Hinoki Japanese Dining

I like all sorts of food, and I’m willing to try any cuisine as long as it doesn’t have strange or gross ingredients (unusual innards, insects and whatnot). So I’ll admit, exotic Japanese food isn’t something I have found myself venturing to explore very much… it has a reputation for being rather out of this world some times. When I have Japanese cuisine on a normal day, I’ll order my usual: Salmon sashimi, something with mentai / ikura and probably an udon / chawanmushi. The standard stuff you’ll find in a franchise casual restaurant like Sushi Tei.

But one evening, I decided to be spontaneous and live a little – I had my first Omakase concept dining at Hinoki.

Mentally prepared for unusual foods I was, but still I was completely taken by surprise when the individual dishes were placed in front of me, each and every one was unique and something I’ve never had before!

Omakase is a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it to you” (from Japanese 任す, entrust).

The expression is used at sushi restaurants to leave the selection to the chef. It differs from ordering à la carte. The chef will generally present a series of plates, beginning with the lightest fare and proceeding to heaviest, richest dishes.

Customers ordering Omakase style expect the chef to be innovative and surprising in the selection of dishes, and the meal can be likened to an artistic performance by the chef.” - wiki 

Hinoki is a casual restaurant serving mid-high range Japanese food conveniently located in the CBD area. You won’t find any pretentious atmosphere or over the top interior decor in this restaurant, just straightforward fresh good food and friendly chefs.

I brought my mum to have dinner because she’s in love with Japanese food. She absolutely adored this place and the whole dining experience!

What we had in our Omakase set:

Aigamo (Smoked Duck Breast) - served with fish sperm and tomato. The tomato imported from Japan was amazing! If you’ve ever had a super sweet and expensive fruit from Japan, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s NOT like your other normal fruits. And yes, you heard me, the white gunk in the spoon is fish sperm…….. I’m having fish sperm in my first course. Interesting choice for appetizer huh? Can you see where this is going already? LOL.

I gave the fish sperm a try because Omakase is all about trying new things. It tasted like mayo / tofu with a thick and smooth texture. *feels a little less dignified on my blog*

Seiko Kani - a cold crab dish primarily eaten for its roe. I actually did not find this that special, but those who like crab roe would probably enjoy it more.

Kawahagi – A type of dried fish, I believe the chef called it a leather jacket fish. I know, lol at the name. It tasted kinda like dried cuttlefish except less pungent, but equally chewy and nicer tasting! My favorite appetizer thus far.

Speaking of the chef, I totally recommend getting the counter seats when you dine at Hinoki, especially if you get the Omakase set because you get to watch the skillful chefs prepare your food right in front of you! It’s pretty cool watching them sleekly torch the raw fishes to get the top and edges slightly browned, and slicing the fishes ultra thinly.

Here is Chef Lawrence Chia, co-owner of Hinoki proudly presenting us our beautiful sashimi platter that he specially arranged for us! Chef Lawrence has over 20 years of Japanese cuisine experience with a substantial amount of following. He’s also a great guy to talk to while having your meal, his tales of exotic Japanese food / its origins and outgoing character will keep you entertained throughout the meal.

Our beautifullll array of colorful assorted sashimi! Flounder, Yellowtail, Scallop, Toro, Baby Octopus and Angler Fish Liver. The freshest catch of the day, all one on plate. I’ve only ever had one type of sashimi seen here – the tuna. The rest were completely new to me, and I quite enjoyed all of them, especially the thin pieces of Flounder.

Chef Lawrence provided us this truffle oil infused sauce to dip the flounder pieces in. Delicious. ♥ ♥ ♥

To sidetrack a bit – when I first heard anger fish liver was on my plate, I was like WHAAAAT. o___O; It’s the roundish piece of organ behind the wasabi in the pic above.

Do you guys even know what an angler fish is?! If you do, I’m sure you’ll understand why I was so taken aback. If you don’t, please educate yourself by clicking this. Or, think about the creepy prehistoric fish that was in Finding Nemo. It has a dangling bulb in front of its head, is ugly as hell with sharp teeth and a huge jaw, and tried to eat Nemo!!!!! Geddit now?

I freaking ate the LIVER of that animal. I never ever thought I’d put something like that in my mouth. This will probably be the first and last time I’d eat it. Not because it tastes bad, but because it is not something you’ll see on a dinner menu anywhere. Like, sea urchins…. okay. That sort of level of exotic, I can deal with. But angler fish liver is really something else. It doesn’t taste as rich or distinct as foie gras (these angler fishes were not force fed and fattened up like foie gras ducks are), it was in fact quite mild in taste and texture.

Here’s my boyfriend looking cute and happy with his bento set. He finished work and was nearby, so we got him to join us for dinner! He opted for a bento set instead of Omakase since we were halfway done with ours, and it was value for money!

At $38 you get assorted sashimi, sushi, chawanmushi, tempura, grilled fish, stewed pork belly, among other things. The sushi and sashimi at Hinoki is of consistent impressive high quality, at first I thought only the Omakase would be a cut above the rest being higher priced than the normal menu, but even the bento set was good. :)

The next item to arrive on our table was equally as intriguing as the angler fish liver.

Giant Top Shell (Sazae) - with its insides gutted, meat chopped up and put back into the original shell with mushrooms and a tasty soup broth.. The blue tinge at the bottom of the shell was a slow flame heating the soup up.

“What is this animal?”, I asked Chef Lawrence inquisitively.

“I’ll show you. Let me get a live one.” 

Just like that, he plopped down this strange looking creature onto a chopping board, dug a knife into the shell, twisted it around a few times…. and pulled THIS monstrosity out!!!!! I was so shocked I didn’t know how to react because it all happened so fast right in front of my eyes. Hahaha I remember squealing a lot in part amusement and horror, and even my mother and Sam were very bemused. It looks like a schlong. *coughs*

My mum loved it that she finished up to the very last drop of the soup herself! I had to get Sam to share mine.

Me sipping the soup slowly because it was so hot…. I asked for a spoon to drink the soup with, but Chef Lawrence insisted I pick up the thing with my fingers for the “real experience”. Lol you had to hold it in a specific way in order not to burn yourself. #specialmealindeed

Kama Nitzuke (Cheek of Yellow Tail). This was really well done! The meat was so tender because its cheek meat, when you poked it with a fork it would fall off the bone.

Shio Ayu (Japanese River Trout). This and the cold crab made the least impression on me that night. I know they’re supposed to be delicacies of sorts, but I didn’t find them particularly tasty.

Green Asparagus with Asari (baby clams). Like an asian vongole! I liked the lightness of this dish, the small clams paired with the crunchy texture of the asparagus was a good combination, and it balanced out the meal nicely.

Chef Lawrence saved the best for the last, because the sushi platter was BOMBDIGGITY!!! Every single piece was delightful and mouthwateringly good. So craving for some right now.

I love how generous they are with the ingredients – you can barely see any sushi rice at all after its topped with a big piece of fish. The sushi rice was also not overly sour or sticky or mushy – it was literally perfect.

Even if you’re not quite interested in Omakase dining, definitely give the sashimi and sushi at Hinoki a shot. It’s nothing short of stellar. Sam’s favorite was the foie gras with shrimp combo, and mine was the salmon, uni and unagi! Sorry I couldn’t choose just one :P

It was my first time trying sea urchin and I actually quite like it, aside from the fact it can be slightly overpoweringly rich if you put the whole thing in your mouth at one go.

Our lovely meal ended off with Tuna Consumme, that came in a shot glass. It tasted kind of herbal and earthy to me.

Dessert was kept simple and easy on our already-full stomachs.

Matcha Mousse with Grape Sorbet. I loove the grape sorbet!! I’m a big fan of sorbet in general (it always the perfect dessert for me) and grape isn’t a flavor you’d commonly find outside. It tasted kinda like bubblegum. Chef Lawrence said he specially imported it from Japan and that we won’t be able to find it elsewhere……. *insert sad face here*

If you’re looking to have an elegant Japanese meal but don’t want to go to the usual overdone places or chain restaurants, Hinoki is a great place to switch things up a little. It is also conveniently located in the CBD area, so after work, you city working people can just swing by. The price for Omakase dining will vary, the one I had was $138++ per pax. They can tailor a menu for you according to your budget and preferred tastes!

Hinoki Japanese Dining
22 Cross Street #01-50 China Square Central
Tel: 65367746
Food quality: 4.5/5 

Service / Ambience: 4/5 (Chef Lawrence made our great meal even better!)
Value for Money: 3.5/5
Most suitable for: Adventurous foodies, true Japanese cuisine lovers who can pay the price for a good plate of sashimi, Omakase concept dining.

Looking for another place to satisfy your munchies? Check out other restaurant reviews I’ve done on various cuisines you’ll find across Singapore here.