During a recent visit to Shin Terroir, a new Japanese grill restaurant on Tras Street, much was in disarray despite their planned opening in a few days.
A glass door that beckons into a garden entrance had shattered without warning earlier that day. The furniture for their wine lounge was not yet delivered.
But Shin Terroir was already cooking like an old hand. Blistered chicken skin was pulled tautly over shards of gizzard and garlic chives like a meaty mille feuille. A Hakata ramen with a broth so thick it bordered on stew. An oden with soft daikon that started off mild and ended up rich with the sweet, oily drippings from grilled kinmedai (golden eye snapper).
Led by Singaporean chef Nicolas Lee, Shin Terroir is based on yakitori joints in Osaka, and he spent several months in one learning from a master. Almost every dish on their set menu (S$198++) touches their custom-built, bincho-fired, three-tier grill, which is manned by Japanese chef Takeshi Nakayama. While this is Nakayama’s maiden job in Singapore, he ran a yakitori restaurant in Hokkaido for two decades that his hands are virtually hairless from the heat.
While most dishes are traditional, some, like the ramen, have been tuned for local palates. “Singaporeans like the broth thick,” Lee said. Using fresh chicken from local poultry farm Toh Thye San, the skin was done shatteringly crispy – how Singaporeans want it, Lee said – while the folds stayed chewy like examples in Japan. The liver can seared until well done – another local preference – but a request for medium-rare brought out a delicate funk accented by sweet spiced cookie crumbs.
For dessert, kaya toast, which pastry chef Aleka Yaw turned into a Japanese brown sugar mochi with hojicha custard and azuki bean. It was chewy, luscious, and so memorable that Lee is jealous of it. “Every night I dream about how I can beat it,” he quipped.
While Shin Terroir plays to the preference of local diners, Iru Den mirrors the country’s culinary melting pot. The Japanese restaurant is a culmination of Singapore chef Javier Low’s experience, which he opened in 2021 after closing the one-person kitchen, Il Den. Low also runs the wine bar Kumi Den in Duxton.
Low draws upon both modern European and Japanese cooking, a result of his time at the one-Michelin-starred Cenci in Kyoto and trailblazing Singapore restaurant Iggy’s, but the most fascinating aspect is his use of Taiwanese produce. “The quality is very underrated in the region,” he said.
Currently, about 40 percent of the menu is populated with Taiwanese vegetables and seafood, which Low sources directly from the island’s farmers and fishermen. He hopes to make it entirely Taiwanese by the end of the year.
In the new nine-course menu (S$298++) launched last month, a snack of anago (saltwater eel) with burdock was stacked on breaded and fried tamago, crunchy like a rice cake. Umami from a tomato gazpacho and dry-aged shima aji (striped jack) underlined the freshness of a Amela tomato, asparagus, turnip, and mustard green salad. Chawanmushi contained zero traces of salt, save for a deep, earthy flavour coming entirely from chicken reduction and sautéed jumbo nameko mushroom.
A holdover from Low’s Il Den days is his uni somen: bracingly cold wheat noodles with buttery sea urchin and sweet red shrimp, plus a tinge of heat from young wasabi. In a preview of what to expect, amadai (sea bream) with delicately crisp scales led an all-Taiwanese cast of salt-baked bamboo shoots and charred spring onion puree. Singapore also gets a look in through a donabe of snow crab and sakura ebi, with its rice cooked slowly in a seafood broth under its bottom turned crunchy, similar to claypot rice.
Like Shin Terroir, Iru Den also does mochi for dessert, but it formed the base for black glutinous rice parfait, amazake ice cream, and an ethereal rice crisp. It recalled the Chinese fermented sweet rice porridge jiu niang, as a pairing of Madeira port added hints of white chocolate and caramel. Is it Japanese, Taiwanese, or Singaporean? It did not matter when it was this fantastic.
Shin Terroir is located at 80 Tras St, Singapore 079019. Book here.
Iru Den is located at 27 Scotts Rd, Singapore 228222. Book here.
(Hero and featured images credits: Shin Terroir; Iru Den)