Monzushi: Exquisite Sushi That Should Be On Your Radar
Located on the bustling Neil Road, privy to the eyes of punters, Monzushi is a lesson in the fine art of obscurity. The soft brown wooden panel doors slide open to reveal a bar that proposes endless intoxicating possibilities. As you traverse past the arresting display, a 24-seat dining room awaits at the back. Restraint and understated beauty are the order of the day, as the chef’s table is decked out with wooden boxes holding all the jewels of the sea. Pull up a seat to the counter, because there’s no better way to work up an appetite than by witnessing chefs slice chutoro into thin strips and marrying them with rice. Take it from me—watching the omakase experience ($158) unfold creates bittersweet anticipation, somewhat like watching a movie trailer. It makes you voracious.
Monzushi is an offshoot of the heritage brand founded in 1933, with its headquarters located in Tokyo, Japan. I’m a fan of edomae-style sushi, a term that any sushi cognoscenti will be familiar with. But for the uninitiated, it’s essentially a style that was popularised in the 1600 and 1700s where aging fish via zuke method (immersing in soy sauce) and curing with salt and vinegar were employed to increase shelf life. Flavours are geared towards the sweet and salty side, perfect for the intrepid.
Should you wish to experience a Bob and Charlotte—‘Lost in Translation’ amorous moment, I recommend familiarising yourself with the sake list. Open a bottle of sake, toast each other relentlessly, and offer the chef a glass. Judging from the dreamy bonus piece of double uni sushi which the chef introduces shortly, it might be advantageous to be in his good books.
The meal begins like a languid morning stretch; seasonal eggplant redolent of green apple, a tiny roulade of chicken liver offset by silvers of spring onion and braised beancurd skins graced with nuggets of golden uni. Then, a large plate of courtesans of the sea are splayed out in full view: saba, yellow tail, tai, Japanese toro followed by plump chutoro. It garners lascivious stares all around that fall through the cracks as you are utterly focused on the dish. You complete the induction with ribbons of squid marinated in miso. It’s sweet, earthy and salty, a reminder that you’re dining edo-style.
Next up, baby crab painstakingly portioned into glistening piles of leg, body and roe. I picture the squirrels from Willy Wonka’s sorting room having a ball of a time with these precious crustaceans. It is one of those dishes which is about judgement and it goes a long way to prove Chef Keisuke’s understanding of the word ‘enough’. The mandatory fried item makes its debut in the form of fried fugu accompanied with a saucer of ponzu sauce. It is a fine piece of work and you proceed to dismantle its sweet flesh from the cartilage using dexterous fingers. Don’t be shy now, sushi omakase experiences tend to get a bit hands-on.
The Hiroshima oyster is astounding—the sprinkling of fresh ground black pepper is balanced by a squeeze of finger lime. The juxtaposition of creamy against woody drifts from the pepper creates a killer combination that warrants 10 seconds of total silence—mostly to fully masticate the mammoth oyster. A bowl of soup redolent of lobster bisque is absurdly tasty and should be savoured between the sushi theatrics. Act one, Irish toro, a slightly longer tail requiring nimble fingers to flick the tail bit into your mouth. The parcel of rice, glistening from the influence of three types of Japanese red vinegar carries just enough character to edify the fish in the following symbiotic relationships. There’s yellowtail (buri), swiftly succeeded by bonito from Aomori prefecture with yellow mustard and stuck with a wafer of crisp garlic chip. It’s atypical but characteristic of edo-style sushi where mustard is used in place of wasabi. Seaweed wrapped marinated ikura hits the spot, the deliberate decision to incorporate two different sizes of roe playing out nicely in the food jukebox of textures in my mind.
A fresh block of tamagoyaki still singing with smoke and heady with the sweet smell of egg is brought to your attention. In between yelps of burnt fingertips, Chef Keisuke gregariously cuts you two servings. It feels like warm hugs, and you instinctively lean in for the affectionate embrace. So far, you’re sated, the titivating conversations of tragic past relationships from your Spanish neighbour providing tableside entertainment. Fortunately, the food narrative continues with fresh uni on rice which melts instantly in your mouth. And it all comes down to the final morsel to create a lasting impression before they roll you out through their wooden doors. Alas, it is one for the record books. Anago, licked with flames for that extra wickedness comes flecked with salt and pepper. It’s not so much an aesthetic pleaser, but its flavours are so riveting that I must admit its ‘through-train’ access into 2019’s ‘Oh Fuck, That’s Delicious’ list.
Despite my impartiality, I did not have any sake with this meal. But what can I say? I still had a delightfully peachy gastronomic experience. Monzushi might fall off the radar where other Instagram-savvy Japanese restaurants are concerned, but if you’re into killer sushi done right with great technique and wit, this place might just float your boat.
13 Neil Rd, Singapore 088810, 6227 7088
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