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Saturday February 4, 2006

Going Japanese

G45, Ground Floor,
The Curve Shopping Mall,
No. 6, Jalan PJU 7/3 Mutiara Damansara
Tel: 03-7725 1172

IN SINGAPORE, the name Sakae Sushi is synonymous with Japanese food. The chain was started by Singaporean Douglas Foo who dreamt of making Japanese food more affordable for the masses. There are now 29 outlets on the island, with branches in China, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. The chain opened its first outlet in Malaysia at The Curve five months ago and there are plans to open another five outlets within the year. 

Similar to another popular sushi chain here, Sakae serves sushi from a conveyor belt. However, thanks to Singaporean innovation, the restaurant is one up on its competitors as it provides personal computer screens on the dining table which enables customers to place their orders through an interactive menu. You can view the picture, drop the order into your “shopping cart” and then click on the mouse to confirm. Service is also faster because the order goes straight to the kitchen. Only one technical glitch here though – in my friend’s case – her four-year-old happily clicked away and she ended up with extra food that she didn’t know about. 

Seafood Kaminabe, that’s Japanese paper steamboat
Sakae serves mainstream sushi (raw fish etc served on a small lump of rice). Its sushi rice is enriched with vitamin E for health benefits. 

But what was interesting were the unusual creations like Soft Shell Crab Crepe and Hana Maki. The soft shell crab came wrapped with inari (sweet bean curd skin) in egg crepe and had a nice crunch to it. Each mouthful unveiled a clever mix of the slight saltiness of the crab and the subtle sweetness of the bean curd.  

The Hana Maki was a ball of rice stuffed with tuna or salmon mayonnaise and topped with ebiko (roe). This one scored top points for creativity as it looked like mini Mandarin oranges and was specially created for the Chinese New Year festivities.  

The Salmon Cheese Maki, which is maki filled with salmon mayo and topped with cheese and ebiko, was ordinary and would have been bland if not for the cheese which gave it a nice lift. The dough for the Tempura Moriawase was somewhat hard – too much cornflour, perhaps?  

The Prawn Teppanyaki, Hotate Mentaiyaki, and Dobin Mushi, on the other hand, were commendable. The prawns were panfried with garlic, sake and butter and the tempting aroma reached us even before the dish. Fresh and crunchy, the prawns still lost out to the Hotate – grilled half shell scallops topped with mentaiko (cod fish roe), sinfully cholesterol-laden. The creamy smoothness of the roe brought out the natural sweetness of the shell fish and tasted heavenly.  

Salmon Cheese Maki is one of the delicacies you don’t want to miss at Sakae Sushi.
Dobin Mushi, a light broth of chicken, prawns snapper, shitake mushroom and Japanese fishcake served in a Japanese teapot, was food for the soul as it was flavourful and comforting. For a meatier soup, try the Seafood Kaminabe, Japanese paper steamboat with prawns, snapper, scallop and assorted vegetables.  

The Kimchi Tofu was an interesting departure from the Japanese cold tofu presentation but personally, I prefer my kimchi and tofu separate. Rice buffs can opt for the Beef Bibinba which has sliced beef, assorted vegetables, kimchi and egg on top of a bed of rice served on Korean-style hot stone. The sauce is Sakae’s own innovation and the sticky texture of the rice mixed with the ingredients reminded me of Spanish Paella. I found the cloying sweetness of the concoction strange but others might like the unusual mix. 

My kids fell in love with the Kiddy Set, priced at a reasonable RM7.90. It contained cooked prawn, sushi, egg omelette, tuna mayo sushi, fried chicken chunks coated with Japanese karaage flour and french fries – all kid-friendly food. But what really stole their hearts was the cute container which they wanted to take home.  

Sakae Sushi's desserts were winners, especially the sorbet, which comes in strawberry, pineapple and other fruity versions, served in actual fruits.  

I can’t quite make up my mind about Sakae – whether it’s a family place or a yuppy hangout because it’s a bit of both. Sakae offers food round the clock and is selling itself as a tea place as well. With more than 200 types of sushi and sashimi to choose from as well as a host of other Japanese dishes, there'll surely be something for everyone. W


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