Are you ready for the future of Japanese cuisine? Zento – which is Japanese for “the future”, or 前途 qian2 tu2 – is the newest player in a concentrated field of Japanese restaurants on our tiny island state.
But to dismiss this as just another Japanese restaurant would be a mistake. Owner-chef Gunawan Wisibono began his culinary career in Philadelphia, USA, and brought his skills to a new level during a year-long stint with famed Iron Chef Morimoto. It’s no wonder Zento’s menu is a masterful fusion of Japanese and multi-cultural influences – a reflection of America’s ethnic diversity.
In short, expect the unexpected. What matters is Zento’s creations are a feast for both the eyes and the palate.
Case in point: Tuna pizza (picture above). Emerald-green hiyashi wakame (seasoned seaweed), ruby-red cherry tomato, fresh tuna, creamy, spicy mayo, and toasted sesame seeds on a crisp tortilla. This starter is an explosion of zingy flavors and delightful textures. It’s a classic in the making.
Actually, this reminds me of the delightful Ahi Taki Skinny Pizza at Barracks.
Remember that not too long ago, everyone was doing deep-fried prawns coated in wasabi mayo? That’s so passe. Gochujang (Korean chilli paste) is the new wasabi!
It’s my first encounter with rock shrimp, but I sure hope it’s not the last. With sweet and crunchy meat, these small-sized prawns taste like shelled mini lobsters. Impressively, the tempura batter remained crisp to the last shrimp despite the creamy gochujang aioli. It was so scrumptious that I shamelessly asked to have the last shrimp.
The third starter also featured sweet and fresh seafood. Hokkaido scallop, expertly sliced paper-thin, spread out and topped with ginger, garlic, yuzu sauce, mitsuba leaf, and then splashed with hot grapeseed oil. The idea is to sear and half-cook the scallop with hot oil. The flavors were delightful, but overall, it was too oily for my taste.
Throughout the tasting session, we were constantly impressed by the use of fresh ingredients. Here, the chef blow-torches to sear fresh uni and shrimp. The result is an insanely sweet, creamy uni (sea urchin) and crunchy shrimp sushi.
Like the uni & shrimp sushi, these premium Toppings Sushi are Chef Specials that’s only available on an ad-hoc basis. But I think they’re so good they should be put on the regular menu.
You can ask for Toppings Sushi if you’d like to try. A plate of 3 sushi is about S$30.00.
Here’s the special “Happiness Platter” put together specially for our tasting session, comprising 5 of the best-selling sushi rolls (maki).
Purists might balk at the Riceless Mango Sashimi with 3 kinds of fish and avocado, wrapped in silky rice paper. How could a sushi roll not have rice or seaweed? Well, it was a refreshing change, although personally, I preferred the rice-based maki.
These maki are certainly unconventional, but the bold flavors and unusual textures go incredibly well together. The clear favorite was the Wagyu beef sushi roll with shrimp tempura. Topped with cream cheese, it’s inspired by the Philly cheese steak.
But I have a soft spot for the Volcano roll – a battered and deep-fried futomaki of shrimp tempura, smoked salmon, avocado, crabstick and masago. It’s actually not that innovative; we’ve seen similar interpretations elsewhere, but here, it’s wonderfully executed. Besides, I’m a sucker for deep-fried stuff.
Just when we thought we couldn’t be wowed anymore, we were presented with these special handrolls. Instead of seaweed, a special soy paper is used. It doesn’t tear easily, but it’s easy to bite through, and amazingly, just melts in the mouth.
The unagi and sauce are top notch. Together with crunchy tempura batter bits and creamy avocado, this handroll was truly sublime. I almost couldn’t bear to finish eating it!
Like the sushi, the entrees are well-executed and beautifully presented. We tried the Chilean sea bass. The exterior was crispy and brown while the flesh was moist and tender. Special praise too, for the ultra smooth and creamy pureed peas.
This ain’t no ordinary duck rice. Next to the sliced duck breast is garlic fried rice topped with foie gras. Yes, foie gras! Now you know why this “duck rice” is $48.00, not S$4.80.
Remember to save room for dessert. The Chocolate Lava Cake with vanilla ice cream is one of the best I’ve tried.
Tri Color Fuzzes Bomb is simply a fanciful name for deep-fried ice cream, but its thin, light, and non-greasy batter is a tough act to pull off. We detected a hint of ginger in the batter, which was a nice touch.
Overall, I was impressed by Chef Gunawan’s flair for fusing traditional and unconventional flavors and textures. His wife, Dyana, told us that some customers have commented about prices being on high side, but this is because they insist on using the freshest, top-quality ingredients. Even the fish in sushi rolls are sashimi grade. And they provide home-pickled ginger, home-brewed soy sauce, and fresh wasabi for sashimi.
For purists, Zento also serves traditional types of sushi and sashimi. But I strongly urge you to come in the spirit of adventure, abandon your pre-conceived notions of what sushi is supposed to be, and just enjoy the novel creations for what they are.
Zento Singapore – Contemporary Japanese Cuisine
18B Dempsey Road
Tel: (65) 6474 0378