All posts for the month October, 2017

Japan Rail Cafe

Published October 30, 2017 by piggie

Credit: Japan Rail Cafe

I have been to Japan Rail Cafe many times, although mostly for their exclusive events rather than having a proper dining there. And actually, I have recently done a post on them for Jpassport but for some unscrupulous blogger to plagiarise for her own benefits that I had to take it down before more people are taking advantage. Hence, this time round, I ain’t gonna elaborate into details and only giving a brief introduction on the cafe.

Japan Rail Cafe is the brainchild of East Japan Railway. It is probably the first of its kind in the world where a cafe integrates with retail, travel desk, and most significantly, to promote interest in visiting Japan, hence the reason in hosting many events to introduce different regions of Japan each month, not just the regions where their rail network plies. And this month, it’s Kagoshima.

Japan Rail Cafe does not have a ‘proper’ menu, instead they publish their menu on a monthly tabloid which also serves as their magazine. It’s practical in a sense, because in doing so, they can conveniently include seasonal and regional food they serve only for one particular month, in conjunction with special festive or the featured region of the month.

Buri-don Amberjack Fish Rice Bowl, $22

This month being ‘Kagoshima month’, they have 4 seasonal orders in their menu, including this Buri-don Amberjack Fish Rice Bowl, Satsuma-age Fried Fish Cake (which you see it inside the bowl in the picture above), Yakushima Log Cake, and Kokuto Matcha Latte.

I ordered their Buri-don Amberjack Fish Rice Bowl, which came with Amberjack fish, omelette, and cucumber dice, two halves of Satsuma-age fish cake. The accompanied condiments are sesame, wasabi, and the soy sauce for the Satsuma-age. This yellow tail donburi can be consumed as it is, or upon pouring the pot of dashi broth over it as an ochazuke. Truth be told, the taste, I found, was just moderate. Perhaps it was just me, but somehow I just found the taste of the Satsuma-age couldn’t blend well with the sashimi. The Satsuma-age Fried Fish Cake was also available on its own for $6 (two pieces), a bit pricey if you ask me, but this is a restaurant after all, and the product is Japan made, air flown I presume.

Kaisen Avocado Don, $18

I was actually more impressed by their Kaisen Avocado Don, which is a permanent feature on their menu with salmon sashimi, Aomori scallops and avocado, and likewise, can be eaten as it is, or as an ochazuke with a choice of dashi broth or original broth, the former is a chicken base, the latter a fish, if I remember correctly. The look is more appealing and I do find the taste blend well as a donburi.

Avocado B.L.T. Sandwich, $16

Their Avocado B.L.T. Sandwich is also another regular feature in their menu and came with a choice of any two side order, choosing from french fries, seasoned wedges (mild spicy), mini salad, and original pork soup. I selected wedges and salad here. You may be wondering what does B.L.T. stands for? It literally means Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato as the main ingredients of the sandwich. They have the standard version for $15 (without avocado), right here, it’s an additional dollar for added avocado.

This is obviously a Japanese touch of western food, and for the price I paid, it definitely tasted far better than what we normally expected from fast food restaurants, you can already tell by the look of the bun that it has better fluffiness and was actually rather appetising.

Yakushima Log Cake

This is their Yakushima Log Cake, I don’t know the price because I didn’t pay for it. It was actually served in slices on a separate event hosted by H.I.S. Travel at Japan Rail Cafe the following week, and available only until 27 Oct. It took the design of Yakushima island (the word ‘shima’ actually means island in Japanese), the very first of Japan’s Natural World Heritage Site back in 1993, and believe to be the inspiration behind Hayao MIYAZAKI’s anime Princess Mononoke.

Since I wasn’t given the opportunity to select my own slice, I believe the green moss is matcha powder, whereas the white coating is sugar powder. This is basically a chocolate log cake, and I do find the taste and texture delightful, not overly sweet nor heavy. Pity though, Japan Rail Cafe does not carry as many dessert as I anticipated, and this is likely to be one-off.

In addition, their Kokuto Matcha Latte ($6.20), a brown sugar matcha Latte, was absolutely wonderful, very unlike other matcha latte you can find elsewhere. Again, for the time being, it’s unlikely to be featured again.

On paper, it seems though Japan Rail Cafe’s pricing is slightly higher than other similar restaurant. However it’s worth noting that their prices are inclusive of taxes and service charge. I do feel this is the correct approach, I still cannot understand Singapore government’s double standard between retail purchases and restaurant dining after all these years.

Japan Rail Cafe
5 Wallich Street, #01-20,
Tanjong Pagar Centre
Singapore 078883
Tel: +65 63855422

Opening Hours:
11:00 hr – 21:00 hr

il Cielo

Published October 8, 2017 by piggie

It was with much pleasure that me and my two dining partners were at Hilton Hotel’s Italian restaurant il Cielo for their Japanese Degustazione Tasting Menu on a Friday evening. We were literally offered the best seat in the restaurant with an awesome view of the pool and ION Sky in the prominent background.

il Cielo, which means ‘The Sky’ in Italian, is located on the top level (Level 24) of Hilton Singapore. They have recently welcome Japanese Chef Yohhei Sasaki of Aomori as their head chef some 4 months ago, and he rejuvenated an entire new menu with a Japanese touch! Chef Sasaki isn’t new to Singapore, having previously helmed Forlino at One Fullerton, and had honed his skill at Michelin stars restaurants in Tuscany and Lombardia, and of course, Tokyo.

To start with, I have to admit I am quite unfamiliar with Italian cuisine apart from pizza, pasta, Gelato, and Tiramisu. From what I know, Italian cuisine doesn’t sell that kind of presentation a glamourous French cuisine does, and at best, we can probably expect Mediterranean ingredients to be used. But Chef Sasaki is able to fusion all that. Being Japanese, he possesses a meticulous aspiration on quality and setting, integrating Japanese ingredients into Italian cooking, and presenting the dishes in very eye-watering manner.We were promptly served bread assortment upon seated, and I believed I tried every single variety there. I must say, although these bread aren’t the spotlight, they tasted absolutely great. The crispiness, fluffiness of respective bread naturally offer a very interesting flavour that I feel, anything better would have to be straight out from the oven. Olive oil was also provided to offer an option to appreciate the bread in typical Italian’s way.

Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche is a single, bite-size hors d’œuvre. Over here, there are some macarons, to be savour as it is, or can be dipped into the accompanied sauce for an alternate flavour. Also on the wooden platter are Burrata cheese with cured meat, topped with caviar and roes. This was my first time trying Burrata cheese actually, and I was overwhelmed with its texture, its complexing taste with the cured meat and caviar was absolutely marvellous!

Carpaccio di Kinmedai

Carpaccio di Kinmedai has got to be one of Chef Sasaki’s most notable signatures, comprising Kinmeidai Carpaccio, Seaweed Tuile, Madeira wine dressing, and graced with pink grapefruit snow. Carpaccio is a Venice invention of thinly sliced raw meat or fish usually served as appetiser. Right here, Chef Sasaki uses typical Japanese ingredients to re-create it with a touch of Japanese flair, somewhat refreshing in my humble opinion, and what absolutely memorable was when Chef Sasaki personally sprinkled the pink grapefruit powder in front of us, it created an instant mist that reminiscent the cloud, and with the green seaweed tuile representing the earth, what an awesome impression of heaven and earth!

Spaghetti ai Ricci di Mare

il Cielo’s spaghetti is specially house made, and tasted al dente. Nevertheless, the focus is definitely on the sea urchin, which hailed from Hokkaido. I understand from the chef that the restaurant is also using ingredients from his home town Aomori as well as from Sanriku region, the latter famous for the Japanese serial Amachan (あまちゃん). In addition, the spaghetti is blended with Sardinian bottarga, a type of salted, cured fish roe, as well as a zest of Yuzu. Overall, this is a beautifully fusion Japanese and Italian cuisine at its very best, it’s savoury but not overpowering.

Giapponese Orata Grigliata

The main course is a choice between Giapponese Orata Grigliata (Grilled Japanese Seabream) or Costina di Manzo ‘Toriyama Wagyu A4’. The latter comprises of caramelized Toriyama wagyu A4 short ribs, sauteed saffron risotto, lemon gel, with Italian Parsley sauce, while our chosen grilled seabream came with Portobello mushroom, sauteed Porcini risotto, with green tea crumbles. But whichever option you chose, both courses involve risotto, and again, the Japanese ingredients here seamlessly integrated with Italian risotto in generating a rather unique flavour, at least I can say that for the Giapponese Orata Grigliata I tried. The tender mushrooms are tastefully sauteed yet not excessively salty, while the leek tasted so fresh I could feel the moisture inside was as juicy as I can taste from a freshly pluck. The crispy rice crumbles provides additional dimension to the seabream, which was truly delicious even without the sauce. I need to reiterate, the risotto here is certainly the best I have ever tried, far far better than what I had tried from a certain local celebrity chef here.

La Sfera

To cap a fine evening, dessert was La Sfera (The Sphere), and you think it’s just a perfectly rounded ice cream? It’s actually sorbet. But it ain’t ordinary sorbet, it’s a Lemon sorbet coated in Yuzu sphere and Ricotta Cheese Espuma with Acacia honey gel. First and foremost, it’s visually a flashy interpretation, giving me a static impression of our galaxy surrounding the sun. But most significantly, it was absolutely appetising, suppressing my burp and by then a bloating stomach with its citrus zest.

Our meal was also accompanied by three glasses of Italian wine in 2015 Lunae Colli di Luni Vermentino (Liguria), 2015 Valpolicella, Rio Albo, Ca’ Rugate (Veneto), and 2012 Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, Reyna, Michele Chiarlo (Piedmont).

Apart from the bread assortments and the Amuse Bouche, all the courses we tried here are actually Chef Sasaki’s signatures. I have to confess my vocabulary skill ain’t doing sufficient justice to the quality of the food here, in part complemented by the crew’s excellent service. They took the trouble to explain every dishes, but frankly speaking, most of the names are strangers to me and I needed to Google them before I can pen this post, and even then, I probably missed out a lot, and quite humbly, many blog posts you can find on il Cielo (under Chef Sasaki’s tenure) are more well written than yours truly’s. The waitress, as well as Chef Sasaki himself, asked us on the food quality after the meal. Well, what could we say? Terrific! I also understand from the waitress that il Cielo’s bookings have picked up significantly ever since Chef Sasaki’s arrival, and he thrives to revise his menu every couple of months to entice diners to return.

Last but not least, before ending this post, I understand some Italian cuisine evangelist may be critical of such fusion concept of losing authenticity. Well, firstly, il Cielo still serves traditional Italian cuisine. Secondly, evolution is an important aspect in culinary scene, particular for the French, notably at the pinnacle of all cuisines in the world. Even modern day Japanese cuisines are very much modelling after the French, with some innovation of their own. So long as the foundation of the cuisines is retained, anything else should be regarded as creativity. Even Leonardo da Vinci might not be the genius he is if he was restricted by conventionality.

il Cielo
Level 24, 581 Orchard Road
Hilton Hotel
Singapore 238883
Tel: +65 67303395

Opening Hours:
Mon~Fri: 12:00hr – 14:15hr, 19:00hr – 22:15hr
Sat: 19:00hr – 22:15hr