By JAMIE EE
|Decent quality: Chef Seki manages to maintain a credible standard for all his dishes, whether it’s a tasty shirako and shrimp tempura or an off menu uni sushi|
#01-02 Rendezvous Hotel Gallery 9 Bras Basah Road
WHEN you enter the newly-opened Japanese restaurant Seki, there’s no doubt who the star of the show is – and it’s not the sashimi.
Seki is Takuma Seki – and he will be your entertainer and chef of the evening, thanks to his bubbly, impossibly cheery and chatty demeanour that thankfully does not grate on your nerves. Instead, he’s welcoming, eager to be at your disposal and is doing his hardest to make his first independent restaurant venture a success.
The former chef de cuisine of Hide Yamamoto at Marina Bay Sands has replicated the concept but on a much smaller scale, offering a range of Japanese cuisine in one location. So you get sushi and sashimi along with robatayaki (charcoal grilled produce), tempura and cooked dishes all in the same sitting.
The draw here is that the pricing is friendly – with the grand omakase priced at $58, it’s probably the cheapest Japanese multi-course meal in town and the quality is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it’s a steal considering you get three types of sashimi and five pieces of sushi (mid-range quality but very fresh), and a grilled meat course that offers a choice of British lamb rack or wagyu sirloin. Ala carte sushi is priced from $4.50 for sake (salmon) to $18 for otoro (prime tuna belly), so it’s a deal that’s hard to beat. And this is on top of appetizer, chawanmushi, and dessert.
It’s clear that chef Seki tries to give as much good value as he can, given the constraints of his pricing. The appetizer is a very decent combo of chewy blowfish strips, sliced duck with salad and a spicy grilled scallop. Akami, whitefish and clam make up the sashimi trio while the sushi comprised tuna, tuna belly, flounder, clam and an interesting raw octopus that had the texture of scallop. The main quibble was that the fish was too cold, a no-no in the sushi world where the right temperature is everything.
Nonetheless, the lamb and beef were tender and tasty and dessert was a generous platter of plum jelly, slightly waxy-textured cheesecake and green tea panacotta.
There’s a ‘jack of all trades’ vibe to the food as there is at Hide Yamamoto – it’s not possible to achieve purist standards in each cooking style – but to chef Seki’s credit he manages to maintain a credible standard for all whether it’s a tasty shirako (fish sperm) and shrimp tempura (crunchy but with too-thick batter) or an off menu uni sushi ($20) featuring very fresh albeit not creamy, Hokkaido sea urchin.
That said, a second visit is recommended so that you can explore what chef Seki can do for you that’s not on the menu. Even as he attracts those looking for good value, he also has his share of high-rollers, mainly of the gold Rolex-wearing towkay variety who know their way around deep fried baby puffer fish and grilled kinki.
The best place to sit is at the counter, even if it’s not the nicest one. Japanese restaurant counters usually have a nice wall behind the chefs, but in Seki’s case the open kitchen concept is taken to the extreme because you get a bird’s eye view of a working kitchen, mess and all. With the red velour chairs, black-red-chrome decor, Seki looks like a cross between an airport lounge and Teochew restaurant, especially when you factor in the jarring lavender uniforms of the female servers who are at least young enough to get away with it.
Aesthetic shortcomings notwithstanding, Seki gets kudos for offering good value and decent quality, while still able to please those who want to splurge a little. Add a chef who’s earnest and full of good intentions, and eating here is not a hard choice to make.
Overall rating: 7/10
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Below 6: Poor
Source: Business Times 16 Jan 2012