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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Omakase @ Hakumai

The omakase meal is the ultimate compliment to the Chef. When you request an omakase meal, you tacitly acknowledge that the chef ...

- will pick for you the best and freshest ingredients present in his kitchen that day
- will not over charge you
- has the skill to delight you with every dish he puts together for you

Omakase means "I leave it to you." You pick. I eat. I will pay whatever you ask for at the end of the meal. The basis of such a relationship is Trust. How can you let someone else decide what you eat and then pay anything he asks unless you trust he is both honest and skilled? It is a meal format that is alien to Singaporeans, and I think it can only originate in Japan where chefs build their reputation on quality and relationships.

I have been dreaming of an omakase meal for ever so long. Tatsuya (Goodwood Park Hotel) and Shinji (Raffles Hotel) omakase are priced at about $280 onwards. Very likely, the final bill will come up to about $450 per person. For 2 people, that's $900!!

Anyway, Chef Gary at Hakumai crafted an omakase meal priced at $150 onwards. Notice that in recognition of his skill, I have tagged an honorific to his name - Chef Gary. It would be most disrespectful to call him merely Gary.

Hakumai is tucked away in a corner of International Plaza. The décor is at best, non-descript. When I stepped in, the place was already filled with a lunchtime crowd eating Japanese set meals. Actually, I almost stepped back out. It was hard to imagine that one could get a high quality omakase meal in a place that looked like that.

I am glad I stayed because I can safely say that I ate the best Japanese meal I have ever eaten in my life (both in Japan and in Singapore). Chef Gary's omakase gives Shinji and Tatsuya very stiff competition indeed. It is excellent food and great value for money. At Shinji, I did not dare to request an omakase meal. I contented myself with a set meal.

See that little crab that looks like it is about to take a bite out of the lobster in the spoon? Well, I ate it. It was sweet, savoury and crispy. It was a really surprising mélange of taste sensations. The oyster was creamy with a tinge of spring onion spice. The purple Kyushu sweet potato made The Husband's eyes dilate a bit. The edamame beans had a hint of truffle. The sweet corn tasted of sweet pear. 

Sea urchin on its shell. The last time I ate sea urchin in its shell was in Australia. We picked them out of the rock pool, cut them open and spread them on bread. The taste of this brought back a flood of memories: crisp ocean air, clear rock pools and the roar of the crashing waves. If you close your eyes and focus on the sensations in your mouth, you forget that you're sitting in a nondescript restaurant. 

The sashimi plate: every single piece of sashimi glistened and was melt in your mouth tender. The whole plate was so pretty that it looked like art on a plate. 

The Husband and I shared this grilled fish - hokke shioyaki.

Aburi otoro & aburi mekajiki.

This was a scallop sushi. It tasted like seafood butter... rich and creamy, set off against grains of sweet sushi rice. Seriously, I never knew that scallops could taste like this. I think I experienced taste sensations today that I did not imagine existed.

When Chef Gary set this piece of sushi down in front of me, he said, "When you put this in your mouth, even men will fall in love with me." This is a really rich piece of sushi with foie gras and ebi. Once this filled my mouth, I knew that I would be full till dinner.

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