Wednesday 19 December 2012

Koh Grill & Sushi Bar, Singapore

My stepson has lived in Singapore, working in the hospitality trade for a number of years. He claims to be ‘living the dream’ and regularly eats in the city’s best and most reputable restaurants (many of which feature in the S.Pellegrino ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ lists).

The likes of Andre, Les Amis and Iggy’s may be good for a splurge, a special occasion or business lunch but even Singapore’s ‘jet set’ need a  
a few good ‘go to’ places where you are guaranteed a good feed with minimal fuss and expense.

One of my stepson’s favourite such places is the ‘Koh Grill & Sushi Bar’ which can be found in Wisma Atria’s Food Republic on Orchard Road.

For many in the UK, the thought of eating in a shopping mall’s food hall is a bit of a “no no” but Singaporean malls are full of quality dining establishments; some even run by big named ‘celebrity chefs such as Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali and Tetsuya Wakuda.

As well as chefs from the west, Singapore is beginning to attract more and more top class (and some Michelin starred) Japanese chefs to places such as Shinji by Kanesaka (see here), Les Amis’ Aoki (here) and Ginza Sushi Ichi (here).

As amazing these ‘high end’ places are, for my wife and I, our trips would not be complete without a visit to the simple, fun and friendly Koh Grill & Sushi Bar for a feast.

When I say a ‘feast’ I am not exaggerating; on our most recent visit to Koh I quipped that we must have eaten four times the amount of food than the previous day’s meal at a high-end joint but paid a quarter of the price.

Of course, the fish are not always going to be the most premium of cuts imported from Japan’s Tsukiji Market but it is always ultra fresh and presented with passion, care, flair and often an element of fun by Chef Patrick Tay.

Edamame Beans – served simply with a salty soy dip.

Nattō Maki – Nattō is a Japanese delicacy made from fermented soya beans. It apparently has an acquired taste; my stepson and wife are not fans (I think they are put off by its sticky textures as much as the taste) which meant that I had these six delicious nutty, salty makis to myself.

Tekka Maki – simple maki made with decent tuna. The rice at Koh is very good; cooked in the traditional way with konbu, then cooled and seasoned with care in a large hinoki wood hangiri.

Sake Aburi – ‘sake’ in this instance simply means salmon belly and has nothing to do with the drink; ‘aburi’ refers to the process of lightly searing (often done with a blow torch) – this came piled high with tobiko (flying fish roe).

Sake Hana – in Japanese ‘hana’ can mean ‘flower or blossom’ as well as ‘beautiful’; both definitions seemed fitting for the salmon rose served with Japanese mayo and tobiko. One of my few criticisms of Koh is what I feel is an overuse of the mayo and tobiko but I suppose I could have just asked Chef Tay to use less.

Fugu Mirin Boshi Temaki – this handroll was made with a sweet, smoky, salted preparation of fugu (puffer fish) with asparagus. This was my first experience of this infamous fish; I’m still eager to try it fresh.

Sake Toro (salmon belly) and Tai (sea bream) sashimi – the sea bream was especially good and the sake fresh and creamy. 

Sawagani Nigiri – plucked live from a bowl on top of the sushi counter, the ‘Sawagani’ (River crab) were certainly the freshest of all the food we ate.

Flash cooked and set  atop a block of rice with more mayo and tobiko, their sharp legs and pincers pricked the tongue and the crunch of the shell contrasted beautifully with the soft sushi-meshi.

Uni Nigiri – this was the largest single piece of sea urchin roe (uni) that I have seen; it had a sweet almost nutty flavour.

Age Dashi Tofu – an excellent age dashi tofu make from deep fried silken bean curd with light dashi based broth topped with shredded nori, negi and a few umami rich bonito flakes.

Asparagus Buta Special – stir fried asparagus wrapped with pork belly.

Foie Gras Scallop Nigiri – a delicious, indulgent nigiri made with seared ‘foie gras’ and a scallop aburi.

'Shiok!' Maki – this is the signature creation of Chef Patrick Tay, far from traditional, it feature charcoal grilled eel and avocado maki, topped with lightly roasted salmon and blow torched Japanese mayo and tobiko. A crazy combination – so wrong, it’s right! 

On our next visit we will no doubt continue to eat our way down the list of Singapore’s top and most reputable eateries – and unlikely as it is that it will appear in the inaugural list of ‘Asia's 50 Best Restaurants’ next year, we are sure to save room and time to make a visit or two to Koh Grill & Sushi Bar.

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