The new year has added some new bites to my tempting food radar, with this week’s edition finding me in the heart of Tiong Bahru for some seafood delights at the Japanese gastronomy IKYU. The star here is fresh fish, which is in top form when served as the ‘5 Kinds of Aburi Nigiri’: five tender pieces of torched delights served up at the counter for prime viewing (just wait until you see Chef Alex’s pyrotechnic skills). I also went into the kitchen to see how Chef Woei prepares the fan-favourite Sakura Ebi Truffle Angel Hair Pasta, an explosion of fusion flavours that I never knew I wanted…until now!
5 kinds of Aburi Nigiri (semi-torched sushi, $35++)
A simple solution for those undecided diners out there, opt for IKYU’s 5 kinds of nigiri best when enjoyed ‘aburi’ style, torched. The selection depends on what the Japanese imports of the week are, so just take a peek at the fresh cuts of fish on display and chat up Chef Alex or Chef Loong for recommendations on what to pick. Here are the five that I was lucky enough to sample, with some exquisite preparation to boot:
Chef Loong packs a pinch of wasabi between the rice and fish – here we have sweet shrimp topped with sea urchin.
Look at that technique! He uses the same wasabi-rice packing expertise to prepare some gorgeous semi-fatty tuna and kampachi belly.
Torchin’ like a boss. The five pieces get the finishing semi-torch treatment after a brush of soy sauce.
After the final garnishes, it’s time to dig in. This anago (sea eel) dressed with sweet sauce and bonito flakes legitimately melted in my mouth. Unreal.
There’s something magical in the unabashed simplicity here. As Chef Alex emphasizes, the most important aspect by far is the freshness and quality of the fish, which affect the charring, flavour, and ‘everything’ about the dining experience. The sushi speaks for itself, with hints of wasabi and soy the ideal simple complements that fish of such high quality deserve. Feel free to add on a piece of pickled ginger, or more wasabi, but I suggest you do nothing but place these little bundles of perfection directly into your mouth.
Though the sea eel was by far the most delicious of the bunch for me, the other four held their own, especially considering that the char adds a scrumptious glaze and warmth to the cooling, tender cuts of fish. The Kinmedai (red snapper) dressed with yuzu kosho (chili pepper with yuzu peel) was a particular standout, the combination of flavours an absolute culinary delight. Pro-tip: if you can, dine on Tuesday or Friday, the two days a week when they receive their fresh shipments from Japan!
Sakura Ebi Truffle Angel Hair Pasta ($28.50++)
Next up is a staple on the IKYU menu, and a favourite of repeat diners. The Sakura Ebi (dried prawn) Truffle Angel Hair Pasta is probably unlike anything you’ve had before: a fusion cold pasta dish that marries traditional Asian flavours with truffle and a touch of magic. Watch as Chef Woei takes me into the kitchen for the quick cooking process!
Chef cooks the angel hair pasta to a perfect al dente in less than 5 minutes, gives it a cold ice bath, and then adds spring onion, sakura ebi (dried prawn), salted seaweed, and a savoury truffle oil & soy sauce mixture.
With a mix, twirl, and sprig of fresh lettuce the pasta is ready for plating.
Chef garnishes the dish with salmon roe and edible flowers before I enjoy my first experience eating Italian pasta with chopsticks.
It’s the perfect portion for one, or for sharing when nibbling on plates of sushi. The cold and fragrant dish is a pleasurable play of flavours on the palate: with bites of crunchy prawn and seaweed in between the chewy roe, it’s at once distinctly Japanese and yet subtly Italian due to the marriage of truffle oil and angel hair pasta.
Chef was inspired by the classic Wanton Mee, which he says shares a very similar cooking process. When I asked him why he chose Italian pasta over an Asian-style noodle (did anyone else assume it would be soba?), he explained that the textures would not have worked, which he confirmed through the creation process when experimenting with different noodle bases. The key he says is that the pasta is ‘80% done’, which in my humble opinion adds to the irresistible spectrum of textures in this complex dish. This is one quirky, savoury, and delicious plate of pasta we have here folks, and you can bet I slurped down every last bit!
Tucked among the hip cafés of Tiong Bahru, with dimly lit industrial interiors (that added just the right amount of drama to my sushi filming!), IKYU is ideal for a refined lunch or intimate dinner. The team here knows what it means to do simple but high-quality Japanese cuisine well, with the occasional flare of delectable innovation that balances classic flavours with tasty creativity.
Find it at 5 Yong Siak Street (Tiong Bahru)
Book a table at IKYU.