Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Review: Hinoki Japanese Restaurant

One of my favourite cuisines is Japanese, I don't always need to eat it and often, I can subsist on the occasional ramen, udon or perhaps even tonkatsu, but once in awhile, I get the pangs for some serious sushi and sashimi. When I do, I try to head to a Japanese restaurant, rather than just a Japanese joint, some place where I can be assured that the fish is fresh and the turnover is high. The worst thing, I feel, is to pay sushi prices and get a mouthful of briny, limey, slightly off raw seafood. Hinoki has been my go-to place for the sashimi fix, since M. introduced me to the place some time ago.

I've never had an affinity to a particular place for very long. For awhile it was Akashi, but have you seen the queues coming out of that place? For awhile, it was Sushi Yoshida because of it's incredible $30 set lunch and it's wonderful swoony In the Mood for Love atmosphere at the brick counter late at night. Unfortunately the standards started to fall and eventually the place was shut because the building was torn down. It's hard to find a Japanese place that is consistently good and also decent value.

So far, Hinoki ticks the right boxes. Friendly chef and staff (look for Gary, who remembers each of his customers by name), clean and roomy seating, fresh and generous cuts of fish and good prices, particularly at lunch and for sets. We usually let Gary choose a selection of sashimi and sushi, which typically includes seared salmon belly, otoro, uni, ikura and depending on what is fresh, white fish, flounder, or striped bass. He has also some creative twists like ebi (sweet prawn) with foie gras and spicy tuna.

Some of the items that I really enjoy are the initial appetizers, they serve a plated dish of grilled puffer fish and a light shredded-fish wafer (with cod roe and mayo) that goes well with a drink and imported pickles, in particular, a dried persimmon-yuzu that would appeal to those who like sour plums. I also appreciate his seriousness toward cooked food, braised radish, for example, is chock-full of flavour, yet turgid and soothing, like the most savoury kind of yam you've ever tried. There is also grilled kinki fish, or you can have tempura or fried fish, steamed seasonal crab or chawamushi steamed with a small dash of broth, truffle and lime.

I find dinner to be the most expensive at Hinoki, often, for some reason, double the price of lunch (despite having had the same items), which is about $28-32 for sets and $68 if you splurge on sushi and sashimi. For the kind of quality of their fresh seafood, I think the prices aren't bad but it's not cheap. I suspect that dinner in particular, is more expensive, to make up for the liquor that I don't usually order. For the best deal, I would definitely go for lunch but remember to call in beforehand as they do a brisk trade with the CBD crowd.

22 Cross Street, #01-50/53
China Square Central, South Bridge Court
Tel: +65 6536 7746