The story of Yayoiken plays out like its fellow Tokyo-based rival, Ootoya.
With an emphasis on selling fresh, family cooked food in a relaxed and comfortable setting. With the hustle and bustle, along with small living quarters due to the high density and demanding work culture, I can only imagine that these places became substitutes for families to have meals together. To be honest, I was intrigued by Yayoiken, mostly because of its mixed comparisons with Ootoya. It seems like the pretentious hipsters and aficionados will prefer Ootoya and put down the latter, while the regular “people” carry a more indifferent disposition towards both. So when Darren suggested we check this place out, I was like, “let’s do this!” Before we go into Yayoiken, let’s rewind the clocks back 6 hours. I had arranged something – something I gave up a talk hosted by Pulitzer Prize winner, photographer Vincent Laforet – something I gave up going to Johor Bahru with Inez for.
It was something I had been eagerly anticipating it for the past 3 weeks, I had already prepared and was all ready to go, but when it was time, I didn’t. I just froze – awkwardly avoided the clock as I sat about listening to music but not really too. Whatever came over me, I didn’t know. Perhaps, it was anxiety? It’s hard to say…
Back to Yayoiken. While I didn’t queue for long mostly because a major car accident involving two cars, one of which was sooo smashed that it was shrivelled up with all windows broken, and was spilling petroleum onto the junction #likeaboss, Darren allegedly queued for 30 minutes. Then, soon we were ushered in to our seats. The menu features an array of bento sets, ranging from fish, pork dishes including the famous pork katsu miso, chicken dishes, hamburgers done Pepper Lunch style, as well as a section which tells you what’s popular in Japan. On the table was an impressive line-up of sauces including Worcestershire, Soy and a tub of Japanese pickles that’s perfect for the condiment-loving Singaporean. The prices here are pretty affordable, ranging from SGD 9.80 fish bentos to the most expensive being at a mere SGD 26 for the steak dishes. Shortly after we placed our orders, our orders began cascading in.
First up, gyoza.
Overall, the taste was generally not bad, but I was disappointed that the exterior was more moist than what I’d have liked, making it more like a Chinese steamed dumpling than a Japanese gyoza. The gyoza also came with chili oil, which I loved, and a dipping soy-vinegar sauce mixture which I felt was too savory as it overwhelmed the gyoza no matter how little you dip. After two pieces, I stopped dipping and had it just with the chili oil, which in my opinion, was enough. I still prefer Gyoza no Tetsujin by En’s gyoza which was formerly at ION Orchard’s Basement 4.
Then my main course, the Hokke set, the Grilled Akita mackerel.
I picked this dish mostly because I mostly only eat this at Ootoya, and thought it’d be a pretty fair comparison, and you know what? Heh, it’s got its good points – the fish is positively, humongously, mind-bogglingly big, as if it should come to any surprise to anybody who eats mackerel (saba) at Korean or Japanese restaurants. The portion of the radish was also surprisingly generous, but with such a big fish, it was only right that the radish size was big. The highlight however, has gotta be the rice. Fluffy, aromatic and tasting like a million bucks, it was actually surprising that they have a tub of rice in the middle of the restaurant where you can just help yourself after your first bowl’s done, which it will, and did, barely after I finished half of the mackerel. The bad? The miso soup was a tad bleah, while the mackerel’s skin, which at Ootoya, is an absolute joy to savor, was mind-numbingly rubber and inedible here with spritz of a highlighter-yellow splashed across the skin. In conclusion, Yayoiken, like its counterpart, Ootoya are the “Han’s” versions of Japanese food. It’s not horrible, not bad – it’s positively good, great even, for the prices you’re paying, but is it worth a one-star Michelin? I scarcely think so, but then again, who needs a one-starred Michelin?