We decided to usher in the new year by making a reservation at a brand new Japanese restaurant, Hanare by Takayama located at Ngee Ann City.
As you can see, the restaurant has a very fanciful, expensive-looking entrance. Even at the reception area, you can’t see the inside of the restaurant. On the day we booked, I was curious to see the interior of the restaurant but was told we couldn’t see it because the restaurant was full with customers (the logic is a bit strange, but okay, can’t argue with it). We were asked to make a deposit of $150 for our reservation via Stripe, which will be refunded in 7 working days from the date of our reservation. Also fyi, they won’t deduct the cost of the meal from the deposit… I think this is possibly the first time in my life I’ve had to make such a big deposit for a restaurant reservation 😅😅 In my excitement, I just agreed even though personally, I find it a bit exorbitant, silly and onerous to be depositing 150 dollars for a meal reservation… Imagine if you want to visit this restaurant 10 times… How much would you need to deposit? I’m not sure how high in demand the restaurant is, but I did hear some customers being turned away. In my view, if a restaurant has enough footfall and customers coming by, and a person cancels on their reservation, that shouldn’t be a massive issue. Not to mention, the menu is quite simple, and most Japanese restaurants don’t have this deposit policy as far as I’m aware.
Anyway, looking at the menu, the prices weren’t too extraordinarily out of this world so I paid the deposit. The menu was simple with a few dishes to choose from and reminded me of the menus you get on Singapore Airlines. I really liked the shot of the salmon ikura set below.
The waitress also mentioned that it was the sister restaurant to Takayama at OUE Downtown which I’ve walked past several times – a rather upscale, private looking Japanese restaurant. I enquired as to whether we could be seated in front of the chef preparing the meal etc. But was told they don’t have that here. (Afterwards I read that at Takayama they have such tables where the chef prepares your meal in front of you.) The waitress then offered and promised to us a “private room”.
Do the photos above look like they were taken at a “private room”? 😂 I guess they forgot their offer to us of a private room. So we were shuttled to the main area. Mind you, my mom told me beforehand that she read online that this was a “casual dining” restaurant and I told her no no, it just means dress smart casual, it doesn’t mean Hanare is casual dining. But after seeing the other customers and the whole ambience of the inside of the restaurant, I realised we were probably quite overdressed for Hanare, a restaurant that was well… casual. And not at all fancy like what I had expected (or what the outside looked like). Bummer.
The interior of the restaurant is very plain looking. I guess it tried to look Japanese? But it didn’t really look expensive on the inside. It’s also a little noisy because of the lack of sound insulation – I notice cafes/restaurants with wooden false ceilings tend to be quite noisy like sitting in a canteen. Anyway, it was a little disappointing that the restaurant was not as fancy as it appeared from the outside, and I felt this cheapened the experience for me. After they overheard our grumbling about the absence of the private room, they decided to offer us the private room they had originally promised us. The room was really quite dark (hard to take photographs of food or people) but at least the sound from outside was insulated and there was more privacy which I appreciated.
Tea (houjicha/green tea) is about $5++ and refillable. We ordered hot water instead. My mum and I each ordered the unagi set [$52++]. My dad ordered the seasonal set which was snow crab, which was over $60, I can’t recall the exact price.
Each lunch set consists of chawanmushi, black cod, some sides and sashimi, the main with rice and miso and pickles, and dessert.
I skipped the chawanmushi because I don’t like this kind of thing but both my parents enjoyed it a lot. No complaints from them so far about the food.
Next came the miso black cod with a bit of ginger, kanpachi and tuna sashimi with microgreens and wasabi, some eggplant, taro and chicken karaage with carrot. The waitress didn’t seem to explain what each item was, so I had to ask. But even then, she didn’t seem to know what the karaage was and so we had to eat it to figure out what it was.
I loved the eggplant. But you really can’t go wrong with eggplant. Even the eggplant I grow tastes good to me. The taro was nice as well but it was a bit foreign to me so I struggled to eat it because it came in an odd shape and I had no idea what it was at first and had to guess. Maybe if it was pre-cut into smaller pieces it would have been easier rather than served as a lump?
The cod was really fantastic, probably the highlight of the entire meal. It was warm and cooked to perfection. I didn’t taste much miso but it was good and had no bones. The ginger was quite inedible, the chicken karaage – the chicken was dry, the outside soggy and almost gelatinous and cold, very cold. Actually the food really did taste like it was all prepared beforehand and then served as and when customers ordered, versus a Japanese restaurant where the chefs prepare the food only when you order and you can actually see them preparing the food.
The sashimi was pretty disappointing as well. As you can see above, it’s cut pretty thinly. Would have been better if they served one piece of each fish as a chunk. We didn’t think the sashimi was all that fresh either. The tuna sashimi had a sourish smell… And tasted kind of bloody to me and really left a bad taste in my mouth. Yuck. I was quite put off and didn’t finish the sashimi. Also, I’m really glad I did not order the sashimi! I think by this point in the meal, we were already quite disappointed – the other small things: like how the chopsticks came with no chopstick rest whatsoever… How the waitresses didn’t ensure our cups were full and we always had to ask, how the waitresses didn’t pour water for everyone, just me (the person who asked). Personally, felt like there was a real lack of customer service and care and I just felt a bit uncomfortable around the waitstaff because they didn’t seem very attentive (my mum told me other food reviewers also mentioned that they found the service to be poor). The service really can be improved I feel – it would really make the customer experience much better. Just simple things like explaining what certain dishes are, and smiling at customers for instance. All these small things go a long way.
The mains then arrived quite quickly, the bowl was an interesting mother of pearl type of bowl. There were pickles, spring onions, unagi, edamame, rice, miso, some shredded seaweed.
I think I’m so used to unagi being served as a whole fish that it was weird that it was so chopped up into strangely shaped pieces like the above. I guess it was to make it easier to eat, but still, it was odd to me that it came looking like this. The good thing is that there were no bones but there was quite a lot of skin. The unagi meat itself was also quite thin. At least the rice was Koshihikari rice from Niigata which was nice. There was a lot of rice, I couldn’t finish it.
I’m not sure what you call the thing above but it was quite tall, so it was impossible to eat from it and you had to scoop the rice and fish out and put it into your mother-of-pearl bowl. It was so so, I felt like the unagi at Uya is miles better, and like, eating unagi there, makes you want to have more unagi – it’s just that satisfying. Whereas for Hanare, it felt more like an obligation to dine and eat, so I didn’t really enjoy my food or experience all that much… I guess as customers, we didn’t really feel all that welcomed either? At some point, I even felt a bit guilty to even be at this restaurant and it made me feel like I was “cheating” on my usual Japanese restaurants.
The dessert took really long to eventually arrive and when it was finally served, they didn’t clear our previous food trays which took up quite a lot of space (oh yes, in the private room, there is no button to call a waitress)… Also at the start of the meal, I asked what the dessert was (because I can’t have green tea) and the waitress told me quite confidently that it was “yuzu sorbet”.
Drumroll. It ended up being a small scoop of mango sorbet instead. Lol. The sorbet was quite sweet and had not much subtlety to it. I think at this point I was more than ready to leave. Hopefully I get my $150 deposit back soon. For the curious minds, the total bill was over $200. Pretty sure $200 at a hawker centre can get you way better food (time to support local hawkers?). In the meantime, I’ll continue to search for nice Japanese restaurants in Singapore and abroad that are worth every penny.
Hanare by Takayama
391 Orchard Road #03-07, Takashimaya Shopping Centre Ngee Ann City, Singapore 238872