Growing up, Japanese food was expensive, usually a rare treat. Which is why I love the guilt-free (at least financially) abundance of the Japanese buffet. I remember my first, it was at the then Hotel New Otani. The highlight was the all you can eat sashimi. It was served on a large wooden boat. You had to be quick or all you would be left with was… well the wooden boat.
Over the years though, lots of budget Japanese restaurants have sprouted up in Singapore. Now the thought of all you can eat sashimi wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. My love for the Japanese buffet never diminished. Put the words “Japanese” and “buffet” and I’ll be drawn in like a mosquito to one of those ultraviolet light zappers. It will be the death of me one day.
In all my eating, I’ve noticed that these Japanese buffet places usually start out great. They are generous and the quality of their ingredients is relatively good. But then one of two things happen. Either they do well and in order to capitalize on their popularity, they start to cut cost to maximize profit. Or they don’t do well and cut cost to minimize the hemorrhaging.
So my Japanese Buffet Entropy Theory states that the quality of a buffet place will only go down with time. My ex-favorite place used to have all the sashimi items I love, swordfish, mackerel and surf clam. Then slowly one by one the items would be pulled. It closed down a couple of months later.
Recently I found a new place. It might be my favorite yet. A poster said that the Japanese buffet came with a complimentary serving of toro (tuna belly) and fugu mirin boshi (puffer fish.) The pull grew stronger and I felt my belly gravitate towards the door. But they weren’t open for another 30 minutes. I had a packed schedule so with surprising self-control I didn’t indulge. I was back the next day with K-Dubs.
There was indeed the complimentary toro. It was a piece of aburi-ed sushi. We were instructed not to dip it in soy sauce; there was already sauce on it. I love gastro-dominatrix talk.
Yes Master I will not dip it in soy sauce!
I was surprised to hear that at a $35++ buffet place. I was first introduced to that kind of banter at Tatsuya, not quite a year ago, where my meal was almost ten times that price. But that’s a story for another post. After the toro came another aburi-ed gem. Salmon sushi with a sweet cod roe cream sauce, and this time I could have as much as I wanted. It set the tone for the rest of my meals at Shin Yuu. Their food is slightly progressive and well executed. Progressive because you get items like the aburi-ed sushi, which is almost unheard of at mass market places. (Well actually the restaurant isn’t that big, but its cheap price is mass friendly.) Their special makimono, a unagi and avocado sushi roll is like the over-the-top rolls I used to get back in the States, very different than traditional rolls but just as good. It’s big on flavor and toppings. Julienned cucumbers and sweet unagi at the core rolled with rice and seaweed then topped with avocado and slathered in special sauce and a dollop of mayo. God it’s good. I could eat the whole roll by myself. And because this was a buffet I could. The only drawback here is that there are quite a few usual treats to check out too. I had to carefully ration out my stomach real estate.
The menu is divided into nine sections; seven of them are headlined with a Shin Yuu special. Most of the specials are delicious. The only exception was the special Chawanmushi from the appetizer section. It was decent but there wasn’t anything special about it.
The salmon aburi was the special for the nigiri sushi and the Unagi and avocado for the makimono. I usually stay clear of spicy tuna sushi, it’s just too easy to merchandise off old tuna. But I’d make an exception for their special maguro karashi temaki. The hand roll was dressed in snappy-ly crisp seaweed with tuna in a sauce that was surprisingly complex, boldly spicy but balanced with just the right amount of mayonnaise for body.
The beef short ribs special in the yakimono / grilled section are very good, if a little thin. The special from the agemono / deep fried section is a dory fish fillet topped with cheese. Top anything fried with cheese and you have a recipe for a tasty-tasty dish.
I can’t seem to make up my mind about the pan-fried prawns with miso mayonnaise, the special for the teppan and nimono / pan-fried and braised section. It’s an intensely flavorful and rich dish, almost too rich though, it sat very heavily in my stomach.
The sashimi section doesn’t have specials and the variety is pretty limited: Tuna, Australian king fish / hiramasa, salmon and octopus. But they have my favorite, swordfish, so I’m not complaining. Wish they had mackerel, sweet shrimp, surf clam and squid. I’m not complaining, just stating.
Most of the other dishes on the menu are solid and well executed. In all my visits I’ve only had one dish that I didn’t like, an aburi-ed cheese and smoked pork sushi roll. It sounded good on paper, but blow torching ham and cheese just didn’t work out. Still it’s quite an impressive batting average with only one strike. There were quite a few home runs on the menu too.
There’s a jellyfish appetizer that is for me, addictive. I love the textural crunch and its sweet and slightly spicy flavor. I order multiple helpings on each visit.
The grilled scallops topped with the same cod roe sauce from the aburi-ed salmon are also a winner.
Even though the teppan and nimono part of the menu had that questionable special, it’s actually one of the restaurant’s strongest sections. There is a delectably tender wafu steak and flavorful masu ni, a quick fried and braised grouper. The pork belly looked dry but was actually quite succulent.
There isn’t any dessert on the buffet menu, but I was given a yuzu sorbet once and it was a great way to end a heavy meal. It was well made and you can’t really go wrong with yuzu.
So how does Shin Yuu tie into my entropy theory? Well the first time I was there, we had the complimentary toro as promised by the poster at the door, but no fugu. On my second visit there wasn’t any toro, in its stead were fried squid tentacles and croquettes. My third trip came up empty on any complimentary dishes. Yet the poster was still out there. I had a creeping fear that the restaurant which opened in August was starting its inevitable decent. However on my fourth lunch at Shin Yuu last Sunday, when it was almost deserted from what I guess was a Christmas weekend exodus, the restaurant came out with guns blazing. A row of those aburi-ed toro sushi bites, the perfect amuse, were laid out even before we had finished ordering. Followed in quick secession with raw salmon in a plum-like sauce, fried squid and tiny shrimp, plus two beautifully grilled hamachi collars. Both mine and my brother’s favorite.
I hope my Japanese buffet entropy theory is wrong because Shin Yuu, considering its usual offerings, almost pitch perfect performance and relatively cheap price tag, is a real gem.
16 Greenwood Avenue
Their Facebook page
Open daily for lunch from noon to 2:30 p.m. last order. For dinner from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. last order.
Seasonal jelly fish; special unagi and avocado sushi roll; special aburi salmon sushi; wafu steak; masu ni grouper; special grilled beef short ribs; grilled scallop with cod roe sauce; special fried dory with cheese.
A la carte buffet lunch for an adult, $35++; child, $20++. Dinner, $48++; child $28++.