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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Return of chef Seki

If you've missed his cooking, as well as his flirtatious good cheer as he serves up your sushi, good news: chef Takuma Seki is back in Singapore.
The Business Times - August 21, 2012
By: Debbie Yong
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Return of chef Seki HE'S BACK rnChef Seki's new venture looks nothing at all like your usual Japanese restaurant. Instead, it's all dark corrugated metal slabs, grey concrete walls and exposed plumbing - PHOTO: IKYU

New restaurant
Ikyu
5 Yong Siak Street
Tel 6223-9003

IF you've missed his cooking, as well as his flirtatious good cheer as he serves up your sushi, good news: chef Takuma Seki is back in Singapore.

The former chef de cuisine at Hide Yamamoto in Marina Bay Sands was last seen at the helm of Seki, a restaurant in the Rendezvous Hotel Gallery that opened to positive reviews this January.

Barely two months later, the 38-year-old chef abruptly ducked out of the partnership with a local investor and returned to his native Niigata, where he was helping out in a friend's restaurant - a case in point of the risks of starting an eponymous restaurant.

For his re-appearance in Singapore, Seki has found a brand new Singaporean business partner, picked a more generic name ("ikyu" means take a break in Japanese) and found a far more fashionable address, right along Tiong Bahru's street of the moment.

In keeping with its trendy neighbours, Ikyu looks nothing at all like your usual Japanese restaurant. There's not a peep of wood panels or kimono-clad, sakura-printed anything here. Instead, it's all dark corrugated metal slabs, grey concrete walls and exposed plumbing - a broody industrial cool channelling the likes of Foodbar dada and neighbouring Open Door Policy.

The menu, as expected, is distinctively Seki: modern Japanese with hints of French and American influences picked up from his work stints in Paris, Washington DC and Beverly Hills.

A few signature items are a rehash, like the truffle-flavoured grilled edamame ($8.50), the yuzu flavoured foie gras ($18.50) and the tofu-textured 'shocyu' cheesecake ($8.50). And thankfully so. Pepped up with the Japanese citrus lightly brushed with a layer of miso, the latter had a sweet but tangy crust so delightful it will likely shush sceptics of fusion cooking.

But there are plenty of new creations too. Particularly impressive among them were the milky-sweet tabara king crab in soy butter ($38.50), the appropriately named jumbo shrimp tempura ($16.50), and the soft shell crab with a Mexican salsa ($8.50), the latter really an egg-free rendition of local chilli crab gravy.

Despite chef Seki's boast that the blue fin tuna he uses is exclusively supplied by a personal contact working in Tokyo's Tsukiji market, a small sampling of the medium-fat chu-toro ($48.50 for 5 pieces) was decent, but not exactly mind-blowing. Worth returning multiple times for, however, is the Kagoshima beef sirloin ($58.50 for 120g), strips of meltingly tender, flavourful marbled meat so addictive, they should come in bigger portions.

There were a few misses, like the rubbery meat in the Hokkaido octopus takayaki ($8.50), the tasteless and quite unnecessary agar shreds in the salmon carpaccio ($16.50), and the slightly too dense crust in the panko Hiroshima oyster ($16.50), but Ikyu serves up an otherwise pleasant meal. Opt for the bar seats at the sushi counter at the front or the sake bar at the back for a more intimate experience ($128 for omakase).

The crowd for now seems to comprise, oddly, Chinese-speaking business types and grown-up "ah lians" rather than the chic designer types that trawl the area, but given the lack of Japanese dining options in this hipster enclave (there's only a casual Western-Japanese diner and a Japanese buffet in a hotel nearby), it probably won't be long before the cool cats start Facebook checking in.

Rating: 7/10

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