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.

xoxo,
Jess

xoxo,
Jess

Saint Pierre

I love having brunch.

Too bad I don’t wake up in time for it on most days! Either that, or I don’t get the opportunity to have it simply because I’m working. Most places that serve brunch food only do so during the early hours of the weekend, and I’m almost always certainly doing cakes on weekends…. can’t leave the house/kitchen. So no brunch for me :(

However, when Edina from the Emmanuel Stroobant Group invited us to have a hosted lazy brunch at the newly revamped Saint Pierre restaurant, I jumped at the opportunity!!!

Completed all my work in advance just so I could enjoy a nice weekend out. So worth it!

I know you can’t actually see anything on the menu I’m holding up. But since it’s nice picture, I’m gonna post it anyway! :P

The new Saint Pierre’s location is absolutely gorgeous, situated right next to the prestigious W Singapore in Sentosa and along a nice sunny stretch of restaurants where beautiful yachts were docked and blue waters were sparkling!

Saint Pierre is headed by celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant and his lovely wife Edina Hong, whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few times prior to this brunch session because she’s my brother’s personal friend, and eventually introduced me to her. She’s such a nice lady!!! My first taste of Saint Pierre’s food was during Savour 2013, and I was sold since then.

We opted for the Saturday Brunch Set Menu, which was $38 a person and you get your choice of fruit juice, homemade assorted breads, a main course and coffee or tea!

It didn’t take long for our bread to arrive, accompanied by their own whipped butter & fruit preserves.

I’m generally not a bread person, but I love croissants, sourdough and ciabatta…. they had the first two of my favorites and I was more than happy to inhale them in a matter of minutes. The salted whipped butter and fruit preserves went amazingly well together on a fluffy, pillowy slice of sourdough. Raves all around!

My main course arrived… Eggs Benedict, of course!

 Eggs benedict everyday, baby. This one was elegantly done with champagne holladaise and thinly shaved iberico ham. I like the ratio of bread (brioche) to egg and sauce. Eggs benedict should always be served in this proportion. Normally eggs benedict is thought of to be a heavy, sinful meal but this one was really light, so light in fact I blinked and it was gone from my plate. :P

Sam opted for the Smoked Salmon, on sourdough with chives and lemon juice. More sourdough!!!!! Yay! I like how their in-house smoked salmon wasn’t unnecessarily salty like most grocery store options are, and seemed to have a higher fat content than the lean cuts I’m used to. Fatty salmon is always, ALWAYS a good idea.

I also had a taste of their Scrambled Eggs with black truffle, toasted bread (yeah, it’s a lot of bread! a tad too much overall, IMO) The eggs were fluffy like little yellow clouds as how they should be, and the amount of truffle was moderately alarming. Makes me wonder if truffle has started growing on coconut trees.

I adore waterfront dining; it’s relaxing, romantic and fun all at the same time.

I don’t care if Sentosa is troublesome to get to. The laid back atmosphere makes the trip worthwhile, and there’s no better place to be on a weekend (well except in bed). The entire set up of Saint Pierre is both elegant and quaint, with wooden furniture, floor-to-ceiling glass windows to allow maximum sunlight in and the atmosphere was classy, but not too pretentious. Sure it’s an uppity place, but it’s not somewhere you walk into and feel uncomfortable if you aren’t paying over a hundred dollars for your meal or if you’re not carrying a branded bag, or dressed to the nines. In fact, there were a lot of happy families and very casually dressed people having their Saturday brunch that day, which was a sight I enjoyed seeing!

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If you thought that was all the food porn I was going to feature today…. you’re wrong!!!

We eagerly came back a few weeks later, to sample their Sunday Roast menu!!! WOOHOOO.

What??? How can you judge us for being pigs when the food is this good, and when the owner personally invites you herself? :P

Their weekly Sunday Roast features your choice of roasted meat of the day, an all-you-can-eat, self-serve selection of starters & bread, finished off with dessert, for $68 a person.

I thought I liked their Saturday Brunch, but I LOVE their Sunday Roast.

Heaping servings of refreshing salads were just waiting to be devoured. A buffet you don’t have to feel guilty about!

All my favorite food on one plate. How absolutely pretty.

 Most restaurants that offer a buffet selection are kinda messy, rowdy, and crowded. You’ll have to push past people just to get to the food you want. Not really my idea of fun. I will never suggest a buffet for a meal with friends if given a choice, I prefer quieter places.

But, I especially like how the environment at Saint Pierre maintained its quiet elegance despite being filled with laughter and cheery moods. I suppose it’s because the seating capacity isn’t too large, so it still feels intimate.

Random out of focus shot of Sam looking a little too candidly happy with his food!

When our main courses arrived, I was a little taken aback because I was enjoying their sourdough and starters so much I almost forgot we had a main course coming too. The mountain of brown is traditional yorkshire pudding, which is kinda like bread / pastry that is usually paired with meats and gravy. When I took my first bite of the herb marinated black angus ribeye roasted overnight in red wine and balsamico jus, my awesome afternoon was made even more complete.

It is REALLY good. Melted in my mouth more than my own buttercream on my cupcakes would, and the meat was done to perfect reddish pinknes. Wish I could’ve had double, or triple the portion!!!!!! Sam got the lamb option, which was mediocre in my opinion. Can’t even remember the name of that one, unfortunately.

The main courses also come with vegetable sides and potato gratin! The cheesy gratin was nice :)

A good meal isn’t complete without desserts to leave a sweet taste in your mouth!

Hello, perfection.

Also known as panna cotta with salted caramel. Can I marry you?

I can’t resist posting up picture after picture.. The lighting there is too good to pass up! Just look at the textures in this crumble!!

Sam had a chocolate mint mousse, which was alright, but I don’t care much for either chocolate or mint so I’ll just repeat again that the panna cotta with salted caramel was beyond perfect. I’ve never had better panna cotta in my life.

This brings us to the end of my gastronomic adventure at Saint Pierre. It was an immensely enjoyable one that filled two of my weekend afternoons with smiles, and my tummy with yummy food. Big thanks to Edina, Chef Emmanuel Stroobant, Isabel for always being so hospitable and kind!!!! :)

Till the next meal!

Saint Pierre
31 Ocean Way, #01-15, Quayside Isle, Singapore 098375Tel: 6438 0887

Food quality: 4/5 (while some menu items were relatively simple and not particularly mind blowing, there’s no doubt about the quality of ingredients)
Service / Ambience: 4/5 (gotta love the waterfront views and unpretentious classy atmosphere. also, chef emmanuel and edina are warm hosts!)
Value for Money: 3.5/5 (slightly pricey but you won’t expect anything less from a fine dining restaurant)
Most suitable for:  I highly recommend Saint Pierre if you’re looking for that perfect place to idle away a weekend afternoon. Just look at my pictures!!! The prices aren’t cheap, but they’re worth paying for and pretty reasonable considering the location, ambience, and how renowned Saint Pierre is. Give the Sunday Roast a go! 

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Outfit of the day shot outside Saint Pierre. My pretty floral cut out dress is from Hollyhoque.com! I don’t do fashion shots often, but how could I not with such a picture perfect backdrop?

I wish I could live in Sentosa! My life would be awesome. I’d sail on my yacht and bake cakes and cook food all day long and suntan in my non-existent bikini body.

I miss my purple hair!!! If you don’t already know, I got rid of it (much to my regret). I’ll save that story for another blog post… what a shame. No point crying over spilled milk but looking at these pictures makes my heart ache!

What better way to end off this post than with a picture of a greek god randomly cycling past me as I’m innocently snapping pictures of myself?

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PS – Wanted to randomly update sneaks of my “new” hair.

Which actually is not that new anymore, it’s like a month old. Jeez I need to blog more often instead of Instagramming everyday!!! Just my everyday iPhone 5 selfie with the same smile, in different cabs. LOL.

I’ve gone back to black!!!!!!!!!! And now have short…..-ish hair.

Not by choice, by accident, but #okcanbobian. What do you think? Doesn’t this feel like a blast from the past (2009)?? Hah! It felt SO odd not having purple on my head anymore. I do sorely miss the compliments it got me! It was such a rude shock at first, but now I’m kinda used to it and I like that I can wear green and not look like an eggplant. I can wear any color now! I used to think, the louder the better… now I’m thinking, basic is good. Classy is better. Sheesh, I’m getting old. So ya, no more crazy bright LOOKATME dresses like the Hollyhoque above for me… I’ve been trying to keep my choices of colors for my outfit safe, and make up natural looking recently!

Speaking of which, Makiyo kindly sent me several pairs of contact lenses in extremely natural shades of browns & blacks that I’ve been wearing every time I go out recently!!!! And in the three selfies you see above. Out of the many pairs of contact lenses I’ve been wearing the past few years, this is my favorite one. It’s got a black rim with very very dark brown centre (that you can only see when the light reflects off it) They complement my new “style” well because of how barely-there it looks, yet still flattering because of the iris enlarging features. They’re also surprisingly comfortable, I can wear them all day and not feel like I want to gouge my eyes out like I do with other lenses. Priced at $15 and lesser per pair, they’re a steal!!! She’s got a lot of designs you can choose from so why don’t you check her website out? Quote “Shiberty” for a discount off your bill! :)

xoxo,
Jess

xoxo,
Jess

Majestic Bay Seafood

Singapore is famous for our chilli crabs, aside from the chilli version I also loooove salted egg crabs, creamy butter crabs, white / black pepper crabs…. any type of crab, really.

I thought I’ve tried all the different flavors of crabs, having lived in Singapore for 20 years now… but not long ago, I was introduced to a brand new innovative twist on the dish - KOPI crab!!! Yep, kopi is the local slang for “coffee”. I’ve only ever heard of coffee pork ribs – coffee and seafood is definitely a new combination to me. This kopi crab dish was invented by a chef at Majestic Bay Seafood restaurant, which has recently sprouted up in the touristy area of Gardens By The Bay. I think the location and dish go perfectly well together, hand-in-hand.. because I’m sure the foreigners and tourists will be intrigued by the unique flavor, but I reckon locals alike should give it to a go at least once, especially if you’re a seafood lover like me!!!

Here are my pretty dinner dates for the night – here’s Janice, our kind host for this sumptuous dinner at the wonderful Majestic Bay Seafood restaurant!

And the lovely Yina, whom I invited along to be my dining companion that evening. Good things (and food) should always be shared with other people then they have more meaning.. There’s no point in enjoying life all alone!

We were starving souls when we arrived, but it didn’t take long for yummy food to start appearing in front of us on our table. For starters, we had dim sum that was normally only available for lunch, but they made special exceptions for us – thank you!!

Seared chilli crab meat bun ($4.50 for 3 pcs)

This was crispy, perfectly fried, light and tantalizing as an appetizer.. Might I say a pretty interesting combination as well! Like a mantou that you don’t have to dip yourself. I just wish the chilli crab filling was more substantial, then it would’ve been awesome.

Top: Steamed shanghai pork dumplings ($4.20 for 3 pcs)

I’m a big fan of xiao long baos, and these didn’t disappoint. The skin didn’t tear unnecessarily easily when I tried to pick them up, and the broth inside the dumplings was flavorful and generous enough. I wasn’t expecting much from a meat dish considering they pride themselves as a seafood restaurant but I have to say their dim sum is rather delightful!

Bottom: Steamed siew mai dumplings ($4.50 for 4 pcs)

I normally don’t order siew mais. I have this impression that only ang mohs eat siew mais, like how most local chinese people don’t eat sweet & sour pork and lemon chicken.. they’re like novelty dishes for people who want to eat asian food but don’t wanna go asian all the way. I hope I’m making sense. Lol.

This siew mai wasn’t soggy and forgettable tasting like most I’ve tried, and I attribute it to the crunchy fresh prawn they used! I would actually eat this again.

Soup of the day, Arrowroot Soup ($18 for 2-4 pax) 

I’m an unforgiving harsh critic when it comes to soups, because I believe nice soups aren’t that difficult to create at all. Just be generous when you load all the ingredients in, and be patient when you’re letting the flavors stew together. Speaking of which, my mum happens to make really kick ass lotus and bak kut teh soup!!! I miss her cooking!

While this arrowroot soup had a nice earthy flavor because of the roots & pork ribs (as pictured above after being fished out), I still felt like it fell a bit short on taste and oomph factor. It wasn’t hearty enough for me, and I didn’t get that “mmm this is soul-warming” sort of sensation you get with great soups. It was rather decent, though, and the pork rib were so tender they almost fell off the bone.

Steamed live prawns, minced garlic (Market price)

This was a big big hit on our table!!!! I ADORE anything with tons of garlic on it, and I love it when live prawns are steamed. To deep fry them would make the prawns lose a lot of their natural sweetness and flavor, and no fancy shmancy preparation or marinade is needed when you’re dealing with fresh seafood. The garlic wasn’t overly sharp tasting or pungent, it’s not the type that’ll make your breath stink for hours after that (tried and tested :P) While I think the prawns could have been larger sized, the way they sliced it into half to make for easier eating went down well with me, because I hate eating prawns. First world problem.. love eating prawns but hate peeling them.

You must try this if you visit Majestic Bay Seafood!

…..And here comes the star dish of the day!!!!!!!!!!!!

Majestic Bay Seafood’s signature “Kopi” sauce live crab (Market price)

Although it is not pictured here, the sweet coffee sauce and beans were poured onto the crab in front of us and flambéed right on our table!! Definitely a dish you’d wanna take your friends from overseas to try out because it has that WOW factor that will leave an impression on them. I really liked the flavor, it had this sweet yet slightly savory caramelized coffee taste to it that didn’t overwhelm the seafood taste of the crab – surprisingly, they mixed quite well.

However, the flambée technique used on the crab resulted in the meat of the crab being annoyingly stuck onto the shell, making it extra difficult to eat it, as if normally crabs weren’t cumbersome enough to devour already…. that’s the only complain I have about it, though, and overall it’s still a lovely dish that crab-lovers MUST try!! Props to whoever invented this! Perhaps in the future, the trend of kopi crabs will catch on, even in other restaurants. After all, Singaporeans love their coffee and crustaceans.

Baked rice with assorted seafood and curry cheese sauce ($68 for 4-6 pax, $88 for 7-12 pax)

I know this dish may not look particularly appetizing, but trust me – it was ahhhhmazing. Only after a couple of spoonfuls, I fell in love. I would actually return to Majestic Bay Seafood for this, more than the Kopi crab, which was also good – but this baked curry cheese rice thingamajig, I LIKEY!!!! Seriously addictive stuff. Abundant seafood such was mussels, prawns, scallops were drenched in creamy and delectable curry cheese sauce, on a bed of rice. I took the leftovers from this dish back home (yes no shame at all here) and reheated it for lunch the next day, adding another layer of cheese on top, and it was simply divine.

 I want to steal the chef’s secret recipe T___T

The last stop on our foodie adventure that evening was this dessert platter: Sweet’s temptation ($20 for 4 pax) – Glutinous Rice Dumpling with Yam Paste, Glutinous Rice Dumpling with Fresh Cream, Steamed Salted Egg Yolk Custard Bun, Bay’s Chinese Pancake with Red Bean Paste

I’ll have to be honest and tell you I am generally very unexcited about most Chinese desserts. I like the cold gooey stuff like mango sago, gula melaka, coconut jelly, ice kachang…. but the super traditional items such as red bean pancakes, glutinous rice dumplings and yam paste, I do not care much for. The only thing I could actually appreciate about the desserts was that they weren’t too sweet. I do like salted egg custard buns but this one was just mediocre. This doesn’t mean to say the desserts weren’t any good, I just didn’t enjoy them personally. I’m not the best person to judge Asian desserts, ask me about cakes instead!!!

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When I was having dessert, I was actually still thinking about the curry baked rice. LOL. I wish I could have some now. So, there you have it – an introduction to Kopi crabs in Singapore. Will this food trend catch on? We’ll see in a couple of years!! I think Majestic Bay Seafood restaurant had a fantastic vibe to the whole restaurant with tastefully done up interior decor, and considering its good consistency of food and prime location, it’s no wonder the place was packed on a weekday evening. The next time you & your family feel like having some seafood but don’t want the usual Jumbo or Long Beach, you now know where to go!

Majestic Bay Seafood Restaurant
Flower Dome, Gardens By The Bay
18 Marina Gardens Drive #01-10, Singapore 018953
Tel:  6604 6604

Food quality: 4/5
Service / Ambience: 4/5 (service was prompt, and I like the modern vibe the place gives off!)
Value for Money: 3.5/5 (as most seafood places go, it’s relatively pricey, but worth paying for)
Most suitable for: Families who love seafood and need a nice place to gather at, seafood lovers, foreign friends and business meetings.

Still hungry for more? Check out my other restaurant reviews on various cuisines and restaurants across Singapore. Om nom nomz!
xoxo,
Jess
xoxo,
Jess
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