Zento Contemporary Japanese Restaurant: Want to take on Iron Chef Morimoto?

Wagyu Beef and Shrimp Tempura roll with melted Gruyre and garlic sauce $30

If you are a fan of the Iron Chef series, then the mention of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto might conjure up images of fantastic Japanese creations which his critics would say is not Japanese at all. This is the paradox. Chef Morimoto, the man responsible for the highly acclaimed Nobu Restaurant in New York who plays the role of Iron Chef Japan is supposed to represent Japanese cuisine but he always comes up with creations so bizarre that some might question its "Japaneseness". But..... he still manages to beat his challengers most of the time.

Chef Morimoto left Nobu after the series to start his own restaurant, Morimoto, in Philadelphia. This is where our young protagonist comes into the picture. Chef Gunawan Wibisono, an Indonesian by birth, worked his way up the Sushi ladder without formal training to eventually work at Morimoto's kitchen. After he left Morimoto, Chef Gunawan opened Zento in Philadelphia and won numerous praise for his contemporary Japanese cuisine. He and his wife had recently moved here to open another branch of Zento to introduce his creations to Singaporeans.

Truth be told, I was attracted to the fact that there are several dishes at Zento which are inspired by Chef Morimoto. Short of travelling to the US to taste the mighty Morimoto's food, I guess this is the next best option. With the dearth of Japanese restaurants opening up in Singapore, Zento takes Japanese cuisine to uncharted waters. Just like Morimoto's creations in the Iron Chef series, the judges might not think it is classically Japanese, but it tastes so good that they award him the win anyway. After all, when it comes to food, it all boils down to how the it tastes right?

Zento Sashimi Set - Otoro with Caviar, Miso marinated Salmon, Madai with onion vinaigrette, Wasabi encrusted Tuna, live oyster with fish and Yuzu sauce $29 (one and half portion shown in photo)

So if you have been enamored by Japanese food, as are a lot of Singaporeans currently, you would be very glad to know that Zento will challenge you to re-define Sushi and Sashimi. If you have read my previous posts on eating raw fish, you would know that I am quite a late bloomer to the Sushi/Sashimi scene. I went from " I will never ever walk into one", to "Only if I have to accompany my wife into one", to "Hey let's go eat some Sushi!" only of late. So for me, I am starting to really like Sashimi, but I still have a soft spot for a bit of char grill flavour.

If you are still find eating raw fish a little distasteful, then the Zento Sashimi Set might just change your mind. Here you are presented with five different types of fish which have been blowtorched to cook just the exterior. Then, instead of the usual wasabi and soy sauce, they provide different toppings for the different fish. The Aburi (blowtorched) Otoro with Caviar is, as you can imagine, quite heavenly as is the miso marinated Salmon Belly. 4.5/5

Scallop Carpaccio $25

You can follow the Sashimi set with the Scallop Carpaccio which is also excellent. This is again a creative departure from Scallop Sashimi as they top the scallops with Yuzu sauce, ginger, garlic and Mitsuma leaves, then bathed it with hot grapeseed oil. The combination works very well to bring out the sweetness of the scallops. 4.25/5

Rock shrimp tempura with spicy kochujan sauce $15

Now we get to the two dishes which were Chef Morimoto's creations. The Rock Shrimp Tempura with a Korean inspired kochujan sauce can be really addictive. However, this dish did remind me a lot of what we can get at the Cze Char places. Perhaps it is novel for the Americans, but I think a lot of Singaporeans will find it very familiar. That said, it was still a dish which resonated with me. 4/5

Tuna Pizza $22

The Tuna Pizza is basically it's a crispy thin tortilla chip topped with hiyashi wakame (seaweed), raw tuna and a secret sauce which is imported from the US. The flavours are excellently balanced and the crispy tortilla is a nice contrast to the cold tuna and wakame. Another dish I would order again. 4.25/5

Wagyu Shrimp Tempura Roll with Melted Gruyre and Garlic Sauce $30

Now to the piece de resistance. I have to qualify first that one of my favourite things to eat is a piece of grilled marbled beef with a mouthful of pearly sweet Japanese rice. So I only needed to take one look at the dish to know that the chances of me raving about it is quite high. I am glad to report that I wasn't dissappointed one bit. I think it was brilliant of Chef Gunawan to depart from the usual way of straightening the prawns out for tempura and keep its elegant curved shaped. The curves serve to remind you that beneath that lightly torched Wagyu beef is a tender and juicy giant shrimp! For me, this would be the perfect "Steak and Surf".

The Gruyre cheese sauce gave it just the right amount of creaminess to complement the crunch of the tempura batter and add a wonderful umami kick to the beef. I could just come here and eat just to eat this one dish. 4.75/5

Mango Sashimi - Salmon, Tuna, Yellowtail, Avocado and Mango $25

For those who are trying to cut down on carbos, the riceless sushi rolls are an interesting concept. Instead of the usual Sushi Rice, they taken a few calories off, but still retaining some carbo satisfaction by using rice paper. I like the novelty of the dish but felt the sweetness of the honey mustard sauce overpowers the natural sweetness of the sashimi. Good for dieters. 3.75/5

Volcano Roll- $25

I love these small chef owner eateries. It really is a labour of love rather than just a job for the chef. I was told that all the dishes here have been passed by his greatest critic who is none other than Dyana, his wife. If you visit the restaurant, you will get to be introduced to the dishes by her who I think is the real boss of the restaurant. (But maybe I am just extrapolating from my personal life). This passion translates to procuring the freshest fish and making all of their sauces in-house. I mean you just have to respect someone who bothers to make their own coriander oil right?

One of their signature dishes is this Volcano roll which is a deep fried Shrimp Tempura roll with smoked salmon, avocado, crabstick and masago. This is a very tasty Sushi roll whose identity (I am afraid) might get mixed up with the stuff we see at S____ Sushi. The addition of the masago (capelin roe) and their special homemade sauces gives it that extra special touch. 4.25/5

Philly Roll - Salmon, Cream Cheese and Scallion $14

There are so many more items on the menu which I can talk about but I shall stop here with the Philly roll, which I guess celebrates their humble roots from Philidelphia. Cream cheese and salmon is always a great combination, but this is the first time I have seen this combination in a sushi roll. I am partial to this one but Amagada loves it. 4/5


Zento means "Future" (前途 qian2 tu2) in Japanese. I guess its name reflects what they are trying to do by sharing the same spirit of innovation as Iron Chef Morimoto to challenge age old traditions to create new taste sensations. Anything that is novel is always worth a try, but when it is truly good, what is novel will eventually become a classic.

I think there are a few classics in the making here.

Special for ieatishootipost readers:

Complimentary dessert when you mention "ieatishootipost"!

Makan Session in the works:

I am in the midst of organizing a special 10 course tasting menu for everyone which will feature some of the dishes here, including, of course, the Wagyu roll. The special menu will be $38 nett and be held on a Saturday at 2pm. Can I have an indication of how many would be interested to attend?

In order to be notified of this and other events, please join our ieatishootipost facebook group.

Zento Contemporary Japanese
Blk 18B Dempsey Hill

Singapore 249677


Open daily for lunch and dinner

This was an invited review


ice said...

I tried Zento last mon. Had the Volcano, mango sashimi & green river roll but I thought the best was the crunchy spicy tuna handroll with soy paper. Pretty unique & good! The wagyu shrimp tempura roll looks like a must try!

Les, I think Zento is using long grain Californian rice & not short grain Jap rice. Maybe you'd like to clarify, coz that's what I ate in the rolls & Dyana confirmed it.

Anonymous said...

The food looks super appetising, especially the waygu and volcano roll. Nice photos (: i'm interested in the outing, when'll it be ?

ieat said...

We are planning for August. Make sure you are in the facebook group and you will get notified when the announcement goes up.

Anonymous said...

Looks good and sounds good.
I'm interested in going too, how do I sign up then?? =D

Anonymous said...

Great... =D In the group already.. Eagerly waiting for it...

ieat said...

Once we finalize on a date for the session we will post an announcement on the blog and the sign up page on facebook. If you are in the facebook group, you will be sent an invitation.

ieat said...

Watch out for our other gatherings in between. We will probably have an imprompto lunch and maybe even a supper event next Saturday.

Vivavia said...

I'm interested!

chiupee is our friend said...

im interested!!!

cherns said...

My wife and I would be really interested! :)

John said...

I'm sorry. This place is far from Morimoto. I don't think he should be using Morimoto's name to promote his restaurant. Imagine Morimoto price with sub-standard ingredients.

Anonymous said...

the wagyu shrimp roll........


can die...

idiosyncratic said...

I absolutely agree with John. Having been to Nobu, and reading this entry, the food served is indeed a far cry from Morimoto and I see little influences as well. You most certainly will not find crabsticks at Nobu.

Holy Drummer said...

To idiosyncratic and john,

Believe me when I say I am also a little skeptical about Zento after reading this post.

Perhaps John visited Zento already? But I'm pretty sure idiosyncratic hasn't.

Good and qualified your comments are, if you two have tried both Morimoto's and Zento's.

But if you both have not visited Zento yet, why not give it a chance instead of letting prejudice rule your impressions?

I myself might intend to do so by signing up for the luncheon degustation session tentatively on 15th Aug before I pass judgment.

And I cordially invite you both to consider signing up too =)


coltzalin said...

Well if you all know Morimoto from the iron chef series, or if you really like morimoto's cooking spirit, what zento is showing is prolly the creativity that morimoto possesses and exercises during his show. I might pop by this place in the future. I really loved Morimoto's creativity. I have been watching iron chef since young, and even now, whenever i find time to watch iron chef, it still amazes me. If you all have a chance to, go search the japanese iron chef program for the sushi battle. Thats really epic. As it shows Morimoto's ability to create sushi that was unique to his own style and even the judges praised him. The edo sushi was really not up to the match. Of course you might say that even simple sushi is nice too(i LOVE TSUKIJI SUSHI), but these kind of food with nice presentation and unique taste are the things thats appealing to those who want to get more than just their usual daily food. Will visit there soon. And thanks ieat for the intro.

ieat said...

Thanks for that comment coltzalin.

I think you got the gist of what I was trying to say. Of course, this is not Morimoto, but merely a restaurant that is opened by his disciple which is in the spirit of his creativity. Not many disciples can overtake their master but they can certainly copy to a certain extent dishes which they have made under their master.

I would love to eat at Morimoto's one day. Perhaps they might even invite him over during the world gourmet summit one of these days.

Anonymous said...

Just came back from dinner at zento. The lady boss seems to be an Indonesian.

Zento sashimi set : good !
Green river sushi roll : okay only.
Cucumber roll : refreshing, seems like salad but presented in a different way, otherwise quite ordinary.
Dragon sushi roll : good, love the crunchy spicy tuna's combination with the eel.
Old city sushi roll : yummy good, and was a bit warm 'cos of the just fried tempura prawn. A little bit of spiciness that's just nice.

My friend also tried the wagyu beef stick. Her comment is that wagyu beef to her is just beef, as in kampong chicken is just chicken to her. She loved the sesame oil dip that came with it.

We also tried their desserts. The warm lava chocolate cake is deliciously good. Not too sweet, was able to do fondue dip with the assorted fruits that came with the plate. Couldn't figure out what're the black dots on the vanilla ice-cream. Definitely not sesame seeds.

The other dessert we chose was the circus fruit bomb [something along that line]. Got quite a bit of strong liqour taste. Nice and interesting.

Eei, for 2 hours, we were the only 2 customers in the restaurant. Before we left, 2 different groups of 4s and 3s did walk in [including 1 group who seems to be a repeat customer].

p.s. Next time you're there, take a look up at the ceiling. :)

ieat said...

Thanks for the report!

The black dots are vanilla seeds. You get that with vanilla ice cream made from real vanilla as opposed to vanilla flavouring.

Just beef? The poor Wagyu cattle died in vain!

What is in the ceiling?

ieat said...

Thanks for the report!

The black dots are vanilla seeds. You get that with vanilla ice cream made from real vanilla as opposed to vanilla flavouring.

Just beef? The poor Wagyu cattle died in vain!

What is in the ceiling?

dafatlady said...

Hi Leslie!

I'll be interested in an ieat makan session at Zento! The pictures had me drooling ....I'm on the facebook group so I will sign up there!

ieat said...

Great! Look forward to seeing you at the session!

Anonymous said...

ieat, that's the exact comment we were expecting about wagyu beef just being beef. ha!

what's in the ceiling? don't be so impatient. you have to see to know if you appreciate it or not. afterall, taste is subjective. :)

Anonymous said...

oh, we did wonder if it's vanilla seeds, but forgot to get confirmation from the lady boss.


Anonymous said...

ate at zento today and was not bowled over. typical American take on Japanese food, lots of avocado, fried crispy things stuffed into rolls and very expensive. Pretty much like what you'll find in many trendy "Japanese" restaurants in LA.

Portions here are really small. Expect to spend at least 100 per head. Will not return.


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