Southpaw Bar & Sushi: Exclusive Japanese Bar Seats Only 12 Customers a Night, Serving Top-Notch Fusion Omakase with Whisky Pairings
November 21, 2017
Sequestered along a row of shophouses on Cavan Road, it is easy to miss the sliver of the shopfront occupying a narrow unit. The obscure entrance is simply furnished with an automatic lock door and a small glass panel featuring several bottles of whiskies on rows of wooden shelves. The nondescript shopfront gives no indication to the gastronomical treasure trove that awaits within Southpaw Bar & Sushi, where the passion and dedication towards the art of gastronomy is almost palpable.
Southpaw Bar & Sushi is one of the few F&B establishments left in Singapore where the devotion towards culinary perfection and unparalleled customer service overweighs the desire of cashing in with mass orders. The bar only opens at 6pm and seats exclusively 12 people in maximum every evening. But if you have a group of six or more pax, you can drop the restaurant a call and they can personalize an intimate party for you outside the restaurant's usual hours of operation.
The 12-seater Californian styled bar oozes a cozy homeliness despite its limited space. Diners dine right at the bar where they can watch their dinner being prepared fresh from scratch right infront of their very eyes and interact with Southpaw's warm and friendly team about anything under the sun – from food topics to matters of everyday life.
Dining is strictly by reservation only, not because the owner, Roy Ng, is snobbish, but this is how he guarantees absolute freshness of the supreme quality produce used in each dish. The appropriate quantity of ingredients are imported from Japan directly to Southpaw’s front door every day, with regards to the number of reservations scheduled on the day itself, so nothing goes to waste, or is reused the next day. The shipment air-flown in daily is obtained fresh from the various prefectures of Japan, ensuring a diverse range of produce which each prefecture specializes in.
The Ten 2008 #3 Light Highland – Light and slightly spicy with floral and grassy notes
Yellow Spot 12 Year Old – Sweet and fruity with bouquet of bananas, peach, apricot and vanilla
Southpaw Bar & Sushi set up shop just four months ago, out of Roy's fervent desire to demonstrate how whisky and sushi are a match made in heaven. This unusual marriage is the main selling point that sets Southpaw apart from other Japanese bars in Singapore. As a whisky connoisseur, Roy believes that the components in whisky take on a whole unique palette of flavors after the oils and juices from the dishes served coat our tongues.
Fuji-Sanroku (Kirin) – Sweet with notes of chocolate, vanilla and caramel
Whisky pairing is available at a separate cost, depending on the type of boutique whiskies that Roy or the head chef, Kenny Khoo, determines best to be paired with the food. If whisky is not your choice of poison, you can consult Kenny on sake pairings, or simply order a refreshing chilled beer with its effervescent carbonation to perk your tastebuds.
With the exception to permanent fixtures on the a la carte food menu, the dishes for the different types of omakase will differ from day to day, depending on the freshness and availability of the produce. Southpaw only showcases the best seasonal ingredients obtainable, so you can rest assure that the quality of your dishes are of utmost superiority.
Southpaw creates Japanese-fusion masterpieces, incorporating elements of western culinary techniques to the age-old art of Japanese cuisine. Japanese and western culinary techniques weigh on two opposite ends of the spectrum. The Japanese focuses on using only the crème de la crème of ingredients, allowing the naturally delicious flavors of the top-notch produce to sweep all over your tastebuds, while the Westerners heavily rely on the complexity of their recipes, creating dishes that explode with full-bodied flavors. When these two contrasting cuisines are masterfully infused together, the end result are dishes so heavenly, the first taste will feel like an out-of-body experience.
There are three tiers of omakase to select from. The Omakase Ume ($68++) is made up of two appetizers, a platter of sashimi, a small bara chirashi don, miso soup and dessert. The Omakase Take ($98++) comprises of two appetizers, sashimi carpaccio, a platter of sashimi, seven assorted pieces of sushi, miso soup and dessert. The Omakase Matsu ($138++) features three appetizers, sashimi carpaccio, a platter of sashimi, eight assorted pieces of sushi (includes premium uni and botan ebi sushi), temaki roll, miso soup and dessert.
Roy selected Omakase Take for my tasting. The middle tier omakase set was a great introductory meal at Southpaw as it gave me a good gauge of the variety spreading across the three omakase sets.
Two Appetizers: Scottish Loch Fyne Oyster & Monkfish Liver
The two appetizers were served together, beautifully plated to whet the appetite. It is an ingenious culinary decision to present both the light and juicy Scottish Loch Fyne Oyster along with the rich and creamy Monkfish Liver together, for contrasting textures and flavors that helped in opening up the palate.
Scottish Loch Fyne Oyster
Loch Fyne Oysters Ltd is the only company that cultivates these world reknowned oysters, making these oysters rather exclusive and rare to find in the mass market. These special Scottish oysters have won multiple awards for its superb taste and quality both regionally and internationally. They are grown naturally on the shore at Ardkinglas at the head of Loch Fyne, and feed entirely on plankton with no artificial input of other substance. These oysters are some of the cleanest in the world, clocking in 95% of the time for Class A purity, and despite being naturally pure, they are still put through a 42-hour purification process for good effect.
A few drops of Chef Kenny’s special ponzu sauce, a dollop of momiji oroshi (grated daikon radish and red chili peppers) and a sprinkle of spring onions added a light and flavorful citrusy zing, a hint of spice and a touch of evergreen sharpness respectively to the oyster. The very essence of the ocean inundated my tastebuds with the first slurp. The oyster meat was plump, meaty, juicy and buttery with fresh and clean cucumber-like burst of flavors released in each bite. The initial brininess that hit my palate slowly evolved into a sweet and mellow finish packed with juices, followed by a clean and crisp finish.
Whisky Shot from Oyster Shell
Roy recommended pouring a splash of The Ten 2008 #3 Light Highland’s pale champagne colored liquid into the empty oyster shell, as the single malt scotch whisky will intermix with the lingering oyster juices to create a uniquely gorgeous amalgamation that cannot be recreated in bottled whiskies. The fresh, grassy and floral notes of the whisky suffused with the briny salinity left in the shell came out tasting like liquid sunshine at the beach, summery and sparkling with the floral, grassy, briny and salty flavors playfully dancing on the tastebuds.
Ankimo (Monkfish Liver)
The monkfish is a butt ugly deep-sea creature that looks like it should just remain at the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean and never make its appearance in the light of the day. However, despite resembling an aquatic monster that crawled out from a bad 80s' horror film, it houses a delectable treasure within its grotesque form that more than makes up for its terrifying aesthetics.
Ankimo (monkfish liver) is regarded as one of the chimi (delicacies) of Japan and ranked number 32 on World's 50 most delicious foods compiled by CNN Go in 2011 for good reason. Touted as the foie gras of the ocean for its creamy decadence, it is very rich and luscious, but yet at the same time, very light and delicate with a silky and velvety texture that melts in the mouth.
Southpaw's ankimo is simply served with some momiji oroshi (grated daikon radish and red chili peppers) for a slightly sharp kick, chopped spring onions for an evergreen brightness and lightly brushed with some citrusy ponzu to alleviate any fishy scent. The two rich and creamy coins of ankimo carried a slightly smoky umami taste, with a subtle fruity sweetness just like foie gras but without the heavy intense wallop of flavors that overwhelm the tastebuds. It slowly melted on the tongue giving off a clean wash of flavors with just a faint whisper of its salty oceanic origin in the aftertaste.
The thin slices of salmon belly sashimi were each topped with spring onions, lumpfish caviar and candied bonito flakes, with truffle oil drizzled over. The salmon sashimi was fatty, creamy and tender, and the way that the salmon was sliced ultra-fine and paper-thin further added to a melt-in-the-mouth texture. The lumpfish caviar gave off a juicy pop of saltiness that perfectly brought the sweet bonito flakes, the evergreen freshness of the spring onions and the musky and earthy aromas of the truffle oil together with the silky and creamy salmon belly in creating a refreshingly complex flavor and texture profile.
The sashimi platter consisted of six varieties of sashimi; geoduck, ika, hirame, mekajiki, aburi shiro maguro, and otoro, beautifully plated and served with Southpaw's special soya sauce brewed with sake and mirin. The sashimi platter was served with a small chrysanthemum flower, a stalk of mint leaf flowers, and radish flower bulbs. Roy recommended mixing the chrysanthemum petals, the mint leaf flowers and radish flower bulbs into the soya sauce to create a floral, mildly minty and slightly sharp multi-dimensional dipping sauce for the sashimi. The contents on the sashimi platter change with season, so there is always that element of surprise for the diner.
Geoduck (pronounced “gooey-duck”) is a giant phallic looking shellfish that sells for a hefty price. The geoduck sashimi served in Southpaw was derived from the trunk of the mollusk, where the meat is best eaten raw. The geoduck trunk was sweet and slightly oceanic like oysters but with a crunchy and crisp texture that made it a joy to chew. The delicate crunchy clam quality is unique to geoduck, and due to how dense the meat of the trunk is, when it is sliced very thin on the bias, there a specific snap to the bite.
Cut into thin strips that resembled strands of noodles, the translucent white flesh of the ika's mantle had a firm texture with a slight bite that relented to a tender chewing experience and a refreshing sweet flavor with a slightly viscous mouthfeel.
Hirame (Olive Flounder) with Japanese beansprouts
The hirame was a very light, lean and delicate tasting fish with a sweet and clean flavor, and a firm texture. The Japanese beansprouts it was wrapped in gave a nice green crunch to the supple and bright-tasting flesh of the hirame.
Mekajiki (Swordfish) possesses almost the same nutritional profile as sirloin steak, with way more omega-3 fatty acids. It is also low in sodium and rich in niacin, vitamin B12 and phosphorus, but most importantly, it is extremely delicious. Southpaw's mekajiki was pearlescent white, with an intricate webbing of fat streaking through the meat. Though the mekajiki had a rather supple texture, the high fat content within its flesh superseded its rigid composition, giving rise to a rather paradoxical firm yet tender textural surprise that very slowly melted in the mouth with a mild and sweet finish.
Aburi Shiro Maguro (Seared Albacore Tuna)
Searing shiro maguro over a grill really brought out and intensified its naturally delicious flavors secreted away in its flesh. The shiro maguro was lightly grilled over an open flame that helped achieve those sultry cross-hatch sear marks that not only looked pretty, but served an inner purpose of locking in juices. The seared white tuna was abundantly succulent, with smoky and savory being its two distinct flavors that immediately erupted on the tastebuds. It had a buttery and fatty texture, chock-full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and the whole slice delicately melted in the mouth to smooth and velvety flakes.
Otoro (Bluefin Tuna Belly)
The highly coveted and extensively marbled slice of otoro (bluefin tuna belly) served at Southpaw was sweet, succulent, rich, creamy and so tender that it rapidly dissolved like snow as soon as it kissed my tongue. The silky and oily texture of the otoro had a delicate richness that lingered on the palate long after the fountain of tumultuous pleasure derived from eating it has ebbed away. The labyrinth of fat that wildly coursed through the tuna belly created an extremely sensual chemical reaction in the mouth, a luscious evolutionary ride of the fatty and buttery fish that morphed from succulent to creamy to a snowy melt-in-the-mouth viscous goodness, exploding with umami.
Assortment of Sushi (7 pieces)
The assortment of sushi will be prepared just as it is meant to be eaten as soon as it is served. Chef Kenny will brush on just the right amount of soya sauce, dab on the perfect pinch of wasabi, or integrate other necessary condiments to the sushi as best he sees fits. The sushi is ready to be popped into the diner's mouth as soon as Chef Kenny places it on the wooden block situated directly infront of the diner. You are strongly advised against adding on any other condiments to the sushi. The very idea of opting for a omakase is leaving your dining experience in the chef's capable hands, so eat the sushi as how it is intended. Trust the chef, he knows best.
For the purpose of this tasting, there will be eight pieces of sushi featured instead of seven like what is indicated in the omakase menu, as my dinner partner had to swap his botan ebi out for ikura because he has an allergy to shrimp.
Maguro (Bluefin Tuna) Sushi
The leaner meat found around the spine of the bluefin tuna is called the akami, which is the portion served when it is simply stated as “maguro” in restaurants. This cut of the tuna is usually a deep crimson in color due to the presence of iron rich myoglobin it its muscles which helps the tuna propel through the water at speeds of up to 70km/hour. The iron rich myoglobin gave the tuna a taste and texture almost like very rare filet mignon – smooth and velvety with a mild succulent sweetness, but without the metallic aftertaste.
Aburi Hirame (Seared Olive Flounder) Sushi
During winter, the olive flounder puts on a luscious layer of fat under its skin. Only a skilled chef is able to remove the skin while preserving that layer of fat beneath. This layer of fat can easily be seen especially when it is cooked. Southpaw lightly grilled the hirame to bring out the flavors of the fish, and the slick sheen glistening on its surface is indicative of a fatty and oily fish sliced with expertise. The hirame in the sushi assortment slightly differed from the one in the sashimi platter as the flesh from the aburi hirame sushi came from the area around the fish's fin called the engawa, prized due to its limited quantity (only eight servings in the entire flounder) and the slightly crunchy and chewy nature of the top muscle which in the process of mastication, releases glycogen from the muscles, turning it into simpler sugars as it mixes with the saliva in the mouth. It was thick and buttery in the mouth but quickly melted into a rich, oily and smoky combination of viscous juices with every chew.
Aji (Horse Mackerel) Sushi
The horse mackerel is a small, silver-skinned, strong-tasting fish packed with omega-three acids, DHA and EPA, but can slightly turn people off with its potent flavor of the sea. The horse mackerel in Southpaw was served topped with spring onions and grated ginger so that their spicy sharpness cuts through the fishy taste for a brighter flavor. The flesh was a beautiful gradient of pastel pink to terra cotta red and had a firm al-dente texture with a slightly oily mouthfeel and a rich oceanic taste that lingered on the palate.
Ikura (Salmon Roe) Sushi
Nestled on a tiny pile of rice and cupped within the confines of a strip of nori, each little orange sphere of omega-3 oil was as fresh as it gets, its membrane so thin that it dissolved from the warmth of the tongue, surrendering the deluge of the rich juices encompassed within, without the need of even biting into it. The juicy ikura (salmon roe) exploded in the mouth, releasing all its lovely salty fatty juices with a tinge of a refreshingly fruity and sweet tang from the yuzu that it had been incorporated with.
Botan Ebi (Botan Shrimp) Sushi
The botan ebi is a Hokkaido specialty that usually surfaces in Japanese restaurants during their fishing season from October to May. Two plump and juicy deshelled shrimps were laid over a nugget of rice with their tails still attached. The shrimps were so fresh that the tails glided off with just a light tug, without the shrimps even budging from the position they were laid to rest in. The botan shrimps were succulent and soft, yet supple, with a sweet viscosity like syrup balanced out by its characteristic clear and sparkling notes.
Aburi Sake (Seared Salmon) Sushi with sesame sauce and bonito flakes
Lightly grilled then doused in sesame sauce and sprinkled with bonito flakes, this aburi salmon flaked with barely a touch and melted in the mouth; smoky, creamy, savory, nutty and sweet – a myriad of decadent flavors.
Shiro Uni (White Sea Urchin Roe) Sushi
Uni – sea urchin roe tediously derived from cracking open little spiny urchin shells and carefully extricating the tiny and fragile morsels of gonads attached within the inner sanctum of this shellfish with the precision of a surgeon. The shiro uni a.k.a. murasaki uni imported from the Miyagi Prefecture feeds on wakame (seaweed) and carries a more delicate flavor with a saltier finish as compared to other uni varieties found in Japan. The uni sushi that Chef Kenny placed on my platter was loaded with generous amounts of the highly-prized pale golden lobes. The buttery uni glided on silky and velvety on the tongue and gave off a delicately sweet taste, brimming with umami and laced with a briny taste of the sea as the creamy roe melted in the mouth.
Aburi (Seared) Foie Gras & Hotate (Scallop) Sushi
Speaking of foie gras of the ocean (when I reviewed the ankimo), the actual protagonist made an appearance in my extravagant omakase. Capturing the hearts and stomachs of foodies all around the world, foie gras is simply divine by nature with a 90% fat content that has this amazing key feature of melting at the average body temperature. Foie gras goes into your mouth in a highly viscous, semi-solid state and slowly melts away like butter, enveloping your mouth with the most heavenly taste and texture.
Chef Kenny decided to further improve on this sublime experience by marrying foie gras with scallops in a piece of sushi. The thin slice of foie gras, perched on top of fresh raw scallops, was seared with a blowtorch so that it charred and beautifully caramelized while its lovely juices emanated out of the lobe and coated the entire sushi with its oily richness. The hotate (scallop) had a mild refreshing sweetness with a springy yet tender bite, and a silky and buttery texture that beautifully melded together with the rich, creamy, smoky and umami goodness of the opulent foie gras which immediately disintegrated on the tongue into a delicate fruity sweetness and a subtle funkiness.
Clam Miso Soup
The clam miso soup was light and delicate but packed full of sweet clammy flavors with a savory taste of the sea. The warm broth was a comforting and hearty dish that helped wash down the rich decadent flavors of the cold seafood from previous courses.
Dessert: Homemade Green Tea Jelly
This jiggly jelly dusted with green tea powder was rather invigorating and refreshing with the chilled gelatinous sweet jelly and the slightly bitter and grassy green tea revitalizing the tastebuds and cleansing the palate.
The service is nothing short of impeccable, and I can't sing enough praises of Southpaw's exceptional spirit of hospitality that mimics the world-class Japanese omotenashi. The seats are limited to just 12 a night so that the team can give each and every customer the rapt attention they deserve, towards both food and reception.
The team endeavors to put every customer at ease with affable lighthearted conversations, but still treat each one like a VIP. Especially Roy, who flits around from customer to customer, passionately introducing and describing each dish with regards to how a particular brand of whisky can perfectly complement said dish. Towards the end of their meal, customers are sincerely thanked for their patronage and personally walked out of the restaurant as Southpaw's heartfelt farewell to them till their next visit.
Southpaw Bar & Sushi
Address: 11 Cavan Road, #01-04, Singapore 209848 Hours: Mon – Sat 6pm – 12 midnight Tel.: +65 9101 1941