Local Japanese restaurant chain, Sushi Tei, has recently launched a casual dining concept, Hokkaido-Ya (translated to “Hokkaido-shop”) at Vivocity. As the name suggests, the restaurant offers diners one-bowl meals such as rice bowls (donburi), curry rice, and ramen originating from the northern island in Japan. The restaurant uses Niigata rice and sources most of their ingredients, including ramen noodles, directly from Hokkaido. For salmon, they import chilled, not frozen, fish from Norway.
Exemplifying the Japanese method of kaizen for a fast and efficient food ordering process, Hokkaido-Ya uses “smart” self-ordering kiosks with artificial intelligence technology. Based on facial recognition and/or mobile number of the guest, the “smart” system is enabled to identify the guest’s dining preferences and gives customised meal recommendations when the guest makes a return visit to the restaurant.
For appetisers, there are the usual options of chawanmushi ($3), edamame ($3.50), and ebi cream croquette ($3.50/pc). A healthy and visually-pleasing bowl of bara chirashi Salad ($14.90) is accompanied by side servings of the restaurant’s in-house produced soy dressing or Japanese sesame sauce. The freshness of the scallops, tuna, prawns, whelk clams, salmon roe, flying fish roe and salmon is evident here. There is also sweet homemade tamago (egg) to balance the flavours.
The aburi mentai bara chirashi don ($14.90) is similar to the bara chirashi salad, except with a staple of carbohydrates instead of vegetables for a more tummy-filling meal. Another difference lies in the addition of the mentaiko sauce. The slightly charred finishing on the seafood after it has been torched adds a nice smokiness to the sweet and creamy mentaiko sauce. However, the rice seems to clump together.
At $10.90, the aromatic truffle salmon don is great value-for-money. Setting itself apart from the aburi mentai bara chirashi Don are tempura batter crisps (tanuki) added in this truffle salmon don to create some texture in an otherwise plain rice bowl. Interesting touch. With the truffle oil, a common dish easily available in other Japanese eateries now stands out in this restaurant.
Curry Rice & Udon
Inspired by snow-capped mountains in Hokkaido during winter, the restaurant offers white curry-based mains such as shirobuta pork katsu Hokkaido white curry rice ($12.90) and fried ebi Hokkaido white curry udon ($12.90). White curry appears to be a creamy stew and is cooked using Hokkaido milk and a mix of cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, onion and garlic powder. It is only mildly spicy, and not as fragrant as compared to its more popular brown-coloured cousin. Unfortunately, the pork katsu falls a little flat on expectation as it is dry and bland.
The prawns in the fried ebi Hokkaido white curry rice ($11.90) are well-battered and firm to the bite. Much better than the pork katsu. The fried ebi white curry udon ($12.90) is served with the same white curry but oddly, it is slightly more savoury (added spice?). On the whole, I find the curry dishes not as appetizing as the donburis.
Hokkaido-Ya’s menu offers three choices of ramen (chashu, hotate or beef) with three types of soup base to choose from – paitan (white, pork-based broth), miso or spicy miso. We tried the Hokkaido butter corn hotate ramen ($12.90) and Hokkaido beef ramen ($15.90), both served with soft-centred eggs and beansprouts. The former has a small slab of butter added into the pantai broth, inducing it to be thicker and creamier. Sweet corn is also added for crunch. When this ramen was served to us, the noodles had absorbed most of the broth so you can barely see the broth from the photos. Taste-wise, there is nothing to shout about although the scallops are fresh and chewy, and the corn works a little magic by injecting some sweetness into the soup base.
The Hokkaido beef ramen gives a different story. The beef is thinly-sliced and pan-fried to medium-rare before being added into the noodles with miso broth base. The beef is tender and sits very well in the stronger, richer broth. This version of the ramen definitely has more character and flavour than the previous bowl of noodles, and could well be the reason for it being the most expensive item on the entire menu. I will highly recommend this if anyone is up for noodles.
As a side, I tested the spicy miso broth and did not quite understand if it is intended to be sweet or spicy as it is feels like it is sitting on the fence – sweet with a hint of chilli powder. It is probably a better idea to stick to the miso broth.
In most ramens, eggs have a brown exterior as they have been marinated in soy sauce, whereas in Hokkaido-Ya, the exterior remains white like normal soft-boiled eggs. The egg yolks are nevertheless runny although I cannot help but wonder if having them marinated will add more flavour into the noodles, especially in the broth base of paitan.
The restaurant does not make its own desserts but they have brought in 4 flavours of monaka to please sweet tooths – Hokkaido milk monaka ($3.90), chocolate monaka ($3.50), Yawamochi matcha monaka ($3.50) and Yawamochi red bean milk monaka ($3.50). Each of these has a base of full-cream Hokkaido milk ice cream sandwiched between soft, wafer shells, with the exception of the Yawamochi matcha monaka that comes with creamy green tea ice cream and sweet red bean (the most popular choice).
Most dishes are above average, not bad but not memorable . Like restaurants in Japan, the space is rather cramp with 60 seats seemingly built for the more petite or slender sized. This restaurant is best for small groups of friends who are happy with one-dish.
VivoCity #02-153, 1 Harbour Front Walk, Singapore 098585
tel: +65 6376 8387 (no reservations)
Service: NA (self-service)
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Written by Clancie Ng. Clancie is curious about the gastronomic world and will try almost anything at least once. She believes in the yin and the yang of striking a balance between being a glutton and working off the calories.