“Before becoming parents, we were first husband and wife,” reads a famous quote which serves as reminder to carve time for our spouses. So when the occasion calls for it and we are able to get trusted help to babysit, we would sneak out for a couple meal sans kids. An extraordinary dining experience would be icing on the cake during these rare pockets of couple time.
This is how it is with IKYU, a nondescript little Japanese diner tucked away in the artsy enclave of Yong Siak Street (near Tiong Bahru) that serves contemporary Japanese cuisines. Given that Japanese food is quite common in Singapore (with many overrated and overpriced), we went with an open mind how this unique Japanese food & SAKE pairing session would turn out. Boy, little did we know we were in for a gastronomical surprise.
The Niigata region is a lesser-known region in Japan whose cuisines are rarely featured in Singapore. Chef Seki, who hails from Niigata, has a personal mission to introduce his hometown’s distinctive produce to tantalize Singaporeans’ palates. He has been doing helming the kitchen at IKYU since 2012 and won many accolades since. A committed chef with a clear sense of mission, who takes pride at knowing his ingredients at the back of his hands and one who cooks from the heart and constantly innovates, is a recipe for culinary success. Which is why IKYU continues to draw a faithful following despite keen competition over the years.
Chef Seki’s limited-season Niigata Food and SAKE pairing menu drew inspiration from the freshness of Springtime in Japan. We are not SAKE connoisseurs (in fact it was Angie’s 1st time drinking SAKE) but we had a most exceptional meal and walked away absolutely smitten with his creations. Here is a quick glimpse of the Niigata Food and SAKE Pairing Menu at IKYU:
5 COURSE NIIGATA FOOD& SAKE PAIRING MENU
1) Nihonkai Sansyu Sashimi and Kura Jyunmai Ginjyo (Ichishima) SAKE (Chef-picked seasonal sashimi freshly flown from Tsukiji Market)
“NIHONKAI SANSYU SASHIMI”, Chef’s picks SASHIMI from JAPAN Sea is paired with ICHISHIMA KURA JYUNMAI GINJO, a +4 medium-dry SAKE.
This dish though deceptively familiar like a regular sashimi dish, will surprise you as you gently bite into the flesh of the Red Snapper and Tuna that is flown in directly from the famed Tsukiji market in Tokyo three times a week. The SAKE enhances the subtle freshness of the sashimi slices.
2) Kanzuri Port and Nyukon Tokubetsu Honjyozo (Musashino) SAKE (Charcoal Grilled Pink Pork marinated in Red Niigata Chilli served with Vegetables)
“KANZURI Pork”, using a traditional NIIGATA Charcoal Grilled technique, the Pink Pork is marinated in red chili and paired with a +2 slightly dry SAKE MUSASHINO NYUKON TOKUBETSU HONJYOZO.
The sweetness of the Niigata pumpkin and lotus root bursts forth at first bite. The pink pork is grilled to perfection – tender, sweet with a chargrilled flavor that goes with the SAKE like a match in Heaven.
3) Hegi Soba and Furtune Junmai Gold Leaf (Imayotsukasa) SAKE (Chilled Buckwheat Noodle Niigata style served with Seasonal Tempura)
“HEGI SOBA”, a specialty of NIIGATA, is a top-quality buckwheat noodles that use FUNORI seaweed as a bonding agent. The noodles, cooked al dente, are served one mouthful at a time on a special plate called a “HEGI”. IMAYOTSUKASA FURTUNE JUNMAI GOLD LEAVE, a +4 medium-dry celebration SAKE (with gold flakes) is carefully picked to paired with HEGI SOBA.
The medium bodied SAKE soaks up the crispy fresh tempura which crackled in our mouths, almost like fireworks being set off ahead of a acelebration. We never knew one could enjoy crispy tempura with SAKE. What a revelation!
4) Wappa-meshi and Jyunmai Ginjyo Ten to Chi (Musashino) SAKE (Marinated King Salmon with Ikura served with Vegetables on Niigata Rice)
“WAPPA-MESHI”, is a combination of steamed rice and marinated King Salmon served with Salmon roe “IKURA” is paired with MUSASHINO JUNMAI GINJO TEN TO CHI +2 slightly-dry SAKE.
The Niigata “Uonuma” Koshihikari rice is the star of this dish as it is Japan’s “jewel” rice – one that ranks the highest in terms of grade in Japan. The rice carries a savoury taste with a delicate sweetness on its own. When topped with air flown King Salmon and Ikura – exceptional. Their freshness permeates the sweet Niigata rice, giving it a lingering earthy flavor, akin to breathing in the fresh air of a rural Japanese village. Paired with the SAKE, one gets transported back to the Japan of yore where the simplest cuisines are often the tastiest.
5) Le Lectier Tiramisu and Jyunmaidaiginjyou Koshitannrei 35% Supreme (Imayotsukasa) SAKE (Premium Pear in Mascarpone Cheesecake IKYU style)
“Le.Lectier Tiramisu”, mascarpone cheesecake wrapped around NIIGATA Le. Lectier pear. Paired with a dry +6 Supreme IMAYOTSUKASA JUNMAI DAIGINJO KOSHITANNREI, bringing out the sweetness of the pear.
Like a grand performance, all the other items on the menu seem to give a gradual build-up to this finale. This is the BEST and most delicious Tiramisu we’ve ever tasted (and having lived in Australia for 5 years, trust me when I said I’ve tasted a lot). To pair a ‘western’ dessert with SAKE, how innovative! The SAKE is the best in its class for the evening; its dryness was contrasted against the sweetness of the Tiramisu, giving us a phenomenal sensation. Chef Seki used the best Japanese premium pear and mascarpone to create this dessert that is simply divine. We wish our tummy had room for second or third helpings!
Though IKYU is a Japanese fine dining restaurant, its atmosphere is relaxed and casual, service efficient and attentive. The intimate setting makes it conducive for a non-intrusive meal, you feel relaxed and at home. Within the restaurant, there are 2 bar counters and a little corner that doubles-up as a VIP area for about 8 to 10 pax.
During our visit, we saw lovers, young families, colleagues and businessmen securing deals with their Japanese counterparts – different folks who have the same need – to make the moment count. In fact, the patron next to us commented that he regularly brings his clients here because “the food here is really good.” Which brings us to the best news about this review. For once, we discovered that really good Jap food doesn’t have to come with a exorbitant bill.
The restaurant’s name, IKYU, translated from Japanese means ‘taking a break’. It’s high time we take a break from the staid, mass-market Japanese cuisines and swop it for an extraordinary dining experience in IKYU.