There is no dearth of Japanese celebrity chefs in Singapore, but so beloved is the cuisine to the Lion City, even locals are taking up the cause. Among Singapore most popular Japanese restaurants are a handful started by Singaporeans—can you think of any? Here we profile the local heros behind some of our favorite places.
Purveyor of delicious pork burgers on Circular Road since 2014, since before they became so ubiquitous in Singapore, Dojo is a mecca for the pork-obsessed who are also on a budget. Over a dozen pork-heavy burgers aside, Dojo also serves Japanese-style rice bowls and contemporary fusion fare like seaweed fries. And who better to helm it all than restaurant founder Janice Tan, whose love of pork comes from her family. Her grandfather is a pig farmer, her father is a real foodie and her mother is a great cook. They helped her learn to handle and prepare pork. She’s now an analytical cook who takes special care to enhance the sweetness of the dishes at Dojo. All sauces and marinades are made from scratch, in-house.
Once a fixture on NUS’s Kent Ridge campus, the 60-seat Waa Cow! Now at Stephen Riady Centre is still beloved for its industrial-chic décor and it’s affordable poke bowls, superfood salads and more. Behind this enterprise are Aaron Yeo and Clarence Lau, who found their passion for the food business early. They ran a café at Singapore Management University (SMU) while completing their undergrad degrees. Despite brief stints in the corporate sector, they found their way back to F&B. They also founded artisanal kaya company Social Food Co. and started Japanese venture Waa Cow. When not at work making food, the guys behind Waa Cow! also do a good amount of eating out and are ever ready with restaurant recommendations. They recommend Shiraishi, a pioneer in the local Japanese food scene. Yeo says, “ Shiraishi was there long before the superstars like Hashida came to Singapore, and that was where I got my first omakase experience. It blew my mind.” They also like the chirashi don lunch set at Aoki.
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The sexy new opening behind Amoy Street is as well regarded for its food as it is for its date night vibes. The charred corn, uni, dehydrated soy and chive dish has got to be one of the best things we have tasted in the past few months. And the man behind it is Singaporean chef Jeremmy Chiam, who also has a two-year stint at the acclaimed Iggy’s under his belt. The fine dining temple taught him an appreciation for French-Japanese cuisine, where modern cooking techniques are used to highlight the beauty of Japanese ingredients. This is what he tries to bring across at Le Binchotan. “ I go for simplicity,” he says. “ The maximum number of components in any of my dishes is three or four as I prefer to let the ingredients speak for themselves.”
The word kanshoku means “ to finish eating every last bit of your food” in Japanese. And that’s exactly what you’ll want to do at this ramen bar by Melvin Ang. Put aside all expectations, and get ready for some amazing twists on everyone’s favorite Japanese comfort food: black garlic, truffle, to name just a couple. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t deep traditional knowledge behind every bowl. When deciding to make a career switch into F&B, Ang—who was completely untrained as a chef—figured that while making ramen is a long process, taking over 12 hours, it is also one that he could master. That’s how he decided to master the dish, putting months into travelling, researching and learning from various chefs, before heading into the kitchen himself. While Kanshoku breaks conformity with its different flavors, Melvin is extremely meticulous about the process. He puts in the hours, uses the best imported ingredients and has no qualms about investing in a costly ramen-noodle making machine to ensure utmost quality. The result is a beloved and slowly growing empire.
A beloved place for super porky ramen in the CBD, Buta Ramen offers plenty of decadent twists—the sous-vide teriyaki glazed ribs aside, the most popular dish is the Spicy Chilli Boss Rib Ramen, followed by the creative Beer Belly Ramen, where the already rich tonkotsu broth gets a kick of beer. The inventive dude-food chef behind the menu here are co-founders John Ng and Sandy Yeo, who first started out as multimedia designers. But their love for meat prevailed, and they decided to pursue the food business. They started to brainstorm potential opportunities for starting their own empire, involving a creative and visionary take on a dish. This was where the concept of ramen and ribs was born. Sandy is adamant on value for customers, and ensures that portions are generous. Besides the special element of ribs, Sandy has tailored the ramen flavors to suit the local Singapore palate: the broth is less salty than its traditional counterpart, and side dishes like the grilled kakuni buns prove to be a hit with locals, as they are very much like Singapore’s very own kong bak pau.