My impression of Okinawan food so far has been En Lounge, also in the vicinity of Mimigar and I find Okinawan cuisine quite palatable.
I chanced upon Mimigar on my way to Satsuma Shochu bar. I wasn't very surprised to find this niche restaurant in Gallery Hotel as the hotel has already established itself as an enclave for food from different japanese culinary styles, including Miharu ramen next door.
Parking was easy in the hotel itself, without having to jostle for parking space at the ever-popular Robertson Quay area.
The resto-bar was small, cosy and promised home-styled Okinawan food. I loved the warm wood interior with soft warm mellow lights. Here the open kitchen concept brings the chef closer to you as they are just cooking behind a bar table. ( Wonder if the alcohol ever explodes) I would strongly recommend reservations on weekends as the stove is only helmed by a chef and ?his souz chef.
I started off with a parma ham salad topped with shaved parmesan cheese. At first glance of the menu, this salad was highly reminiscent or may even be 'plagiarised' off italian menus. However, a japanese twist was added to the dish with its own unique sweet-savoury brown sauce. The parma was all-italiano.
The knowledgeable and friendly waitress recommended the bitter gourd tofu with bacon stir-fry. Simple dish, but tasted amazing. The bitter gourd was not bitter, fried till fragrant and the bacon lent its distinctive porky savoury flavour.
I finished off with a small soba. Again, simple as it sounded, the soup base was white opaque and delicious, probably boiled over a slow fire for many hours. The usually bland soba was al dente and imbibed the soup rather nicely rendering it very tasty. Although the dish came topped with canned chinese pork, i must say it went very nicely with the soup/soba and I give it my stamp of approval.
I had a shochu made from sweet potato on the rocks to go with all the food. The shochu was crisp and light, with a vague sweet potato taste in it. I think it's good as a dessert drink too.
Can't wait to bring some friends over for a warm, cosy get-together!
Addendum. I returned 3 days later and had the Rafute... It beats any chinese braised 3-layered pork any day.
The Soumen fried with tuna was delicious. Portion large enough for a one-dish meal.
The Rayu-ae was interesting. I liked it, although it would be deemed too salty for most Singaporean palates. It's a great food for accompanying alcohol.
The Salad of corn was not very nice. Tasted rather organic. Too healthy for me. Too Raw!
Well known for its fountain-of-youth-like properties, the Okinawan diet has become popular among many Singaporeans hoping to eat their way younger. To understand more about this seemingly magical cuisine that promises to endow one with everlasting good health (and maybe great looks to boot), we went to this genuine Okinawan restaurant in the Gallery Hotel. And we were not disappointed. A good first sign of authenticity was that the placemat menus were entirely in Japanese, which was probably fine for the good number of Japanese patrons in the busy restaurant—another good sign. More proof lay in the fact that the food was the real deal, and we ordered plentifully and freely.
There are unusual Okinawan items like “mimigar” or pigs’ ears; “sea grapes” which are a kind of seaweed; and a copious amount of pork (a hallmark of Okinawan food). We passed, however, on the exotic stuff and dove in with a heavenly pork belly (rafute, $12); grilled Wagyu ($35); a very fresh stir-fried bittergourd and bacon (goya chanpuru, $6); an interesting tuna with kimchi ($13); and some delicious raw, marinated fi sh ($24). We could have easily kept going but the small portions were deceptively rich and fi lled us up. To cut through the food, we ordered a few single servings of a uniquely and seriously strong Okinawan alcohol called awamori. Don’t mess with this drink; it is 30-60 percent alcohol and at its most concentrated is flammable. If the Okinawans are tough enough to drink this, no wonder they live to over a hundred. This alone would draw us back here, along with the plentiful good food to help the booze from going straight to our heads! Give this place a try—it’s sure to be a hit whether you’re young or old.
The first time that struck me about Okinawa was their warm and cozy ambience and the next thing I noticed was the large numbers of Japanese diners so I reckoned the food must be up to standard. Well, I was right, the food was indeed great and I loved the Rayu-Ae and Tuna Souman but wait, what is this pig ear thingy about..ee. Anyway the bittergourd tofu was good too and the service was ichiban!
Mimigar at the Gallery Hotel is an izakaya; a Japanese pub serving small plates of food and alcohol, much like a Spanish tapas bar. And a worthy one at that.
It’s a cosy space – from the bar counter, chefs can be seen preparing items from the menu of salty eats. The food is Okinawan, hence dominated by pork, a sign of Chinese influence.
The menu is detailed and exotic, as demonstrated by our 15-plus chosen dishes: we started off with a passable okonomiyaki ($14), a Japanese pancake with toppings of cabbage, octopus, cheese and salmon. The flat dish is piled on with bonito flakes and drizzled with mayonnaise and a fruit sauce not unlike Worcestershire sauce. Sadly, the dish was only passable despite the numerous ingredients; perhaps the batter needed more seasoning.
This, and crab croquettes ($9) with a soft potato and cream center helped line our stomachs for the izakaya ritual of alternate drinks and food that followed.
We could not resist the pork belly, an Okinawan speciality done two ways: one, cooked until fork-tender in a sweet soya sauce, and another cured in salt then grilled.
Vegetable lovers would take to the bittergourd and ladies fingers ($7 each). Both stir-fried with beaten egg and pork, these chanpuru (‘mixed’)-styled dishes are reminiscent of Chinese home-cooked fare that hit home with us.
Noodles on the menu came bathed in a rich and tasty thick black squid ink sauce ($17), easily beating any Italian restaurant’s version. The seasonal tempura sweet potato sticks ($15) are sweet and nutty, while the deep fried seaweed dumplings (aosa tempura, $9) are redolent of the ocean.
Unfortunately the Mimigar Ponzu (pig’s ear in a tart citrus-based sauce, $8) was a let-down. It came thinly slivered and meagrely tossed with bean sprouts in a sour ponzu sauce. The shreds were so fine they were hard to find among the sprouts.
We washed it down with the comforting barely-set yushi tofu soup (fluffy tofu soup, $10) and zenzai ($8), a Japanese version of the ice kachang studded with soft chewy rice cakes.
In all, an experience like this is not cheap – costing about $50 a head, excluding drinks.
Aside from being the name of the restaurant which serves Okinawan cuisine, Mimigar (1 Nanson Road, #01-08 Gallery Hotel, tel:6235 1511) also refers to pig's ears which happens to be one of the specialty of the restaurant. Okinawan cuisine as I have learnt lately appears to share similarity in style or influence to Chinese/Taiwanese food. There seems quite a bit of stir frying involved in the dishes. Pork apparently is widely used and considered to be an important ingredient. Interestingly, seafood seemed to be much less visible then in other Japanese restaurants. More interestingly, Okinawan cuisine also features a taco rice which is something that is identifiable as Mexican and also probably as most would guess what it might be. Tomato salsa, melted cheese and shredded lettuce over rice. The ones here comes in the regular variety and also a chef's special which includes curry.
The pleasant ambience of this place, along with it's location seems to suggest that the restaurant would be rather pricey, but that is apparently far from the case. That being said, the bill does add up since the portions here works pretty much like Chinese food and comes in small portioned dishes. Also not to neglect the mentioning of the fact that this place charges for their otoshi which consists of some simmered vegetable, pickled vegetables and a fried potato ball without any indication of so by the serving staff nor the menu. Considering that most of the dishes are priced less than the otoshi itself, I thought it was quite expensive at $10 per person.
The mimigar is something that would probably be of an acquired taste. The dish is essentially the skin from the pig's ears along with cartilage. So as you can imagine, the texture of the dish is both chewy and crunchy and thinking of pig's ears as you eat them probably doesn't really help you enjoy it much if you're having them for the first time like I am. Apart from the texture, there is very little to be said of the taste beyond the creamy peanut paste which coats the shredded pig ear skins. I would say that as interesting as it might be (it doesn't taste too bad), I'm probably in no hurry to order these again.
The umi budou are also known as sea grapes. I hadn't the faintest idea what sea grapes where until the lady chef explained that they looked and tasted like tobiko in texture, but was actually a sea based plant lifeform. As you can see from the picture, these pretty looking jade colored tiny globules that come in long bunches do appear very much like flying fish roe. The taste is however akin to a very, and I mean very, mild flavored seaweed. Texture wise, it comes across like roe with the same burst in your mouth effect. They were served with a dish of ponzu which really makes them very appetizing.
I'm quite impressed with the rafute which is basically very tender simmered pork belly. These are served hot with a sweetish sauce and fat that disintegrates in your mouth. The great thing about the pork belly is that it stayed soft even after the dish got cold and tasted still as good. I'll be sure to get more of these if I come back to this place.
The rayu-ae is actually an appetizer, the first of it's kind I've had and I must say that I enjoyed it a lot. There's cubes of maguro, cream cheese, shredded leek and all of that tossed in what is described on the menu as Ishigaki Island special chilli oil that is surprisingly very fragrant stuff. What impressed me about this dish is that the curry-like chilli oil blended really harmoniously in terms of flavor with the tuna and cream cheese, creating a very mouth watering effect.
There's the hirayahcis are some sort of Japanese pancakes. The curry and cheese flavor didn't quite turn out the way I imagined it to be as there was really little cheese in the pancake. The curry had the spice, but not the edge, but that wasn't something I wasn't prepared for in Japanese food. What I didn't expect was that the menu mentioned daikon which I could neither see or taste and a citrus based sauce which I suspect to be ponzu which also didn't arrive with the dish. Instead, there were bits of minced meat (I think it was beef) and the whole thing reminded me in a good way of murtabak. This was actually quite good and comforting to the point that I was happily downing the slices almost non-stop.
The pork innards soup is something that most of us here would be quite accustomed to in the Chinese form of the dish. The main difference of this nakam-jiru is that the taste of the soup is surprisingly, more strongly of mushroom than the other pork innards. I was tempted to ask for pepper for this one, but it's not because that it tasted bad. It's merely because this was pretty much like having the regular pork innards soup which I normally have with a healthy dose of pepper.
I was initially a little apprehensive of this dessert. The original intention was to try an Earl Grey cheesecake from the menu which wasn't available, so this was one of the other 2 or 3 options remaining which I had picked. The apprehension comes from the fact that green tea and macha based desserts are everywhere and the taste has become a diluted fad that everyone else is trying to replicate for the lack of originality on their part. Fortunately for Mimigar, this green tea mousse of theirs was retentive of the green tea fragrance instead of just the ubiquitous tea and sugar. I enjoyed this one.
On the overall, the food at Mimigar was quite unexpected in many ways, but also in pleasant manners. I like this place enough to think of returning to try more of their offerings some time in the future.
see pics here