A Culinary Journey at Nami
It would be remiss of any Japanese food fan to not have heard of the old Nadaman, the flagship Japanese restaurant at the Shangri-la Hotel in Singapore from 1984 till last year. Nami is the successor to this restaurant and I relished the opportunity to sample some high-quality Japanese cuisine.
When I first entered Nami, the picturesque view of the cityscape from the floor to ceiling windows immediately drew my attention. After peeling my eyes away from the view, I discovered a place with an elegant and contemporary feel that would serve as a good backdrop for a business meeting or a romantic date. As with all good Japanese restaurants, they have a sushi bar in the centre of the restaurant where you can watch the experts get to work. The 96 seater restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating and we chose the former.
The head chef Shigeo Akiba is of considerable renown – his glittering resume includes a five year stint as Iron Chef Koumei Nakamura’s executive chef, the preparation of food for the wedding banquet of Japan’s Prince Akishinomiya and Princess Kiko and cooking for Emperor Akihito when he dined at the Nadaman restaurant in Tokyo. Naturally, we could not wait to sample some of his work.
I should also make special mention of our restaurant manager Takezumi Ando, who was always attentive and conscientious to a fault in attending to our table all night. Truly the embodiment of Omotenashi (the philosophy of Japanese hospitality).
While the restaurant does have a wide selection of Japanese food including the usual suspects like sushi and sashimi, a point of note is that the cuisine served is seasonal, so the set menus and certain menu items do change accordingly. Given the time of the year, our specially curated menu would be primarily of the autumn variety.
We started off our culinary journey with a selection of seasonal appetisers from Kyushu. They were, in no particular order, boiled baby abalone with miso, shimeji mushrooms with chrysanthemum and skin of soy milk with wasabi. The abalone was tender and slightly chewy in texture and the miso broth blended perfectly with the soft flesh to bring out the flavour in the abalone. Being a fan of mushrooms, these did not disappoint as well, with a lovely crunch and a tinge of nuttiness. The beancurd skin was simple and satisfying with the ikura and wasabi elegant complements. The melange of umami flavours whetted our appetite for more.
A must have at every Japanese meal is a good bottle of sake and that role was well-filled by a bottle of Dassai 23 (Yamaguchi) Daiginjo. The dryness and the presence of floral and fruity undertones were notable. One of the joys of this sake is that you do not really have to rake your brains on how to pair it with certain food – it goes well with everything. For the non-alcoholics, the sencha (premium green tea from Fukujuen) is also worth a try.
A special selection of sushi and sashimi handpicked by Chef Akiba and largely sourced from Tokyo’s famous Tsujiki Fish Market awaited us next. Slabs of silky amberjack, hirame, amaebi, kinmei-tai, hotate and uni sashimi were tucked cosily with choice pieces of otoro, yari-ika, hirame, yellow jack and amberjack sushi. Nibbling our way through, it was a mix of mostly hits and a couple of misses. The hotate was probably the highlight of the platter. Sourced directly from Hokkaido, they had a robust flavour, its tanginess and richness hanging on the tongue. The highly recommended otoro was also smooth and creamy and certainly merited its place on the platter. If you are a tuna fan, you will appreciate the juicy tuna and luscious tuna belly as well. A slight disappointment was the uni, which did have its usual subtle sweetness but was somewhat lacking in the complex flavour that many uni fans take joy in. The stripe jack sushi was also a tad flat in taste. But these are mere quibbles.
It was appropriate then at this juncture that Chef Akiba gently shifted our palates to something lighter in flavour. The matsutake dobinmushi, which was a medley of matsutake and shimeji mushrooms bathed in umami broth, came in a quaint teapot and you have to pour it out a large teacup-sized bowl at a time. The seeming simplicity of this soup belied its warm blend of flavours. The sweetness of the shrimp and the heartiness of the chicken goes hand in hand with tinges of shimeji and gingko.
What was arguably the highlight of this gastronomic experience was the Saga Wagyu Beef Sirloin A4, done medium rare. It is Nami’s best signature dish and came with servings of rice, sea urchin, ikura, shimeji mushroom and an onsen egg. The beef is definitely the star here. Succulent in every bite, it melts in your mouth and is the stuff of every meat lover’s dream. The combination of uni, ikura and truffle served to accentuate the beef’s juiciness.
We were swiftly treated to another of Nami’s signature dishes – the pan-fried tuna head with Chef Akiba’s sweet soy sauce. Freshly flown from Nagasaki, the meat is tender and creamy. It provides an interesting contrast of sour and sweet as it comes glazed with a customized citrusy and slightly sour sauce that does not overwhelm the natural sweetness. You can squeeze a lemon to up the sour quotient as well.
Chef Akiba’s choice of dessert made for an excellent end to a satisfying meal: Hokkaido cheesecake with raspberry, blackberry and an extremely juicy grape. It is hard to go wrong with cheesecake and this cheesecake did the job without being overly cloying.
There are many Japanese restaurants in Singapore that try to emulate their counterparts in Japan and often not to a great degree of success. In keeping to its style of serving high-quality traditional and authentic cuisine, Nami is successful in its own right.
22 Orange Grove Road, Tower Wing, Singapore 258350
Tel: +65 6213 4398