Two local chefs, both winners of World Sushi Cup, have us convinced that they’ve got what it takes to stand up to their Japanese counterparts.
Plenty of sushi restaurants have been popping up in the past year, perhaps as a response to the travel-deprived population in Singapore and its undying infatuation with all things Nippon. Those that have bravely opened their doors as the pandemic rages on have deployed various methods ranging from pure star power to flashy theatrics to jostle for the attention of patrons who are, frankly, easily persuaded in this climate.
It’s precisely why this quiet 10-seater that’s hidden in plain sight (it shares a space with Standing Sushi Bar) is such a breath of fresh air. Chef-owners Sky Tai Koon Siang and Leon Yap personally dole out bites of Edomae-style sushi, a term so often misused, in the restrained and modest way it’s meant to be.
Both in their thirties, Tai and Yap come from decades of experience as well as hold the title for World Sushi Cup Championship in 2018 and 2019 respectively. The latter, a certified International Sake Sommelier, also curates the intriguing list of sake at Shinsora that includes a rare smoky Sake Hundred Shirin Junmai Daiginjo aged in Mizunara oak barrels from Hokkaido.
Most itamae come with a long list of accomplishments, proof that they’ve earned their position but not all are able to live up to what’s advertised; sometimes concepts get muddled, and execution falls short. By keeping the dishes classic and dining service simple – the chefs, being the only two people behind the counter for now, both prep, cook and serve you directly – Tai and Yap remove all distractions from their mastery of Japanese cuisine.
Offered only as dinner six- (Shin) or eight-course (Sora) omakase, the meal is broken up into three chapters: the first comprising an appetiser, sashimi and a cooked dish; the second comprising nine pieces of Edomae sushi; and the third, a dessert platter.
Illustrating the flavours of springtime during our visit, the silky Hotaru ika Chawanmushi came covered with a blanket of Ariake nori and two firefly squids laid side by side. A deceptively simple dish, the small bowl of steamed egg made with water from Mount Fuji is custard-smooth and a layered profile of umami flavours built upon each other.
The headliner has to be, of course, the gently hand-pressed oblongs of nigirizushi. Made of two parts – rice (shari) and raw fish (neta) – the marriage of textures, temperatures and flavours are unique to each itamae and techniques are typically closely guarded.
Yet the pair spare no hesitation in divulging their use of Sansanishiki rice seasoned with a red vinegar derived from matured sake lees in Yokoi brewery called Yohei aha-zu. The resulting shari is one that retains a slight sweetness offsetting the vinegar’s acidity. With each grain uniformly coated and pronounced, the rice provides a great textural contrast to especially fatty fish the likes of kamasu (barracuda), binchotan ootoro (tuna belly), and a melt-in-your-mouth akami (tuna) marinated in shoyu.
You’ll also get to try the pair’s sushi creations that won them their titles at the World Sushi Cup, as part of the Sora omakase or a la carte add-on. They’re a digression from the austere Edomae style but, understandably so, requires a touch a decadence and modernity to wow a panel of veteran Japanese judges. Tai’s is a shima-aji (striped jack) nigiri with yuzu miso, pickled radish, radish sprouts with a sprinkle of caviar and gold flakes, while Yap’s is a temaki of tuna belly with radish pickles, shavings of dried and aged tuna, Ariake seaweed and uni sprinkled with caviar.
That spirit of experimentation lives on at Shinsora as the two chefs continues to inject more of their culture and personalities in the cuisine. Tai shares that they try to include local produce where possible; crunchy wedges of rose apples (also known as jambu) marinated in rice bran are used as a palate cleanser in between courses. They also ingeniously utilise leftover Gyokuro tea leaves (an add-on beverage) in a maki, which makes for a curiously herbaceous and savoury end to the meal.
For now, as they look for more help in the kitchen, the duo makes full use of the agility only a lean team can afford and it seems to be working to their advantage thus far. Since the reinstated Phase 2 restrictions, they’ve quickly put out a takeaway menu of donburi, omakase boxes and a Sabazushi Special Roll. Thankfully, it won’t be too long before they’ll get to do what their best back in their cosy 10-seater.