- Rachel Chia
sen-ryo, ION Orchard
Attention, Japanese food lovers – a hot new eatery has popped up in town, and even without the typical opening fanfare, this popular spot is already booked solid for over a month. Established in Japan’s Tochigi prefecture in 1999, sen-ryo opened its first Singapore outlet on April 1, but the earliest available booking is for mid May, so ready your reservations!
This Jap spot boasts quality bites carefully crafted by artisan chefs, and the seafood is imported from Tokyo’s Toyosu Fish Market, the successor of the famous Tsukiji Fish Market.
Sen-ryo is big in Hong Kong, with 13 branches in the Chinese city, but its ION outlet boasts a calorie-worthy lineup of Singapore-exclusive dishes that make it worth a visit. The local franchise is operated by Genki Sushi Singapore, which runs its own chain of 13 conveyor belt sushi spots in the Republic.
The 60-seater sen-ryo is like Genki’s enviably sophisticated cousin. The dark, attractively-lit interior comprises a bar, a sushi and grill counter, two cosy general dining areas, and two private dining rooms (sits five and eight), all done up in sleek black fittings for an upscale vibe. The Japanese influence is evident throughout, with oriental touches like bonsai, paper lanterns, and textured walls. Definitely a great place to impress a date.
We start our dinner on a sweet note with Singapore-exclusive sen-ryo Tamagoyaki with Mentaiko Sauce ($2.80): two egg rolls layered impressively tall – nearly double the typical tamagoyaki height – and topped with salty mentaiko (pollock roe). The delicately folded, fluffy eggs pair well with the briny, slightly spicy roe; but it leans too sweet, and makes us wish this came toward the end of the meal, similar to a traditional sushi course.
Next, our Singapore-exclusive appetiser is the Soft Shell Crab and Mango Nama Haru Maki ($16.80), a light, rice-less roll of deep-fried crab with mango and lettuce. It’s crunchy and pleasant, and the ripe, sweet mangoes are cut thick, giving this a good balance of flavours and textures. Easily a crowd pleaser for all ages.
The next three dishes demolish all doubt about sen-ryo’s seafood expertise, instantly cementing it in our roster of top Japanese joints. To start: three ridiculously unctuous slices of Otoro sashimi ($24) that cost a pretty penny, but are worth every cent: the fatty, ocean-fresh tuna belly is thickly sliced, boasts beautiful marbling, and melts in our mouths, releasing wave after wave of umami deliciousness. For tuna belly of this quality, the price is very reasonable.
Also earning stellar marks are two handcrafted sushi: the signature sen-ryo Sushi ($8.80) boasts uni (sea urchin), negitoro (minced fatty tuna) and ikura (salmon roe), while the Singapore-exclusive Maguro (Akami) with Shio Koji Negitoro ($6.80) comprises a slice of lean tuna, topped with a dollop of soft, delicate minced fatty tuna seasoned with fermented salt. Like with the sashimi, the quality of the tuna here is incredible. Fresh, without a whiff of brine, and firm flesh with none of the chewy connective tissue typical of cheap cuts. It’s all very clean tasting, and melds together perfectly, delivering mellow ocean flavour in spades.
The last dish in this trifecta is the Singapore-exclusive DIY Hokkaido Uni ($58), which comes with a half-board of uni, ikura, seaweed, and sushi rice for diners to wrap their own sushi rolls. It’s a luxe option, with a price tag to match. The uni is creamy, and most impressively, leaves a light sweetness on the tongue. Most uni offered in Japanese eateries typically leaves a chemical aftertaste from the alum used to preserve the shape – so while the ones at sen-ryo look a tad melty, it’s a small price to pay for quality and purity of flavour. Also worth a mention is the perfectly sticky Koshihikari rice from Aomori, with distinct grains perfectly seasoned using artisanal vinegar fermented in Gifu.
Next, we try two grilled items, starting with the Grilled Chicken Thigh in Charcoal Style Sauce ($7.80). The chook is basted in a charcoal-infused sumiyaki sauce, imparting a wonderful smokiness to the tender, juicy flesh. Delightfully charred edges add smokiness and crunch.
Also well-executed is the Singapore-exclusive Grilled US Beef Tenderloin and Foie Gras ($28), featuring two slabs of rich, creamy foie gras atop slices of US beef tenderloin. Like the chicken, the beef is grilled to perfection, with a well-browned exterior and a pink, tender core. We hoover up the bed of onions beneath, which have been stewed in a sweet, umami-rich beef jus with mirin and black pepper.
Following the grilled items is the soup course, and the Singapore-exclusive Kaisen Dobin Mushi ($6.80) is one of the most affordable items on the menu. Clear and light red snapper dashi (soup stock) is infused with light sweetness from the scallops, prawns, clams and shimeji mushrooms. The teapot of soup yields about three cups of nourishing broth.
To accommodate local diners’ preference for piping hot food, sen-ryo’s also rolled out a Kaisen Soy Nabe ($32): a belly-warming hotpot of King Snow Crab legs, scallops, carrots, cabbage and shiitake mushrooms boiled in a base of Japanese soy milk and dashi, a surprisingly light rendition of seafood cream soup. We dig to the bottom to ladle up gelatinous kuzukiri noodles, which look like thick, transparent glass noodles but have the same intense chewiness as sweet potato mochi. Very addictive.
We end off the meal on a sweet note with Cream Catalana with Mixed Berries ($9.80). This Spanish cousin of creme brulee is thicker and leaves behind a distinct smoky note, but the caramelised top, sadly, isn't shatteringly crisp. Fresh berries add a tart, tangy note to counter the richness.
Those who want a less indulgent end to the meal can go for the Singapore-exclusive Mizu Warabi Mochi ($5.80). This dish was trendy on Instagram several years ago, but it’s rarely offered in Jap restaurants here, so we’re delighted to see it. The water jelly itself is tasteless and meant to highlight the toppings: roasted soybean powder and black sugar syrup. We particularly enjoy the finely-ground soybean powder, which has nutty, complex notes.
Suffice to say we were blown away by nearly everything we ate at sen-ryo. The dishes boast quality ingredients well above par, in particular the raw seafood, which we could find no fault with. As with classic Japanese cuisine, most options were light and well balanced, allowing the ingredients’ natural flavours to shine – but still packing a punch in the taste department. It’s no wonder the queue is a month-and-a-half long – it’s worth the wait, and we’d gladly join in.
ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, #03-14, Singapore 238801
Open 11.30am to 10.30pm daily