SINGAPORE (Jan 14): From menu revamps and relocations to novel dining concepts, these seasoned chefs are turning the page to a new chapter.

Returning with a bang

Patrons of the local fine dining scene were aghast at the sudden closure of Hashida Sushi Singapore last June, after five years of operating at Mandarin Gallery. However, it was not long before chef Kenjiro Hashida, better known by his nickname “Hatch”, reopened the restaurant at a much larger location on Mohamed Sultan Road in October. The new space spans two storeys, with a total of three dining areas on the first floor and a multipurpose dining hall upstairs. With the expanded venue, guests can now enjoy wines and sakes at a dedicated bar space at the entrance, together with a bar food menu, which is separate from the signature omakase dinner experience priced at $300 to $500++.

Our evening begins with a shot glass of “Jewel of Flowers HANA” Royal Blue Tea, served as an aperitif to rinse and prep the palate for a delicate assortment of bite-sized appetisers, artfully arranged on a platter decorated with crimson leaves before being individually portioned out before us. The autumnal theme is continued with a vibrant dish of what Hatch describes as Japanese fish cake “taking a bath” in a deluge of yellow and pink chrysanthemum petals, followed by a plate of assorted sashimi. Winter dawns upon us as octopus and oyster confit are collectively placed inside shells with white seafoam and spices. Initially showcased on glittering “snowballs” of salt surrounded by pebbles, acorns and pine leaves, the molluscs are later enjoyed together with a thick paste of shiso leaf and pine nuts.

Following the plating extravaganza, a new chapter of the omakase journey unfolds in a more traditional tone familiar to Hashida Sushi devotees. This is most evident with the return of the restaurant’s signature ikura and uni rice bowl (pictured: main image), a perennial favourite as intoxicating as the seasonal treats that ensue. Presented with less pomp and fanfare, the ingredient-focused delicacies are no less decadent: smidges of uni encased within the fleshy, charcoal-grilled leg of Japanese king crab, and foie gras-like ankimo, or monkfish liver, in a sweet sauce that partially caramelises to a crisp on the grill.

Finally, the spotlight falls upon Hatch’s talent for sushi-making as the chef whips out his knives to begin dishing out moreish morsels of sushi: from scored slices of aburi (yellowtail) and surface-seared mackerel, to heavenly slivers of otoro (tuna belly), which the chef carves out from a generous block of Bluefin tuna before your very eyes. Desserts are uncomplicated and strategically light. For us, this came in the form of cut fruit in red wine jelly with hojicha mochi, followed by a bittersweet Japanese “affogato” of sorts comprising hand-whisked matcha, brown sugar and a scoop of ice cream.

Hatch appears in high spirits as he toasts us, between courses, with flutes of sparkling wine made exclusively for the Hashida label. And it is not hard to see why: The relaunch of Hashida Sushi Singapore marks only the first of several restaurants that Hatch intends to open internationally, with the opening of the San Francisco and Tokyo outlets slated for 2019. For now, Hatch’s comeback to the local dining scene is full of promise — one certainly too delightful to keep from the rest of the world.

Hashida Sushi Singapore
25 Mohamed Sultan Road
Tel: 8428 8787

Young and hungry

Do not be fooled by the youthful appearance of Maggie Joan’s new chef, Seumas Smith. The 26-year-old has been thriving in the heat of the kitchen for about a decade now, having trained under some of the world’s most prominent chefs, including Lords of the Manor’s then-chef Matt Weedon. Smith now fronts the culinary team at Maggie Joan’s fresh from his head chef position at the restaurant’s sister establishment, Moosehead. He has taken the liberty to transform Maggie Joan’s Mediterranean-style lunch and dinner menus into distinctly modern European formats that celebrate Asia’s ingredients.

Crispy and colourful bites such as rice cracker, yuzu shichimi, dill and ikura as well as shiso tempura, taramasalata, nori and lime zest (both $3++ each) are as delightful to eat as they are to look at, delivering bursts of briny umami offset by their accompanying citrus notes. As if to encourage his diners to savour his work slowly, the Hokkaido Scallops, Miso Beurre Blanc, Dulce Seaweed and Sea Lettuce ($24) is sliced into bite-sized morsels to be individually enjoyed with the miso white wine butter sauce, which is elevated with a dollop of dark amber Kristal caviar.

The versatility and vibrancy of non-meat ingredients are explored thoroughly in dishes such as Beetroot, Smoked Crème Fraiche, Walnuts and Burnt Honey ($17++), which could easily pass off as dessert instead of an entrée. Beet in this dish is prepared two ways: pickled as well as barbequed in the Inka charcoal oven, although the latter version of the vegetable is slightly drowned out by the crème fraiche’s charred flavours intertwined with that of burnt Scottish Heather honey. But what truly astonishes me is how even a simple carrot purée — a side in Duck Breast, Carrot, Plum and Buckwheat ($36++) — could taste so intensely sweet. While I was initially certain this was due to the addition of honey, Smith surprises me with the fact that the purée is purely made with carrots from Malaysia. This just goes to show how it does not take fancy techniques or exotic ingredients to put together an enjoyable meal — just prudent sourcing, Smith’s intuitive creativity and a whole lot of heart.

Maggie Joan’s
110 Amoy Street, #01-01
Tel: 6221 5564

Discovering Basque

Even the well-travelled may not have heard of, or experienced, Basque Country — a relatively under-the-radar, autonomous community in northern Spain that boasts a distinctive culture, cuisine and even language of its own. Flying the ikurrina flag is chef Aitor Jeronimo Orive, who recently departed from the Michelin-starred Iggy’s and now runs Basque Kitchen by Aitor under the Unlisted Collection’s portfolio of restaurants. While Orive himself was born in Madrid, he is no stranger to Basque cuisine as his family hails from Basque Country, from which he draws inspiration to present a contemporary, more refined interpretation of typical Basque dishes available both à la carte and as part of lunch (from $45++), dinner (from $115++) and tasting menus.

One such homage to Basque cuisine is Porrusalda, a vegetable-based soup often cooked by the chef’s grandmother. Orive’s version is served deconstructed for visual effect: a clear, light leek consommé poured before the diner over a separate assortment of white onions, carrots and smoked leeks. Another iconic dish is Txuleta (pronounced as chu-let-a), which Orive says is essentially served at parties during festivals in Basque Country. This comes as a piping-hot bone-in Angus prime rib — tender, pink beef with its exterior charcoal-grilled to a crisp — with the jus, made from a 10- to 12-hour simmering process with carrots and red wine reduction, still bubbling as the dish is served.

The national colours of Basque prove a recurrent theme as well. Aside from the red, white and green accents found in the interiors of Basque Kitchen, these hues ingeniously find their way into Orive’s dishes as well — from a stark crimson espuma made of piquillo peppers as well as bright green peas that accompany the battered and fried fish in Black Grouper, to jamon ham croquettes served on top of white pebbles. Each bite-sized croquette is topped with red pepper aioli and a single leaf of coriander cress to complete the Basque palette.

Despite what the restaurant’s name might suggest, Orive’s creations are not entirely limited to Basque cuisine. In fact, flavours of his Oxtail Bomba Rice are heavily influenced by Japanese gyudon (beef rice bowl), one of his favourite dishes. Served risotto-style with hidden chunks of oxtail braised for 12 hours, Aitor’s umami-rich concoction is topped with confit quail yolk and dotted with chive aioli to form a dish that looks as beautiful as it tastes. An in-house sommelier is also on hand to make pairing recommendations from an extensive list of imported wines from prolific wineries as well as boutique producers in the lesser-known regions of Spain.

Basque Kitchen by Aitor
97 Amoy Street
Tel: 6224 2232