Santaro @ Hinoki – One of my favorite Japanese restaurants

Japanese food.

Where do I begin explaining my love for it? All the different textures, strong and light flavors, immaculate presentation…

 I’d previously blogged about one of my favorite Japanese restaurants in Singapore, Hinoki, back in January, earlier this year.

 However, they have since made a big change, bringing about a brand new chef to helm the kitchen… so I just had to revisit to see if the standard was the same, or perhaps even better!

Hinoki used to just be called…. well, Hinoki. But ever since Chef Santaro Li took over, the whole restaurant was renamed Santaro @ Hinoki… so you can kinda tell what a big deal this is! Chef Li has over 40 years of culinary experience, having spent a few years in Japan learning the secrets of the trade, bringing authentic sushi back to Singapore. I have always liked Hinoki, but I think I love Santaro @ Hinoki even more because Chef Li is such a jolly man, his smiles are infectious! Also, his food is BEYOND amazing.

Omakase is a unique Japanese concept dining whereby you leave the menu entirely up to the chef’s discretion, so you don’t know what you’re having for lunch or dinner until you’re staring the dish in the face!!! It’s not something I indulge in often due to the price tag (heavy, but worth it) but when I do, it’s usually a special occasion.

This time, it was Sam’s 27th Birthday!! Man, he’s getting old…

The first appetizer set made sure our meal got off to a great start!

Chopped prawns smothered in mentaiko sauce, tuna tartare, and century egg tofu.

The century egg sauce was so lusciously creamy and thick, went perfectly well with the refreshing taste of silky cold tofu!

Our sashimi platter – tuna belly (!!!!!), salmon, sweet prawn, squid, caviar.. of the freshest quality

The texture of the sashimi slices were wonderfully firm yet it kinda melts in your mouth. There’s nothing worse than cheap sashimi that isn’t fresh and this tasted like it just jumped out of the ocean and onto my plate. Hehehehe I am so corny.

Traditional Japanese soup with tofu, asparagus, fish cheek, shitake mushrooms and kelp. Simple and light on the palette, but soul warming nevertheless.

Grilled yellowtail cheek, with seaweed and truffle oil. :’) It may not look like something particularly extraordinary but this is definitely one of the best, if not THE best, grilled fish I’ve ever had.

Every bite had me wanting more. Throughout the whole meal, Sam and I couldn’t stop gushing about the food to one another. I think I’m blessed enough to have had a lot of great meals in my lifetime, and I can tell you very honestly that I do not gush about food very often. If you ask my friends, they’ll tell you about how I’m a food snob. But refined Japanese food is REALLY something else. Worth frothing your jocks for!

Hinoki’s signature chawanmushi with shark’s fin and salmon roe.

Wow. I know, right?

And of course… one of the things you can’t miss out on at a good Japanese restaurant besides sashimi. Sushi!!!!!

I think good sushi is incredibly difficult to get in Singapore. Most places serve you lukewarm rice that don’t have a firm bite / not enough vinegar tang / falls apart when you try to pick it up / made with rice that wasn’t even made for sushi… omg. No, no and no. The main ingredient of the sushi (usually a type of fish!) should always cover at LEAST 70% of the sushi rice!!!!

 Hinoki’s definitely got the right idea. Every piece was a burst of joy in my mouth.

I think my heart skipped a beat every time they layed down a new plate on our table. But no one was a happier man than Sam that day, because this birthday treat was on me! They were sweet enough to surprise us with a green tea birthday cake for him, complete with a lit candle and all. Thank you guys for the sweet gesture and for making my ham literally b u r s t at the seams of his heart and belt with happiness!

Check out the Instagram video I put together of our omakase meal:


I loved watching Chef Li assemble the sushi and sashimi that would soon go into my tummy right in front of my very eyes. When you visit Hinoki, definitely grab a counter seat to witness magic happening before your very eyes! I’d take this over David Copperfield any day. :P

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Apart from being famous for their omakase style dining, Hinoki also offers great value for money bento sets for a more everyday-affair type of dinner!

We came back a few weeks later to try their bento sets for dinner (told you I ♥ Hinoki). They have prices ranging from $20+ to $40+ per bento, and each bento comes with a variety of dishes, great for people who want to eat everything on the menu… like…. me.

Since they’re having a promotion for the month of September for a shabu shabu set, we decided to try that out as well.

And for the month of October, they have a special sukiyaki deal!

My babe of a friend Melissa Celestine Koh and her charming man Jonathan joined us for dinner! We had a great time that evening, chatting away in a quiet alfresco area while pigging out on Japanese food paired with beer… every weekday evening should be made of something like this. :)

No omakase this time, so we sat outside instead for a more chillax ambience! It wasn’t particularly stuffy or perspiration-inducing as I’d anticipated. It was actually quite lovely.

Hinoki Signature Bento, come to momma!!! All that food for one person? Yes please!

Our bentos (we ordered different ones) had different side dishes!

To name a few: stewed pumpkin with prawn and egg white, terikayi unagi, assorted sashimi and sesame salad. So much goodness in one bento set…. I didn’t know where to start first. But start and finish it, I did….. every last morsel of it, to be precise.

Next to arrive on our table was this plate of thinly sliced and beautifully marbled wagyu beef for our shabu shabu. The boys couldn’t get over how tender the meat was!!! (Y) It didn’t need any marination.

It was great on its own, just a couple of swishes and seconds in the boiling broth and it’s good to go.

What our dining table looked like:

4 bento sets, a huge plate of vegetables and wagyu beef, and our hot pot to the right which you can’t really see in the picture. We sure know how to feast!

Happy diners posing for a pic. Sorry for the atrocious quality, I had a random person snap it for us and it was so shoddily taken that it was beyond my photoshopping skills.

By the end of the evening, Jonathan was happily conversing with Chef Santaro Li in Japanese (Jon lived in Japan for a few years) and I guess Chef Li really liked having us over at Hinoki because he invited the boys back for drinks a few days later (guys night out), and apparently Chef Li told Sam and Jon many interesting stories about his life! What a great man.

Sincere thanks go out to Hinoki for always delivering top-notch Japanese cuisine every time I’ve patronized your restaurant, and Chef Li for hosting us with warm hospitality, making sure we have nothing short of a great time with him. Hinoki remains as one of my favorite Japanese restaurants in Singapore. It’s going to take a lot to beat this for me.

Santaro @ Hinoki
22 Cross Street #01-50 China Square Central
Tel: 65367746
Food quality: 5/5 

Service / Ambience: 4/5 (Chef Li is really quite a character)
Value for Money: 3.5/5 (Pricey, but you get your money’s worth in deliciousness!)
Most suitable for: A great hidden & underrated find to take business clients to, and celebrate special occasions at. Birthdays, anniversaries… and good test results. Feel like splurging? Try their omakase dining and prepare to be impressed.