Singapore’s dining scene is fertile ground for the ballooning crop of Japanese restaurants that have sprouted in the city over the years. Some of these restaurants—particularly those which had the misfortune of opening in 2020 and 2021—could have temporarily found themselves shrouded in COVID-19’s dark shadow. Still, thanks to a buoyant local appetite for quality Japanese cuisine, they haven’t struggled to survive.
One of these newer and lesser known gems is Sushi Sato, a small omakase restaurant tucked away in a corner on Dempsey Hill, nestled inside a miniature Zen garden that neatly sections off its presence from surrounding drinking holes.
The restaurant looks to be a fairly tight squeeze as you step in, but it has used what space it has to set the scene. The entrance leads you down a corridor marked with bonsai nooks, revealing a separate private room (which exclusively serves a quick seven-course lunch menu) on your way to the serene, pale wood-clad main dining room.
Inside, an open kitchen counter crafted from 200-year-old hinoki wood is hugged by a low-slung dining counter, which seats nine. Hailing from Hokkaido (which is also where he prefers to get most of his ingredients from), master chef Yuji Sato is at the centre of it all, flitting from an open-flame grill in the corner to the wood counter in the middle, where he prepares each dish with immense concentration, brows furrowed.
Chef Sato’s omakase stands out immediately for a few different reasons. His shari (or sushi rice) is a thing of beauty, featuring three distinct Japanese red vinegars combined with specially selected Tsuyahime rice from the Yamagata Prefecture. Loosely packed, each piece of sushi offers just the right amount of bite, but doesn’t fall apart on the fingers as the diner picks it up from the counter. Chef Sato’s use of wasabi is sparing and considered, ensuring that the ingredient’s heat never overpowers the delicate flavours it is paired with.
Chef Sato’s improvisational style of omakase also means that dishes come out in delightfully unpredictable order. Succulent pieces of nigiri—briny aji was followed by creamy salmon, then sweet kamasu—punctuate an assortment of elaborate hot and cold dishes. My dining companion and I shared the counter with a family of five, who had started their omakase half an hour before us. We closely watched the courses that came out to them in anticipation, but Chef Sato had us fooled. From mixing up the order to swapping one dish out for another based on his observations of our preferences, he had a surprise waiting at every turn.
The result was a remarkably consistent, perfectly paced meal. By the end, we were clutching our slightly-too-full stomachs, sipping on cups of hot Hojicha, and reminiscing standout dishes—springy pieces of octopus sashimi swimming in a bowl of tart sauce, a savoury-sweet cube of tamagoyaki made with Hokkaido crab and honey, and three divine slices of lightly torched, melt-in-your-mouth chutoro.
As we finally got up to leave, chef Sato swung by our seats for a final goodbye. “Are you full? I don’t think that was enough food for you,” he joked, laughing heartily as we gawked in response. His convivial personality, paired with great technical precision and keen intuition about the diners he serves, makes for an exceptional omakase experience that shines even in Singapore’s crowded dining scene.