Out of the 6 restaurants awarded 2 Michelin stars in Singapore, the 5 month-old Shoukouwa Japanese Restaurant on the second floor of One Fullerton is a dark horse that few have heard of. I have had it on my restaurant wishlist since March, but haven’t gotten a reason to visit the exorbitant restaurant until now.
The restaurant website uses a lot of words but says nothing. It says, the chefs are trained at Ginza Tokyo, and the sushi restaurant imports seafood from Tsukiji market… but this is the norm for all high-end Japanese restaurants in Singapore. Who is the chef? Where did he hone his skills? What is the edge it has over other restaurants?
We went in blindly.
Before the Michelin Stars, the set lunch started from $150++. After the stars, it’s now $180++, or a 20% increment. (We took the $320++ lunch set.) I wish my pay can jump 20% after year-end evaluation too. The dinner omakase begins from $320++.
The chef, whom we found out during the course of the meal, is a young 35 year-old Masakazu Ishibashi, who also owns the Michelin-starred restaurant, Sushi Ichi, at Ginza Japan, with 3 other outlets in Asia. (We visited the outlet in Singapore, Ginza Sushi Ichi, which received a star.)
Given the background, it’s not surprising that such a young restaurant received 2 Michelin stars because the French Guide tends to give stars to restaurants which have already received stars in other countries. My guess is (1) they are validating their own decisions (if not it’s ownself slap ownself face, right) and (2) they want to keep the stars exclusive to some chefs. It’s always more prestigious to be exclusive than to be inclusive.
When we stepped in the 8-seater restaurant (there is a private room for 6 people), the space felt stuffy, needing better ventilation.
How is the food? It is good but Ashino, my favorite sushi restaurant in Singapore, is better. Ashino’s delicate seafood has a full explosive blast of mindblowing flavors; when you eat at Ashino, it feels like the Platonic Ideal of what seafood is supposed to taste. At Shoukouwa, the seafood is excellent, but lacks wow factor.
Furthermore, every piece of sushi at Ashino is a star, but there are some fillers here, like inferior uni sashimi (above), kinmedai sushi, shimaji sushi, sea perch in endamame sauce, and crab cheese croquette. Seriously, how does the croquette fit in? As Jacky Chan sings, “What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”
What Shoukouwa does very well, however, an area better than Ashino, is the rice. The rice is cooked in a hard fashion, not sticky, so it provides some contrast to the soft seafood. In the mouth, the sushi breaks apart so you feel the grains swirling around your tongue as you chew.
Another area which I really like about Shoukouwa is that Masakazu isn’t afraid to be heavy handed. (Mind you, he has 5 restaurants to run, so he won’t always be at Shoukouwa.) He can add very strong wasabi and vinegar to a sushi and the sushi still works. Once the boldness didn’t pay off: the shimaji sushi (above) was too sour and the vinegar overpowered the mild fish. But mostly, there is mastery and balance, leaving a tingle of wasabi as an aftertaste.
Another area that I like is the structure of the course. Japanese sushi omakase usually follows the trajectory of a bell curve, the flavors will crescendo and then mellow. But at Shoukouwa, it starts off slowly–the cooked dishes are so so and I thought the first few dishes have shades of Sushi Ichi–picks up, and ends with a bang. The negitoro with pickles handroll is crunchy with seaweed, a fantastic blend of flavors.
One last area that Shoukouwa does well is to make less expensive items delicious. Sure, the charcoal aburi otoro (above) is awesome, but it’s the same as when RI takes in the top 3% smartest students in Singapore, the school had better produce the best exam results. It is a given that expensive ingredients should be delicious.
But it’s the innovative ones that are impressive here. For examples, the aforementioned negitoro handroll and the matcha-sauced abalone don (above). I know abalone is an expensive ingredient, but it’s really the cheap matcha sauce, creamy with a slight bitterness of tea, that brings out the sweetness of the abalone, making the dish memorable.
Two starred Shoukouwa is outstanding in all areas, and the tiny space reminds me of Japan. I enjoyed it very much, more than I did at the one starred Shinji, but not as much as zero starred Ashino. We paid $$376 per person. This is the 25th Michelin starred restaurant we have eaten in Singapore. Only 4 more to go!
1 Fullerton Road, #02-02A One Fullerton, Singapore 049213
t: +65 6423 9939
T-Sat 12pm-3pm, T-Sun 6pm-11pm
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.