utterly fantastic and amazingly fun izakaya at the top of the stupidly-designed orchard central. today, I bring you a gem. I visited this place for an invited tasting – and the food was great, the atmosphere authentic and incredibly fun – and I know, pffffff. invited-schmited what-had-I-expected.
so I sent my parents on to the restaurant the weekend after my visit for a proper litmus test, and they came back full of praise for the place. which makes me really glad – because now I can be utterly effervescent without qualm.
I can’t quite recall the last time I ever described a place as fun – and I’m not really that sort of bouncy jovial person anyway (I might swing a little too much to the other side of things) – but that’s all I thought while there. izakayas are boisterous places – plates of good food and never-empty glasses of beer to lubricate conversations and wind down after a long day, and staff who know how to keep the place cheerful and loud enough for you to do so; this place has all those qualities in spades.
I’m about to unleash a photo bomb – so I’ll keep the verbose to a minimum today. as it is, the dishes are both familiar and well-prepared – don’t come expecting overtly innovative preparations and poncy arrangements. the food surpasses my favourite conveyor belt place – and while it isn’t posh japanese fine-dining, it truly is very good. fresh ingredients simply prepared, an array of comfortingly familiar flavors, and served at a well-met pace.
we started off with ebiko-rolled maki, packed with prawn tempura, and silky slices of salmon sashimi (my parents tell me the hamachi sashimi is also very good – thick slices of not-too-milky fish), as well as a dish of pumpkin-raisin and mentai-potato salad (I preferred the pumpkin, though it was a tad sweet for some);
and a couple of dishes meant for the grill – an assortment of dried fish sheets which were divisive – some were tough and incredibly difficult to eat elegantly, but go well with beer; as well as the house specialty of skewered meats. the yakitori didn’t actually need time on the table grill for having been cooked in the kitchen – but we rather did it anyway, and liked the fragrant char.
order the sticks with leeks – they were delicious.
the edamame were fresh though ordinary-tasting – the notable part was the accompanying fanfare: a lady holds up a huge bowl of beans while you don surgical gloves and grab the biggest handful you can – all to the beat of enthusiastically loud drumming. I hope you get the same performance if you order these – I thought it really did something for the experience.
we finished with some grilled pork – not dry, and tastily porky – and a rather out-of-place dish of truffled french fries. the fries had the nutty fragrance of that black gold – and hey, nostalgia in the crinkle-cut, but it was just a little odd after what had been an authentically japanese meal.
the other strange thing was the stick of cotton candy they handed out post-meal – not quite what one associates with an izakaya. and spun sugar, really banally, tastes only of sugar.
the place is genuinely lovely: a vantage point over town, and a location so exclusive as to be both intimate and cosy – and it truly does remind me of japan. there is proudly-displayed vintage paraphernalia strewn all over – and the place is divided between three historic styles of izakaya dining, onward from the ’50s. my memory is a little wonky – so let’s call them the low-one (cosy and casual), the tall-one (more glamorous by the floor-to-ceiling-windows) and the outdoor-one (where you barbecue your own meats).
the staff were friendly, enthusiastic – and gracious the way only japanese can be. be prepared for a boisterous night – I’ve been told the asahi is the cheapest here at $4.90 a mug, which might account for it – and if not, it’s a welcoming place where you can, like me, clink your water to your friend’s beer mugs, and call it a day.
and if that weren’t enough, here’s the kicker: almost every dish on the menu is priced at less than a tenner. I think that’s completely ridiculous (by which I mean stupendously good) pricing, and it certainly made my parents happy when they got the bill. great ambience and good food (and cheap beer, if you’re into that) – I certainly will be coming back.
Sumiya Charcoal Grill and Izakaya Restaurant
#12-02 Orchard Central
181 Orchard Rd
tel +65 6509 9618
$$: most dishes go for under a tenner
p.s. if you try this place out – let me know. I would be a little heartbroken if the place turned out less endearing than we found it: it’s become one of my new favorite places – but even I remain slightly skeptical about how much I enjoyed myself.
p.p.s. if you hate this building as much as I do – the architect ought to be maimed – the best way to get up is to head for the lifts, and get on the one that ups to the eleventh floor. you’ll reach the restaurant via a small escalator on the side.
thank you, rachel, for the invite!