Monday, November 16, 2009

Tetsu: can food courts do high end dining?

This is an invited review.

Tetsu is tucked in the third floor of Tanglin Mall...a mall close to my home. I used to go often to Tanglin Mall, when it first opened...but have not been back for a long time. The mall caters mainly to the expatriate crowd, with restaurants and shops targeting at that market segment.

Tetsu is Food Junction's foray into the fine(r) dining scene in Singapore. Known for their food courts, Food Junction is known as a home grown started in Bishan with a food court in 1993. Their claim to fame is that they were the first to introduce the concept of themed food courts. Currently they operate some 11 Food Courts in Singapore, and 5 more overseas (Malaysia, Indonesia, China)

The restaurant was decorated rather nicely...with interesting accent lighting which creates a rather cozy mood.

Accompanying the meal with some dry sake...not being an expert, I reserve comment, except that it was very clear, clean tasting.

We started with some interesting appetizers:

The Kani Tofu: crab meat with century eggs:

The tofu was very rich tasting, smooth, creamy, and a bit resilient to the palate...providing some resistance to crumbling. The flying fish roe, crabmeat and century egg complemented the taste very well, providing more richness, and some piquant hints from the eggs.

Fugu Mirin Boshi:

Fugu...strikes fear in people's hearts...poison from a fish so lethal, that it kills a grown man within minutes of ingesting it. In Japan, a complex system of accreditation controls chefs who are allowed to handle fugu. I have tasted the delicacy once in Tokyo...and despite the hype, found it to be a let down...the fugu sashimi I hate had a tough-ish texture, pale, colourless...almost transparent visually, and almost tasteless. Seeing fugu in Tetsu's menu intrigued me. However, this was not fresh fugu. Tetsu did not have a qualified fugu chef, but rather imports the preserved fugu meat.

Fugu is merinated in mirin, and preserved in Japan. The dish had the fish in slices. It looked like a cuttlefish, indeed the texture on the palate and taste reminds me of cuttlefish. It was strong, powerful, with sharp counterpoints of salt and sweet from the mirin. Nice.

A typical tempura of ebi was also served as appetizer:

The batter was beautifully made, the prawns were reasonably straight - the Japanese pride themselves in how straight the chef could make a curled up prawn as one of the touches of a good tempura. I found the batter to be slightly greasy, but was very crispy and crunchy. The prawns itself were nicely cooked, but I felt the prawns could have been fresher, sweeter, and should have hinted of the sea. On the whole, the average quality of the prawns let down the crisp batter, and made this an average tempura, rather than a spectacular one it could have been with better prawns.

Sashimi was next:

Beautifully presented, the sashimi moriawase comprised of a whole sanma, hamachi, maguro, sake, and mekajiki. The sashimi was good. Freshness of the fish was good, though not supreme. The sashimi at Rakuichi and of course my favourite sushi-ya in Tokyo SushiZanmai is much better. But Tetsu's sashimi was good. In particular, I enjoyed the mekajiki - swordfish, lightly blowtorched, in its own small bowl of ponzu sauce was excellent...the sharp ponzu playing well with the rich swordfish. The hamachi - yellowtail was also very good.

Next the main courses:

Pork Rosu katsu:

As followers of this blog would know, I have an ongoing series for pork katsu...starting from the artisanal, and supremely delicious katsu served at Katsukura in Tokyo, to the sublime, rich tasting ones done by Tampopo/Tom the average ones from Ginza Bairin. On a quick analysis, Tetsu's katsu is smack in the middle...perhaps a touch below that offered by Tonkichi. The meat was dry and lean except for a bit of fat at one edge. But it tasted surprisingly moist. The batter was crumbly, and in my opinion lacks the integrity and crispiness offered by the better katsus. It disintegrated when probed by my chopsticks, and did not survive dipping into the sauce.

The Yakiniku beef tenderloin was another story:

Tenderloin of beef was sliced and doused with yakiniku can be seen in the picture above, the meat was done just shy of medium. Perfect. The meat was very flavourful, and tender, and goes exceedingly well with the yakiniku sauce. The sauce was sweet, salty with powerful overtones of ginger. Excellent plus plus for this beef dish.

We also had Gindara Saiyotsuke

Black cod was filleted and marinated in miso for 24 hours, before being grilled. The cod was reasonably fresh, not exceptionally so, but the miso, despite of being the marinate the fish sat in for a long time, left little impression. The dark miso sauce on the side had to be used to provide some salt to the fish, which eventually brought out the fine, smooth, creamy, oily taste of the fish. I preferred the miso cod served at Taste Paraside, though the method of cooking is quite different with the same ingredients.

For starch, we had two. First cold udon.

Hiyashi Udon as the dish is called. Interesting. In all my travels to Japan I have not tried cold udon, which is supposedly quite popular in summer...I try and avoid Tokyo in the summer...its just too hot and the new coolbiz environment meant that the air conditioners in offices are set warmish and not always comfortable for someone who spent time walking in suit and tie from the train station to visit. Yes, coolbiz means short sleeved shirts with no tie or jackets, but being visitors, we are often obligated to dress for international business.

Anyway, I digress. The cold noodles were superb. The udon was snow white, thinner than regular hot udon, but thicker than soba. The texture was springy and spongy to the bite. And with the dipping sauce of unpasteurized soy sauce...with grated ginger and Japanese spring onions, was quite good. I enjoyed it very much.

We also tried their seafood fried rice, which is a speciality:

Japanese rice, fried with garlic, small shrimps and other seafood. Kin found the garlic to be too strong an overtone, however I liked it very much. For me, the strong garlic flavours interact with the other ingredients and rice to produce a nice tasting dish...other than the garlic, the rice was a bit mild until I sprinkled powdered chilli to spice things up. The chilli lifted the dish to near perfect - toning down the garlic, lifting the seafood bits, and drawing out the wok hei of the rice.

Finally the desserts. We tried three different desserts:

From right to left: Triple house sherbert of lime, strawberry and orange, Jinkasei Goma ice cream, and Yuzu ice cream on strawberry sherbert.

Although the sherbert was home made in the restaurant, I found it lacked the intensity found in other housemade sherberts I have sampled. The ice crystals were also a bit rough.

The gonma ice cream was interesting. Black sesame is toasted, ground and mixed into vanilla ice cream to create this dessert. The taste of the black sesame was very strong, a bit overpowering but not quite as the vanilla provided sufficient base for the flavour to develop. Rich tasting, but due to the strong black sesame taste, only for those who love sesame.

I saved the best dessert for last...the yuzu ice cream was near divine. Yuzu is a citrus fruit commonly used in Japanese cuisine, though its origins are in China. Like a cross between a grapefruit and mandarin oranges, it provides acidity, and a very nice aroma to dishes it is used in. In ice cream, it is wonderful. The acidity plays well with the richness of the cream. And bits of yuzu rind are found within. Excellent.

Overall, Tetsu excells in casual dining...offering a huge selection from their menu...but that's where I feel if they could focus on three or four specialities and offer only those, would be more interesting a restaurant. But as it is, due to the large selection, would be very suitable for large groups with diverse tastes.

Service was excellent. The Assistant Manager and Manager were at hand to explain the dishes, and they were very knowledgable. The waitresses were competent, and polite.

Tetsu Japanese Restaurant
163 Tanglin Road
#03-18 Tanglin Mall
Tel: +65 6836 3112
Lunch: 11.30am - 3.00pm
Dinner: 6.00pm - 10.00pm

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