Without a doubt, Singaporeans enjoy dining out at Japanese restaurants, evident, one might rightly presume, in the number of new establishments that have hit the scene in recent years. Oddly enough, though, finding good and reasonably priced fare is not as easy as one might imagine. So, imagine our surprise when we found one such option at the Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore.

Chef Akiba's mastery of dashi is evident in the simplest things, such as this appetiser of asari clams and lightly-cooked oyster from Hiroshima

After three decades, stalwart restaurant Nadaman has been left out of the recently revamped Tower Wing. Instead, Nami, a new Japanese restaurant and bar, will be taking over its obligations, as well as the space of the now defunct Blu on the 24th floor, so you can expect a privileged view to complement your meal.

(Related: Tatler Checks Into... Shangri-La Hotel Sinagpore's Revamped Tower Wing)

But make no mistake—the restaurant, headlined by Chef Shigeo Akiba from Yokohama, serves quality traditional fare you’d enjoy even if you only had four walls to gaze at while eating.

Of course, the perks are most distinct at lunch. Aside from two private dining areas that seats six and 10 guests respectively, the main dining hall, which includes counter seats, is bathed in plenty of natural light. A change in the weather notwithstanding, the setting is bright and inviting, elegant yet casual. The food too is unfussy yet refined, prepared with the finesse one would expect from a chef with over 30 years of experience under his belt—crowned, no less, by a few royal banquets he has had the honour of preparing.

Lunch time is also a great opportunity to appreciate the advantages Akiba brings to the table as a dashi master. Here, the “broth of life” is made using the best kombu sourced from the sea off northern Hokkaido and katsuobushi from a reputable producer in Kyushu. The latter is said to be such a perfectionist, he only selects one out of 10,000 pieces to be fermented and aged, resulting in a more complex and sweeter flavour, and an intense fragrance. 

Akiba's decades of experience includes cooking for the likes of Japan's Princess Takamado Hisako and French actress Sophie Marceau

But it is also Akiba’s experienced hand with seasoning, and a preference for a more nuanced profile over bold flavours, that allow such delicate flavours to shine. This was clearly the case with an appetiser of asari clams in sake and a little chilli ponzu, served alongside a lightly-boiled oyster from Hiroshima that flaunted hints of dashi, sesame oil and citrus.

This was served as part of the chef’s curated lunch menu, followed by a vegetable soup that was more like a modified veloute, served over white asparagus and house-made egg tofu, mountain vegetables (including that great looking ostrich fern) and expertly poached shrimp. It was an exercise in simplicity that yielded some surprisingly complex suggestions, which I couldn’t help but speculate was in part the result of a superior dashi base.

A celebration of simple foods done exceptionally well can be found in a bowl of vegetable soup with house-made tofu

Easy to love

The next course of assorted sashimi needs little vindication—the quality of the seafood speaks for itself. Still, it helps to know that the featured fish are seasonal. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised at this recent lunch to have sweet aoriika (big fin) reef squid from Toyama, traditionally a winter speciality, that was a delightful addition to some of the fattiest cuts of the tuna—the otoro and chutoro—cast alongside fresh Yellow Jack and sea bream.

Seasonal specialities are flown in from various regions, from Tokyo to as far north as Hokkaido, and from suppliers Akiba has trusted the last 30 years

Diners have a choice of either fish or beef for the main dish. And, leaving it up to the chef, I was again surprised and pleased with his decision to serve a portion of his signature pan-fried tuna head. Wild-caught from the sea of Nagasaki, the fish head is marinated in the chef’s special sweet soya sauce and cooked in dashi. It’s a nimono-like dish but finished in a pan, and served with bell peppers and stewed daikon. While I can’t deny the almost automatic desirability of the alternative hotpot dish of Australian wagyu (there’s something to be said about the beef’s ability to sell itself), I really admire the confidence he showed in deciding to go with the tuna head, which is, in my view, a more prized indulgence.

Of course, if you are craving beef, you might be better off going a la carte or splurging on an additional dish from the “not to be missed” section, because it includes a serving of sliced A4 Japanese Saga wagyu sirloin with Kyoto vegetables in a dashi broth.

The main course of pan-fried tuna head can be had as part of the lunch course menu or a la carte, alongside other must-haves such as the steamed Nami abalone in Kimo sauce, and the Saga wagyu with sea urchin over rice dressed with chef's special sauce and seasonal truffle

If you’re sticking with the set lunch menu, the next course is a traditional bowl of rice cooked with corn, paired with red miso soup and a selection of house-made pickles. It was an ideal filler—like the noodle dish you’d find in a Chinese course meal; not particularly memorable but, in this case, not bland or dreary and lazily one-note either. Still, I wasn’t compelled to finish it, which also meant I had just enough room to finish my dessert (this changes according to chef’s preferences), and I enjoyed every bit of the red bean soup with green tea ice cream, seasonal fruit and a selection of mochi, such as the shiratama dango.

Nami, Level 24 Tower Wing, Shangri-la Hotel Singapore, 22 Orange Grove Road, Tel: 6213 4398, shangri-la.com/singapore/shangrila/dining/restaurants/nami

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