Sunday, October 27, 2013

Trying out Aoki's wonderfully Inexpensive Lunch Menu

For many fine dining, Michelin-starred restaurants in UK and Europe, the lunch menu is a 'budget' offering which allows the less well-heeled food lover to sample the restaurant's cuisine, service and ambiance at relatively low prices. For example, that celebrity chef's flagship Restaurant Gordon Ramsay serves up a three-course lunch at 'just' £55 - a steal compared to £135-£165 at dinner.

Similarly, many of the top restaurants in Singapore with eye-watering dinner prices serve up lunch menus that really are within the reach of us regular Joes. Take, for example, Les Amis group's Japanese restaurant Aoki. Dinner sets start at SGD 165, which is special, special occasions only pricing for the majority of us, but Lunch sets can be had for as low as SGD 30. That's pretty reasonable money, which is why we call up to make a reservation and find ourselves seated just off to the side of Head Chef Kunio Aoki's watchful eye.

Chef Kunio Aoki at Les Amis Group Aoki Japanese Restaurant

Somewhat surprisingly, there's very little communication between the Head Chef and the rest of his team. There's even less of it between the Chefs and the diners. The few sushi places in Japan which we ate at (even the budget kaitenzushi joints) the Chefs had almost constant communication going back and forth with the diners and themselves; why is Aoki so different? Different chefs different styles, I suppose.

Chef Kunio Aoki at Les Amis Group Aoki Japanese Restaurant

Anyways, let's move on to the food! Each diner gets a compulsory $3 appetizer-cum-cover charge (which appears on the bill as 'Otoshi') - today's appetizer was a cold siew bak choy with shredded bonito flakes. Was pretty good, although I don't quite understand why this is compulsory, or why we had to find out about this charge only when receiving the bill. Just saying that a heads-up would've been nice.

Otoshi at Les Amis Group Aoki Japanese Restaurant

The Otoshi also comes with a small garden salad with a delightful citrus-ey/soy-sauce-y dressing. I decide to splurge a bit and order the Nigiri Sushi Tokusen ($50.00) which additionally comes with a silky smooth Chawanmushi with mushrooms, chicken and shrimp.

Salad and Chawanmushi at Les Amis Group Aoki Japanese Restaurant

Speaking of sushi, here it is! 8 nigiri, one maki and tamagoyaki (also known as astuyaki tamago). The choice of fish was good - thankfully no squid which I don't like raw - and as expected of an atas sushi restaurant, delicious. There's just something oh-so-different about eating sushi from a proper itamae. The rice is served at just the right temperature and is packed just at the right density. The techniques they use - marinating the akami (tuna) so that it smoothens and loses that 'flaky' texture. Marinating the ikura in soy sauce to give it an extra dimension other than 'salty' and 'fishy.' Oishii.

Nigiri Sushi Tokusen at Les Amis Group Aoki Japanese Restaurant

The darling goes for the cheaper Mazechirashi ($35.00). Chirashi means scattered in Japanese and describes this dish fairly well - scattered cuts of various raw fish, vegetables, tamago, uni (sea urchin) and ikura (salmon roe). This isn't any ordinary Chirashi though; it's the best Chirashi we've ever eaten. The fish to rice ratio is about 2:1, so you get a lot of it. Each mouthful is an explosion of different flavors. In one spoon you might get some tuna with creamy uni; in the next, an explosion of salty umami goodness as you munch down on some ikura.

The dish is so good that I'd even say this Mazechirashi is the meal option to order here for lunch, unless you really must have sushi to satisfy some craving.

Maze Chirashi at Les Amis Group Aoki Japanese Restaurant

Both lunch sets finish off with genmaicha (brown rice tea) to cleanse the palate and a trio of desserts - mango ice cream, warabi mochi, and some jelly which we've forgotten even though it was explained by the waitress. Oops!

Desserts at Les Amis Group Aoki Japanese Restaurant

The bill comes up after taxes to slightly under SGD110 for the two of us. Yes it's not exactly everyday lunch prices but the food stands head and shoulders above anything you'll get at Sushi Tei, Ichiban Boshi, Itacho Sushi and any of the other lesser conveyor belt places. Definitely worth a visit even if you don't work anywhere near the area! It's a small restaurant though so reservations are compulsory. Non halal.

Aoki Restaurant
1 Scotts Road
#02-17 Shaw Centre
(65) 6333 8015

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