Meii Sushi: Simple, Straightforward, Sushi
Sushi from Meii Sushi
Sushi from Meii Sushi

Is it just me or is there really such a disproportionate number of intimidating Sushi Chefs in the world? I am not sure if it is just the language barrier or the fact that they are holding a sharp knife just within stabbing range, but I often find myself having to put on my best behavior in order to eat at certain Sushi joints.

When my friend Hisato-San brought me to his favourite Sushi haunt in Tokyo last year, he gave me the stern warning that I was not to talk or use my camera until he gave me the green light. He said that he needed to gauge the mood of the Chef before I attempted anything other then sitting there, enjoying the sushi and giving a perfunctory bow and uttering the occasional “Oishii des!”

He wasn’t kidding either. The Sushi place he was bringing me is an unlisted eatery which doesn’t even have a signboard. Hisato-san told me that he had to be brought there several times by a friend in the first year before he was able to make his own reservations and it was only after the 2nd year that the Chef started talking to him! Now of course, he can strike up a conversation with the Chef, but the sense of conviviality is still held in tension by a sense of fear that a wrong word might mean certain excommunication with the restaurant.

Chef Yazawa at Keshiki Sushi in Nishiazabu, Tokyo
Chef Yazawa at Keshiki Sushi in Nishiazabu, Tokyo

During my trip to Tokyo, I had initially planned to visit the legendary Sukiyabashi Jiro. But Hisato-san assured me that anyone can eat at Jiro as long as they make reservations ahead of time, but this place is more exclusive as I can only get to eat there if he brought me. He told me that they don’t accept anymore new customers and that he, in his mid thirties, is the youngest customer there.

There were only the three of us in the restaurant that night. Chef, Hisato-san and myself. The tiny restaurant was simply a Sushi bar with space for maybe 10 persons and Chef was the only one working in the restaurant. Yes, the ONLY one. There wasn’t even a lady in kimono to pour tea for us! Chef Yazawa had previously run a 5 star Sushi restaurant, but closed that down in order to focus on his craft. Here in his own cave, he labors to achieve Sushi perfection in solitude, only breaking the silence to attend to pilgrims seeking Sushi enlightenment. It was austere, unpretentious and very authentic. There were no fancy plates and no fancy plating. Everything was served simply and simply served.

After introductions and presenting the Chef with my book, I proceeded to sit down quietly in anticipation of epiphany. Chef looked into his fridge, pull out some Torigai and started to open the clams in front of us. He washed it, cut it and placed it in front of us. Torigai is usually served already cooked in Singapore because it needs to be absolutely fresh and you probably recognize it by its familiar red and white colour. When it is raw, it is purplish black.

After a period of warming up, Hisato-san motioned to me and said it was ok for me to pull out my camera. BUT, he told me I had to quickly snap my photos or risk admonition. There was no menu in the restaurant and no price list. You simply sit down, eat and pay at the end of the meal. Chef pulled out an entire half head of Tuna and start scraping off the meat from the neck then proceeded to roll it into a maki and place it on our plate. This was Sushi – unplugged.

Wild Canadian King Salmon
Wild Canadian King Salmon

I am telling you all this because my experience at Sushi Meii reminded me of this little episode in my short Sushi life. Sushi Meii is not fine dining Sushi like what you get at Tatsuya or Hashida. Instead, it is small place where it’s you, the chef and fresh seafood. It is blue collar Sushi where the fish is chunky and the ball of shari (rice) substantial. Don’t expect your sashimi to be placed on ice with a Sansho leaf and microgreens. If you want to eat Salmon, he’ll slice you a slab that is as thick as your thumb and place it on the plate in front of you. However, it won’t be the common farmed Norwegian Salmon, but a wild Canadian King Salmon which he imports specially for guests who insist on eating Salmon. (Salmon aka Shake is not considered traditional Sushi fish) The rest of his seafood is sourced directly from a market in Kyushu where the fish are caught locally.

Bafun Uni with tamago onsen (soft boiled egg)
Bafun Uni with tamago onsen (soft boiled egg)

Chef Hong is quite infamous in his own right. He is well known for turning Singaporeans away during his time helming Marui Restaurant at Cuppage Centre. The door to that little 14 seater Sushi bar was perpetually closed and you had to know someone in order to get in. Even food guru, KF Seetoh was unceremoniously shooed away. He is a little more mellow nowadays. But I was told that my friends Wahcow and OMark took quite a few visits before they were allowed to take photos.

Chef Hong had spent a few years working as a Sushi Chef in Tokyo in the early nineties. That was where he picked up Japanese and made contacts with the local fish suppliers. Now that he is back in Singapore, it’s the relationships that he had forged in Japan which keeps his supplies of fresh fish coming in from Kyushu four times a week.

Murasaki (left) and Bafun Uni (right)
Murasaki (left) and Bafun Uni (right)

Chef tells me that he prefers to import his fish from Kyushu instead of Tsukiji because unlike Tsukiji which brings in seafood from all over the world, Kyushu only sells fish that have been caught in local waters. Most of them also tend to be wild rather than farmed fish.

Uni season starts around September and if you visit Meii Sushi during that time, you will be treated to a Uni feast. But even in June, he had two types of Uni on hand. The first one we tried was the Bafun Uni, so called because of its resemblance to horse poop (photo above). It’s tongue like gonads were about the size your thumb and it is denser and firmer than the more common Murasaki Uni. Chef presented it in a cup with Nori, sake with a soft boiled egg (tamago onsen). Needless to say, I was in Uni heaven.

Murasaki Uni with Otoro
Murasaki Uni with Otoro

Chef presented his Murasaki (purple) Uni, gunkan style with rice that has been topped with Otoro scrapings which have been blow-torched to melt the oil and bring out the aroma. I found this batch of Murasaki Uni to be sweeter than Bafun Uni although it really depends on seasonality. The texture is softer and creamier than Bafun uni. This was his pièce de résistance and resistance was futile.

The rest of the sushi here is very good. Each piece is sushi is chunkier than normal, so you do get full quite quickly. I am, however, ambivalent about the shari (sushi rice) here. It doesn’t have the umami and sweetness of the best sushi rice I have tasted elsewhere. The Kohada was also a little too harsh for me. The Akagai was very interesting as Chef combined two slices together. One from Kyushu and the other from Tokyo Bay. He did this because the one from Kyushu had a nicer texture while the one from Tokyo was sweeter. By combining both, you get the best of both worlds.

Restaurant

Conclusion

Reviews on Meii Sushi have been mixed and I can understand why. If you try to compare them with a top end Sushi joint, then they will fall short of expectations as Chef has opted to keep the prices low by making some compromises eg he uses US Koshihikari rice instead of Japanese. The setting is also simple and austere. Meii Sushi is for those looking for fresh, seasonal seafood that is presented simply. By cutting out all the bells and whistles, Chef is able to present just the most important part of the Sushi, viz the seafood at attractive prices. Our Omakase lunch meal which included otoro, two servings of Uni and enough chunky sushi to fill the tummy came up to $140. For those looking for a more affordable lunch, their lunch sets starts from $28. 4.25/5

Update: 3 Sep 2015
Address updated

Meii-Sushi

Meii Sushi

Address:
The Scarlet Hotel 33 Erskine Road #01-01, Singapore 069333
View Map
Opening hours:
(Not available)
Contact:
6220 3466

  • Bryan Law

    Meii Sushi has been relocated

    Address :

    The Scarlet Hotel

    33 Erskine Road #01-01 Singapore 069333

    Contact : 6220 3466

  • DMKS

    I am immensely disappointed and sore after having had dinner here a few days ago (mid-January 2017). I did the background check: this restaurant seems to be quite recommended. It is not and does not try to be in the same league as Shinji, Sushi Ichi, Shoukouwa or Hashida and the likes, but apparently one that offers thick slabs of fish (sashimi/sushi), no frills (e.g. no hinoki wood counter, just a laminate one), and uses American-grown Japanese rice.

    OK, that is all fine by me. Especially if the price isn’t as high. But boy, was I wrong.

    Perhaps the first mistake I made was, not to have asked for the price of the omakase. We were not given any menus, or at least a list of what the cost of the omakase would be. Nothing. We were immediately served a bowl of chilled salted edamame beans and cool hand towels. So I went along with it, thinking, it can’t be more than a S$170/$180 meal/person!

    The Singaporean chef was not ‘grumpy’ or moody or what not, but instead, very friendly. His wife, who was the only other staff at the restaurant, was not quite as friendly, standoffish, unsmiling and not welcoming as a wait staff! But back to the chef: he was friendly, smiling, fairly chatty. He then served us wasabi-marinated octopus, which was crunchy and appetizing, but quite stronghanded on the wasabi side.

    Soft boiled egg with a tiny scoop of uni in dashi/shoyu sauce. It was good, OK.

    Ankimo dish covered with lots of spring onion: horrible. I have never tasted a worse ankimo. This was almost dry, fairly tasteless. A real disappointment.

    Sashimi dish: two slices each of akami and buri. Good grief, did the chef not realise that the fish was TOO COLD? It was so chilled, such a pity, I could hardly appreciate the richness of the buri. Yes they were thickly sliced, generous in portion, but the temperature. Come on, basic sashimi/sushi 101!

    Large raw shrimp — thankfully, it wasn’t that cold, and I could appreciate its sweetness. We were told to leave the shrimp head for a soup course later.

    The sushi began. Well, first, the pace. He was frantic in making them, one after the other. The result was that I could hardly have the time to appreciate each sushi, enjoy it, have a little ginger, a drink, before having to wolf down the next. I did not understand what the rush was — there were three other customers before us, and then later another two. That was it for the entire evening. He whipped up one sushi after another, the pacing was horrific.

    There was otoro, chu toro, buri, shima aji, hotate, negitoro (gunkan style), uni (gunkan), ikura (marinated in sake, gunkan style).

    1. THEY WERE ALL TOO COLD. I mean, what do I do? Tell the chef it’s too cold? At that point, I didn’t know the cost of the omakase meal either. So I just continued eating. And it was such a waste. An utter waste. The fish could hardly be enjoyed with the temperature it was served.

    2. Each portion was also huge. Yes in a way it is a good thing, but to be honest, I wish each portion of fish on the sushi was halved and made into two sushi for me! I couldn’t be rude, not initially, and took the entire sushi in my mouth. Argh. By the 4th, I gave up, and had to take the sushi in two bites.

    3. The shari (rice) wasn’t fantastic – they did fall apart in my hands some times, and wasn’t tasty or well-vinegared.

    4. The hotate didn’t taste that fresh. Eeps.

    5. The sake-marinated ikura was way overrated. I honestly felt it only tasted of sake, and nothing of the ikura. And cheap sake too. I wished for the normal ikura, or at least shoyu-marinated.

    The only good bits of the dinner were: the otoro and chutoro (though they were served sooooo cold, it was still supremely delicious, almost like raw beef!), uni, and edamame. Yup, that’s it. Argh!

    The last dish was the shrimp head cooked in miso soup. Served scalding hot. I mean. These are the details to attention that were sorely lacking… and I am very upset about it, given the price.

    The bill came and it was S$220/head for that dinner! So our dinner for two was $440, with no drinks (hot water for me, green tea for him). My dining partner is no sushi-fan like me, but even he was raging at the temperature of the fish, the size of each portion, and the price.

    For that price, I could have had a lovely, lovely lunch at Hashida or Shinji or the likes, and honestly, with much better food, each sushi made with care and precision, with fantastically made and prepared vinegared shari, well-cut and correct temperature fish, that is aged or fresh, that is just perfect as a sushi piece. Sublime.

    To pay $220 for a dinner such as this was horrific. I am most upset about it, and feel extremely ripped off. Not only will I not be returning (obviously), I will make sure my review of Meii Sushi is published in as many places as possible! It isn’t fair to customers to pay so much for such a poor dinner.