Sushi Tei @ Paragon
290 Orchard Road, #05-12/18 Paragon
+65 6235 1771
Diversity in the available eating options in Singapore is world renowned. For most, it may conjur up images of the neighborhood coffee shop serving up that sweet spread on toast known as Kaya, the distinct flavors of South Area in the form of a spicy curry and Roti Prata in the Little India neighborhood, or that ever present Hainanese Chicken Rice offered up by a hawker stand in a suburban area. But sushi? It sure doesn’t quite fit into the preconceived set of representative Singaporean food. Despite this, I was surprised to see a fair share of restaurants specializing in Japanese food, though I had never attempted to try it here… until now.
While picking up some items in the Paragon Shopping Centre, I made my way to the top floor knowing there would be some restaurants there, and I was in dire need of satisfying my hunger late in the evening. As with most places, I am am willing to give things a try (and potentially take another “bullet for the team”). Sushi Tei, now in its 14th year of operations, is a Singapore-headquartered chain that has expanded to nine locations in their base country (with two more planned), an outlet in China, ten in Indonesia, one in Thailand, and one in Australia. From all appearances, each outlet is not a cookie-cutter model of the same looking design and layout. The Paragon location that I visited had taken clear influences from modern-style, izakaya in Japan, with its use of open spacing, dimmed lighting, clean lines and use of natural materials to accentuate the atmosphere. I could see how it could be popular with the twenty-something crowd, and it sure was packed with people in this demographic on this night, mostly groups of friends or couples out on dates. Now whether this is the age group that is driving the growth of Japanese cuisine in Singapore, I would have to investigate further to confirm.
As I was dining alone, I was given a spot along the counter facing the open sushi prep area that was in the centre of the room. Towards the back, was the actual kitchen, that was surrounded by banquet seating booths and other table/chair combinations. A large chalkboard was displayed prominently on one wall, outlining the daily specials. The crew in the sushi area was a trio of youths, which did not surprise me as I figured that was the labor they would be using in a place like this. Adorned in clear plastic gloves and visibly cutting the slabs of raw fish with ordinary kitchen knives, I knew that I should not expect much from the sushi. I could see that the bulk of their work was in making those dreaded rolls that everyone in the western world seems to enjoy so much and is what they consider to be sushi. The passing plates of sushi rolling by on the conveyor belt, also did nothing to convince me to give it a try, but alas in the interests of experimentation, I did take a few dishes.
I must say that I have never seen such thinly cut pieces of salmon on nigiri before – they were almost paper thin and reminded me of the thickness one finds with fugu sashimi. And the flavor of the salmon was so weak, it made me realize just how good the salmon is here in Canada. Just watching the crew go through the paces was amusing in itself. The manner in which they would hold the knives, the angle of the cutting motions they made, etc. it all made for a crystal clear view into the mass market, Japanese cuisine market here in Singapore and the level its at right now. To somehow save face, I ordered off the cooked menu and chose a Katsudon – in the hopes that at least they could get that right and it would have an ample layer of rice so as to help fill my hungry belly.
I suppose its my own fault for wanting to stray off the tried and true path by venturing into a chain-style sushi place. A matter of curiosity and convenience (I was staying nearby) got the better of me, as well as some desire to eat something non-Singaporean after a week into my Southeast Asia trip. Aesthetically, having a seat at Sushi Tei @ Paragon is a refreshing change of pace, and made me wish more Japanese restaurants in western Canada would invest in similar design features, and update their outdated looks. But for the food, I would rate what I ate at Sushi Tei as being around the same level as poor to mid-level sushi joints in BC/Alberta. And that after all, is the most important thing to think about here. Save your Sing Dollars for Sing Food la.