About Shinzo Japanese Cuisine
Tucked inside one of the old shophouses along Carpenter street opposite The Central, Shinzo is so nondescript that one would likely miss this place when walking past. Even though we had copied down the address, we had to do a double take to make sure were at the right place.
However, the moment we stepped in, we were greeted by the merry laughter and conversations from a mostly older working crowd. It's like everyone was in on this little secret hiding in plain sight.
So it may be hard to classify this is a hidden gem, because it has a large following already and lunch times are already very crowded - reservations are a must. But then again, this crowd is made up mostly of a loyal group that has been following Sushi Chef Lawrence Chia for awhile now, most of them regulars from his Hinoki days.
However, most mainstream foodies would be unaware of his new restaurant. Chef Lawrence estimates 80% of his customers here are regulars!
The Ambience at Shinzo Japanese Cuisine
This is Chef Lawrence Chia's first owned restaurant, which he had set up with the help of a past regular turned silent investor. Lawrence's older brother is the award-winning chef Ronnie Chia at Tatsuya, where Chef Lawrence used to work at as well before he moved on to Hinok at China Squarei. Chef Lawrence takes pride in serving up fresh, earnest Japanese cuisine like a traditional Japanese chef. And that means being a host, entertainer, friend and chef all rolled in one.
Note that the restaurant is rather small and most of the dining is carried out at this long stretch of counter tables with just a few tables at the side. But this is one of the few places where sitting at the counter becomes a big plus because its just adds so much to the dining experience here. Expect Chef Lawrence to engage you in friendly banter or even drink with you as he prepares your special 'Omakase' menu.
When we first met Chef Lawrence, he fist-bumped us! Chef Lawrence was trained at the renowned Sushi Kaiseki Nogawa.
The Food At Shinzo
At Shinzo, one can expect nothing less than the freshest ingredients flown in directly from Japan. We were shown huge slabs of Salmon and told they were far superior to the ones from Norway. We learned that discerning Japanese customers will only want to eat Japanese grown Salmon.
Just as the ingredients varies with the seasons in Japan, so does Shinzo’s menu. Expect fusion dishes which infuses Non-Japanese ingredients like Century eggs and foie gras in their dishes as Chef Chia pushes boundaries in creative Japanese cuisine. Omakase dining means you leave your meal completely to the chef. With their Omaksa menu, no two meals here will be the same.
To kick off our meal, we had a Fugu Mirin Boshi ($12), essentially grilled puffer fish strips accompanied with creamy Japanese mayo topped with tobiko (fish roe). I loved this unique appetizer which was oh-so-addictive I couldn't stop popping it into my mouth. I even finished Bryan's share!
Alongside the fish strips, we had a chilled tomato appetizer- Hiyashi Tomato ($6) and a glass of ice cold Japanese green tea. I am an ardent fan of Japanese green tea, the ones which are unsweetened with a slight bitter aftertaste but yet still calming and chilling on the tongue.
Service here was impeccable, with the service staff frequently topping up our glasses which we gulped down to cool off from the heat outside.
Then arrived the Sashimi dish which isn't your usual Salmon/tuna slices, but thinly sliced flounder served with a truffle sauce- Hirame Usuzukuri ($50). Flounder is a type of flatfish, very similar to sole with a very mild taste which would cater to people who can't take to the smell and taste of raw fish. The extremely fresh founder slices were delicious and paired with a touch of wasabi and truffle sauce.
The Hotate Foie Gras ($15) was a refreshing pairing of one of my favorite seafood ever - Hokkaido Scallop with Foie Gras. Topped with strips of seaweed, salad greens and a touch of chilli oil, the hokkaido scallop came lightly seared with a slightly charred top and two slabs of oily yet oh-so-smooth gooseliver. Sinful but so good.
We also had a special item which was the Ohmi Beef Tataki ($45 per 50g) which are beef slices lightly seared by the chef. It came beautifully presented on a ceramic bowl doused in a light sauce before being topped with beautiful flower petals which added much vibrancy to the outlook of the dish.
Ohmi beef is unlike your usual beef, it is more milky and is rather similar to the Kobe variety. The cows before they are slaughtered, are massaged and pampered by the owners in order to fatten the cows up to produce beef of the best qualities and marbling which explains the higher prices.
The Assorted Nigiri Sushi (5 pieces) - ($35) that we had consisted of Salmon, Aji (horse mackerel), Hirame (flounder), Anago (see eel) and Uni (sea urchin) sushi on the far right. The salmon sushi was made with Japanese salmon from the wild which is different from the usual Norwegian salmon, as Chia the sushi chef explains to us before proceeding to pull out two huge slabs of both salmon types for us to compare.
The former japanese variety is fattier, firmer and sweeter, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture which was excellent when eaten with the sushi rice. I was surprisingly delighted by the creamy cold sweetness of the Sea urchin with hardly any fishy aftertaste.
We ended our mains with a Wagyu Beef Somen ($30), which comes with Japanese wagyu beef slices and fish paste noodles in a flavorful broth. The somen noodles are made with 100% fish paste and has a texture similar to fish balls.
Chef Lawrence explained to us that to produce a good bowl of somen noodles, the noodles cannot be overboiled or else the texture of the noodles would be affected - just like how overboiled fishballs shrink, become hard and lose their distinctive QQ texture.
Finally for dessert we had Matcha ice cream with red bean paste.
All their dishes are made to order and sitting at the counter table allows diners to get a full view of the dishes while they are crafted up by the chefs. The amiable personalities of the chefs definitely adds to the meal experience as they engage in friendly banter with you.
While Chef Lawrence was busy attending to other guest, one of his regulars came up to us and started randomly raving about Chef Lawrence. Sometimes, Shinzo exudes a vibe closer to that of a private house party rather than a restaurant. And you feel like the new guest who's being welcomed into their circle.
We asked for a picture with Chef Lawrence and Chef Daniel, the latter who prepares all the hot dishes while Chef Lawrence focuses on the cold. Chef Lawrence insisted on having their assistants and waitress in the picture as well, as he considered themselves part of a whole team. Yeap, its no surprise he's picked up such a loyal following with such a sincere approach paired with excellent food.
Shinzo Address and Specials
Now if you're looking to indulge in a very affordable Omakase set - Shinzo is currently having an Early Bird Omakase Special ($68++) starting this April for their first dinner session from 6pm to 7.30pm.
It's a huge discount off their usual prices for Omakase Set Dinners priced at $138, $150 and $180.
Their regular lunch sets are priced at $38+ and their weekly special lunch sets are priced at $68+. For those who wish to take away, they have lunch Bento Sets priced at $25, $30 and $35. You can find out more about Shinzo on their official page.
Shinzo Japanese Cuisine
17 Carpenter Street #01-01, Singapore 059906
Reservations: 6438 2921
Open Mon to Sat for lunch and dinner: 12pm to 3pm; 6.30pm to 10.30pm