Published on Tuesday, 03 January 2017 00:00
Written by Cheryl Teo Kai Lin
It is difficult to find a non-commercialized authentic Japanese restaurant in Singapore that serves premium sashimi with world class service resonant with Japanese hospitality. But it is not impossible. Matsuya Sushi Bar is a hidden gem located on Seah Street, just right next to the iconic Raffles Hotel, which fits all the expectations of a bona fide Japanese sushi bar, offering a true taste of Japan.
The cozy little eatery is reminiscent of the hole-in-the-wall Japanese family restaurants we chanced upon during our travels in Japan. These are the kind of restaurants where a lot of love and passion is poured into the food and service. Each bite tastes a little bit sweeter from the chef's effluence of devotion and dedication to his culinary masterpieces.
The nondescript interior is done up in warm earth tones which gives off a comfortable and homely ambience. The wooden bar countertop where diners will sit facing the chef makes up the majority of the seating in the restaurant. There are a few tables off to the side, and al fresco seating for when the crowd spills over. Simple wooden shelves affixed to the wall hold a selection of rare Japanese whiskeys and sakes. And a long horizontal glass chiller, spanning along the length of the bar, houses the premium sashimi.
The word Matsuya directly translates to “pine tree shop”. The inspiration for the restaurant's name came from the pine tree's laudable characteristics. The pine tree is one of the world's greatest and most beloved trees. Its beauty lasts all year round, with the ability to withstand even the harshest of environments be it cold and snow, rocky soil, typhoons or drought. The strength and beauty of the pine tree symbolizes the restaurant's firm standing in delivering an unparalleled dining experience to its diners.
It takes years to perfect the art of making sushi. Fortunately Chef Benson Teo, founder of Matsuya Sushi Bar, had almost three decades to hone his skills. In the 27 years he spent pursuing his passion for the culinary arts, Chef Benson picked up the tricks of the trade through various renowned Japanese chefs. Chef Benson's finely tuned culinary skills have even earned him a loyal cult following of regulars ranging from locals of all races to expats from every part of the globe. Chef Benson only uses the finest ingredients in his culinary masterpieces and specially has Matsuya Sushi Bar's sashimi imported in all the way from the renowned Tsukiji fish market four times weekly.
8-Course Omakase, $90
Omakase is a Japanese phrase which translates to “I'll leave it up to you”. In Japanese cuisine, the expression is used by patrons at sushi restaurants who entrust the selection of dishes to the chef. Omakase is a highly respected culture and the meal can be likened to an artistic performance by the chef.
At Matsuya Sushi Bar, customers opting for the omakase style will be treated to some of the highest quality fish available at a lower cost than if it had been ordered à la carte. It is best to sit along the counter and observe Chef Benson demonstrate his culinary finesse. Chef Benson incorporates innovative dishes with old predictable favorites in the omakase to keep things exciting, yet familiar and delicious.
All omakase dishes would differ from person to person, depending on the freshness and availbility of the produce, and the chef's fancy. Do be sure to inform Chef Benson of any dietary restrictions you have so that he can work his way around it and deliver one of the best omakase experiences in Singapore.
The usual price for the 8-course omakase is $90 per person, however there is a secret “happy hour” promotion that we discovered. If you are seated at Matsuya anywhere from 6pm to 7pm, you can get the 8-course omakase for just $68 per person and stay as long to your heart's content! This special promotion is valid daily except for Fridays, Sundays and Public Holidays.
1. Maguro Nitsuki
Premium bluefin tuna is braised in soy sauce and mirin. The tuna chunks crumble in the mouth into soft, moist and tender flakes. This sweet and savory appetizer piques the taste buds with its delicate and light sapidity.
2. Pitan Tofu
Drenched in a thick and gooey century egg yolk sauce infused with sukiyaki sauce, the block of tofu is topped with tobiko roe and century egg jelly. The sauce is rich and creamy with a tinge of acidity from the century egg yolk which complements the mild tasting soft and silky tofu. The century egg jelly adds a bouncy and springy texture while the tobiko roe provides a crunchy and juicy contrast to the pulpous appetizer.
3. Tatami Salad
Aptly named Tatami Salad for the paper-thin slices of dried and pressed baby sardines that resemble a Japanese straw mat, this salad bowl, that consists of fresh greens, juicy cherry tomatoes and sweet corn, is tossed in a savory and creamy sesame sauce. The refreshing, sweet and savory salad goes along hand in hand with the crispy and salty dried baby sardine crackles.
4. Sashimi Platter
When it comes to sashimi, ultimate freshness is the key, since what you will be eating is a pure slice of raw fish without anything else other wasabi and soy sauce accompanying it. Our sashimi platter of the day consisted of otoro, shima aji, hotate, aburi tai and uni. The highly coveted and extensively marbled slice of otoro (bluefin tuna belly) was sweet, succulent, rich, creamy and so tender it was like sinking our teeth into butter that gently melts away in the mouth. The shima aji (striped horsemackerel / saurel / white trevally), had a firm al-dente texture with a slightly oily mouthfeel and a clean and bright palette that finishes with a subtly sweet after-taste. The hotate (scallop) had a mild refreshing sweetness with a springy yet tender bite. The strong-tasting tai (sea bream) is seared on one side to soften its fishy overtones into a delicate and sweet flavor. The foie gras of the ocean – uni (sea urchin) – is a precious commodity in the sashimi world for its golden-orange roe. The uni was decadent, creamy and had a sweet-briny flavor reminiscent of the ocean with a pleasant savory umami taste and a melt-in-the-mouth buttery texture .
5. Ikura Chawanmushi
Topped with a layer of juicy ikura (salmon roe), the little orange bubbles of omega-3 oil explode in your mouth, releasing all its lovely salty fatty juices along with a scoop of the silky savory egg custard. The chawanmushi itself had a unique taste unlike any we have ever tasted as it had been steamed with yuzu, which gave a refreshingly fruity, sweet and tangy taste to the mild tasting chawanmushi.
6. Hotate Mentaiko
Mentaiko is made out of spicy marinated pollock or cod roe combined with butter and Japanese mayonnaise. Mentaiko tops our list as one of the most heavenly sauces on Earth, and it is best paired with scallops. The thinly sliced scallops topped with a generous snaking dollop of mentaiko sauce had been blowtorched which resulted in a slight caramelization. The caramelization helped in intensifying the sweetness of the scallops and gave them a melt-in-the-mouth texture. Complemented by the salty, savory, and creamy mentaiko sauce, the side serving of crunchy and juicy tobiko and sharply green tasting chives, each bite was an almost obscene flavor explosion.
7. Gindara Teriyaki
Gindara (black cod fish) is highly prized for its soft and melty texture. In Japan, gindara is also known as snow fish because its melting point is slightly above the human body temperature, and its delicate pure white flesh melts like snow in your mouth. Overcooking gindara will result in the drainage of its fat and moisture, so Chef Benson blowtorched the fish with teriyaki sauce over the grill for only a couple of minutes to marginally melt the fat and served it up slightly charred. The gindara flaked up when it was cut, and the tender and succulent flakes melted ever so gently in our mouths like a pile of snow in spring. The teriyaki sauce added a touch of sweetness and saltiness to the velvety and buttery cod flakes.
8. Clam Soup
The clam soup marked a delicious end to the hearty 8-course omakase. It was huge in sweet clammy flavors with a savory taste of the sea.
Wagyu Don, $40
Take a minute to take in that gorgeous marble detailing within the supreme quality beef. The cost might seem a little steep for a rice bowl, but when you consider how Matsuya only uses the finest A5 Japanese Black Wagyu beef in its donburi, the pricetag is justifiable. A5 is the highest grade given only to the finest beef, and the generous portion served up at Matsuya is one of the sexiest and tastiest beef we had the honor of tasting.
As soon as the beef touched our tongues, it immediately caused our tastebuds to erupt in a fountain of tumultuous pleasure. It had a smooth and velvety texture with a delicate richness that lingers in the mouth long after it had been slowly savored. The intricate fat marbling that inundated the meat created an extremely sensual chemical reaction in our mouths, an evolution of the meat from succulent to creamy to a snowy melt-in-the-mouth goodness. In addition to this heavenly bowl of beefy indulgence, a humongous gooey onsen egg accompanies the beef to supplement the richness of this dish.
Sushi Udon Set, $22
From left: Akami, Kanpachi, Salmon, Tai, Mekajiki, Kinmedai, Ikura.
This has got to be one of the most value for money sets available at Matsuya. This set consists of a bowl of silky smooth springy udon noodles with a light and flavorful summery broth, along with a platter of freshly selected sushi.
Akami is the cut of meat found near the top of a bluefin tuna, and the akami sushi we had at Matsuya was velvety, delicate and soft with a taste akin to a very rare filet mignon steak. The kanpachi (greater amberjack) sushi was lean and mild. The salmon sushi was fatty, creamy and tender. The tai (sea bream) sushi was mild and soft with a subtle flavor of the sea. The mekajiki (big-eye marlin) sushi had a firm yet tender texture with just the right amount of fats that very slowly melts in the mouth. The kinmedai (golden eye snapper) sushi was fatty, oily and fleshy. The ikura (salmon roe) sushi was filled with translucent, bright orange eggs each about the size of a pea with a rich, salty flavor that bursts in our mouths.
Negitoro Don, $35
Negitoro is made up of negi (green onion) and toro (fatty tuna). The meat is typically collected by scraping against the tuna bone for the remnants of the fattier cuts, which may not look amazing to be used as sashimi but is still as delicious when it is finely minced up. The sweet minced tuna disintegrated into fatty succulent goodness in our mouths, and the massive egg yolk laden on top which we mixed into the minced tuna added a rich and creamy texture, while the chopped chives and wasabi gave the dish a fresh, sharp and green contrasting taste.
Chirashi Don, $30
The colorful chirashi don brimming with all the hues of a rainbow is certainly a sight for sore eyes. Just looking at this aesthetically pleasing rice bowl overflowing with sashimi is enough to brighten up any dreary day. To consume it will definitely make your week and carve lasting impressions in your mind, because it sure did for us. The assorted sashimi (akami, kanpachi, salmon, mekajiki, kinmedai, tako and ikura) and expertly cooked tamago all tasted spectacularly sweet and fresh, with a myriad of textural depths and flavor dimensions that blew our minds. This plate full of gastronomical wonders is a sure-fire way to fulfill your sashimi cravings.
Address: 39 Seah St, Singapore 188395
Opening Hours: Mon – Sat 11.30am – 2.30pm & 6pm – 10.30pm
Tel No.: +65 6250 6200