This is not your regular Japanese restaurant.
For this place in the up-and-coming Tiong Bahru district, I don’t think I’ll give you too much of a background. I don’t mean to blow my own horn, but I did a story for my publication which, in my opinion, is one of my finest works so far. In fact, I’m looking forward to the November issue because while I’ll concede I didn’t produce as much as I’d usually come up with, almost every piece I’ve submitted is something I’m really immensely proud of. I wouldn’t say it’s because I feel like I’m in a good place in my life, though. Rather, I’d argue that I’m in a state of mind where I’m able to exploit the terrors of my past, the sorrow of my romances, as well as the joviality I get from my working environment. I keep typing, then backspacing… trying not to broach anything I’ve visited in my article… but basically, IKYU, which means “take a break” in Japanese is all about evoking a new mentality. The food presentation isn’t as ornamental or symbolic as your regular bento, there are borrowed elements from other fine cuisines, but it’s still inherently Japanese – the ingredients are still of the finest quality (the fishes are sourced from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market, the beef from Kagoshima, the rice from Hokkaido).
There’s a lot to love about IKYU, but if you’re on a budget (not that IKYU is very expensive… regularly, it’s about Itacho Sushi pricing) then come by lunch time for the set lunches. Essentially a sample of the restaurant’s best fare, they’re an inexpensive option. There are approximately four sets, including a nigiri sushi platter of six and a roll, a chirashi donburi, a nabeyaki set as well as a fried surf and turf one. Each comes with an appetizer (sashimi), a salad, miso soup and dessert. I love chirashi don, which is sashimi atop sushi rice, so I decided to go for that; along with several other star attractions.
IKYU does its best, but with the lunch sets costing under twenty bucks, expecting that your food to have the same caliber as the cheapest restaurants in Tokyo is asking a lot. The chirashi, while satisfactory, paled in comparison to the ones I’ve had at Hokkaido Sandwich and Sashimi Deli at The Sail, and Kinki at Customs House. Granted, those cost quite a bit more than the cost of the set lunch, but I was kind of expecting more, you know. After all, the chef, Takuma Seki, was former chef de cuisine at Michelin starred Hide Yamamoto at the Marina Bay Sands – big shoes to fill, really. Many others commend IKYU on the sushi rice, but having been spoiled by the brilliant grains from Fukushima, it was quite a non-starter. It’s good, but unlike the rest, it didn’t strike me as unique – it’s Japanese: quality isn’t a privilege, but an entitlement.
Fortunately, the rest of the lineup do not disappoint, at all. Chef Seki is a sushi chef by training, and he really excels in that department.
The chef really shows his prowess and understanding with something as simple and as ubiquitous as edamame. If you know me, you’d know I never touch edamame or Japanese green peas. I find it bland, and I find it often inedible, but this Grilled Edamame flavored in Truffle Oil was something. For the very first time, I enjoyed it. The truffle, which is, quoted, not black or white but just regular truffle oil in a bottle, contrasted with the flamed peas, giving it a very buttery and inviting flavor and texture.
Takuma-san has had quite a bit of international experience in the States and France, and it shows, giving familiar international favorites a unique Japanese twist. He drizzles foie gras in yuzu, which sounds odd, but works surprisingly well. The yuzu adds just the right twist of citrus-y flavor, but not that much; and a little caramelization to sweeten the stuffed goose liver just a tad. It’s all very understated, of course, but it works. The Kagoshima Wagyu Beef Sirloin too, plays with subtle notes as well.
The dessert is surprisingly simple, but you should note that these fruits are those Japanese ones. Yes, the ones which cost nearly a hundred each, served to you. Organic, natural, and flavored with nothing other than its natural sweetness, it was an apt end to a very appetizing meal.
Told ya I’m gonna keep this real simple. Go read my article when it’s out!