass $12, carafe $20, bottle $80). Not the best sake I had, but it might be because I didn’t chose wisely. Should have opted for the other sweet one, miw.
The food, as this is an izakaya, came in small portions and the menu was extensive. Chef Nobukawa is known for his robatayaki (skewers grilling over charcoal). But the kitchen is tiny, allowing for a microwave (which is used to heat up rice and some items), a few stoves, and a grill oven. There are a few grilled items – order all of them. Today’s grilled fish ($18)–that day was kamasu fish–was so sweet and fresh, and such beautiful crisp skin. Just a dab of soy sauce, and it tasted like heaven.
My friend’s favorite dish for the night, oumi tataki ($12), beef sashimi that was lightly grilled on the surface, was umami. It had quite a bite: as you masticate it more and more, the taste changes as the tendons and fats break down. You want to chew longer because it is so juicy, but you also want to swallow it because your stomach is begging you. This is a hell of a dilemma.
If there is a must-order, it is oumi nikomi or braised oumi beef ($18). It came only 2 thumb-sized pieces but WORTH IT! There was an extremely smoky aroma that I relished, and it had a nice bite, like the oumi tataki, which wasn’t jerlat like excessive fatty beef.
At first, I didn’t like the hot mess spring tempura ($15), but as I ate more of it, I realized how the ingredients–Alpine leek, rape blossom, and baby fish–complemented each other. The rape blossom was bitter, the leek pungent, giving a boost and contrast to the bland fish.
Skip the naka-ochi don (S $13/ L $18), “chopped tuna belly refuse with rice” (quoted from the menu). Too dry.
You must end the meal with a soup: tori nabe ($15) was exceptional. I thought, from the colour of the soup, it would be bland, but it was bursting with dashi umami-ness and a refreshing tinge of yuzu. Even the chicken balls in the soup were sweet and delicious. I want to eat this on every rainy day. Correction, I want to eat this on days that end with “-day.”
The service was considerate, the food was homely and rather reasonably priced, and the ambience was as close to an izakaya in Japan as can be. Call me a Japophile, call me racist, but the Japanese do things way better than anyone else. You’d better rush down ASAP as this will be the next Teppei Restaurant that requires 4 months’ reservation. “You’re welcome,” says my future-self to your future-selves who are thanking me for saving you a 4-month wait. We paid $115 for two persons. No GST, no service charge.
190 Middle Rd, Fortune Centre #01-05 Singapore 188979
T: 6338 3450
Rating: 3.863/5 stars
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.