MAI by Dashi Master Marusaya is another authentic Japanese eatery to call Singapore home. The focus here is dashi, a Japanese soup/cooking stock used as the base for many Japanese food. Here, you can expect all-natural dashi made from special aged bonito and quality konbo.
Like most premium Japanese restaurants in Singapore, expect all their ingredients to come direct from Japan. This is the third restaurant in Singapore from the Marusaya group – the first two are Dashi Master Marusaya and the Ten Sushi and Bar.
I was here to try MAI’s new donabe, a Japanese style claypot rice dish that I’ve never come across before and was eager to try.
Donabe is one of Japan’s oldest styles of cooking. Like your typical Chinese claypot dishes, the rice is cooked at super high temperatures but takes quite some time to prepare. At MAI, their donabe's secret ingredient lies in their speciality dashi – made from 2-year aged katsuobushi (dried bonito). Even their special Hokkaido Yumepirika rice is infused with the smoky flavoured dashi, which also contains a little Japanese sake inside.
You have the choice of choosing your favourite donabe from their ala-carte menu (from $38++ each, serves 4) or opt for an all-night feast with their $128 Omakase, which was what I had. If you leave it to the chef’s hands, you’ll be rewarded with an array of in-season Japanese delicacies – Matsutake mushroom was this month’s feature, but MAI changes things up as new ingredients become in-season throughout the year.
But first, the appetiser. Starting from the top, the yellowtail, salmon and scallop sashimi was heavenly fresh. I suggest to grab as much of the chunky sauce inside the Grilled Eggplant with Wagyu Miso Sauce (bottom row, on the far left). The White Fish Stock Jelly (bottom row, in the middle) is non oily, though I wasn’t fond of the Vegetable with Sesame Tofu Sauce.
This Shrimp and Matsutake Mushroom Clear Soup was the first opportunity I had to try the Matsutake mushroom and it did not disappoint; it’s thick meaty texture and earthy flavour left me wanting more. The soup was presented in a novel way – the lid doubles as a little saucer for you to pour the soup into. It was a full-bodied, hearty soup, with an extra zing of flavour when you add the lime to the soup.
I was drooling watching this Grilled Matsutake Mushroom Rolled with Seared Wagyu Beef torched in front of me. Unfortunately, I only had one piece so I took my time savouring every bite. The contrast of textures between the hot, just-seared Wagyu beef and the mushroom’s texture is something you must try, and the accompanying clear sauce only added to the deliciousness.
Next was the seasonal seafood dish, the Grilled "Kinki" Rock Fish and Simmered Japanese Turnip. You can feel the freshly grilled flames on the skin of the fish, and the meat itself is fatty with a hint of sweetness. Like the Grilled Matsutake Mushroom Rolled with Seared Wagyu Beef earlier, I wish there was more.
I’m not one for grilled meat in a broth, so I was pleasantly surprised that this Grilled Miso Marinated Hokkaido Pork Toban Yaki tasted as good as it did. The meat was tender and there was a little kick from the spice chilli pepper. I recommend asking for more pepper to have with the Hokkaido pork.
Next was the main event of the night – four different donabe from MAI. Each donabe takes about 30-40 minutes of cooking time and is always made to order, resulting in deep flavours in every spoonful and crispy rice at the bottom, my absolute favourite. I didn’t know the Japanese have a term for the crispy rice: Okage.
First off is the Matsutake, Shimeji and Maitake donabe, which was filled to the brim with all the listed mushrooms. The Matsutake is the star, with its savoury meaty texture much more prominent in this donabe. There's plenty of gingko nuts too.
Next was the Yellowtail and Japanese Parsley donabe, the yellowtail this time comes cooked. You can savour the luscious and buttery texture in every thick piece of yellowtail. This is a donabe that’s full of flavour.
My favourite of the four is the Seared Sliced Wagyu Beef donabe. Marbled slices of A4 Miyazaki or Hokkaido Wagyu are laid on top of a bed of fragrant claypot rice. It’s flame seared, then mixed together with a slab of butter, egg, Kyoto green onions and crispy garlic chips. I asked for seconds as one serving just made me want more.
The MAI Style Chicken Rice donabe was an interesting interpretation of a Singapore favourite. It comes with a special accompanying sauce which looks like chilli you get from chicken rice, but a little thicker. It’s no slouch in the spice department so I urge you to taste a little bit before walloping a mouthful. The spicy kick comes from a mix of Japanese chilli, young ginger, yuzu juice and perilla leaf.
Dessert was a serving of Japanese Pear Compote. It looks unassuming but it’s honestly good, milky ice cream that goes well with the frozen berries.
Don’t worry if your group can’t finish the donabe, as the chef will happily assist to takeaway the rice as onigiri for you to enjoy later.
MAI by Dashi Master Marusaya is located next to Outram Park station, on the Northeast Line exit near Dorsett Singapore.