Singapore may be small, but we are inundated with choice when it comes to eating out. Sometimes, this can lead to the first-world problem of CHOICE(!) ANXIETY(!!) If, like us, this leads you to becoming a sad creature of habit who keeps eating at the same old places, check out our bite-sized JUNK food reviews for what you should be eating next (or not!).
Do you remember Otowa? The little yakitori hole-in-the-wall on the 3rd floor of Orchard Plaza? It had bad service and a cramped shitty interior. But it had a mad Japanese gentleman with crazy hair who less cooked and more DJ’d over his charcoal grill Boiler Room-style, endlessly tweaking and grooming each piece of chicken with a pair of scissors. Otowa was a dining experience defined by the skill of a single, fastidious chef.
Man. Was that good grilling. There was some serious craft going on there, with each stick so perfectly smoked and cooked, the mid-joint of each wing roasted to a golden brown and yielding with a mouthwatering crack. One wing order would turn to 5, and then for good measure, one would throw in a few sticks of the chicken neck and everything else on the menu. Prices were high, but the food goaded you into ordering more and more and as a consequence, the sake would also flow more freely than usual as well. Wallets were emptied out in short order and, well, that is why trips down were reserved for special occasions.
Otowa closed sometime recently amid grouses on the net: the food was not as good anymore, they had imposed a minimum spend… you know, the usual. Running a restaurant is hard work, and everything will run its course. But it had a good run; 8 years. Where is chicken griller/DJ-san now? And where are we going to get our chicken sashimi?
Why this long preface to Jinjo? Well. It’s just to say that the bar for charcoal grilling locally has been set quite high. Jinjo might not be driven by the charisma of a DJ-chicken-griller, but it is a swanky sumiyaki (charoal-grill) restaurant backed by the Les Amis group. High prices are expected, as are nice interiors. The promise of good food is there, but will it fill the Otowa-shaped gap in our tummies?
We tried to get a broad experience of the menu with a section of meat and veg items. We had the Tomato (a dressed tomato), Umaki (unagi omelette), Tako Yuzu (octopus dressed with yuzu), Yaki goma tofu (house-made creamy tofu), Tesbaki, Kawa, the daily special of Gyu-Yakkiniku (beef), grilled veg in the form of Kabocha (Pumpkin) and Satsuma-Imo (sweet potato) and a Truffle Donabe(Claypot Rice) that clocked in at $55.
As with all restaurants, the key test were the classic grilled dishes, and we won’t be ponderous about the verdict: for the price, Jinjo is a good, but not transcendental restaurant. We had high hopes, but the cooking lacked the last 10% of genius across the board that would make us recklessly order another stick or 5 of anything. The cold and hot dishes were particularly guilty of this, with the unagi omelette, being the most pedestrian of the lot. It really was unagi in an omelette, so don’t order it – unagi are endangered anyway.
We were looking for a wink from the chef, but got none. We can’t fault the quality of the ingredients – ironically the vegetables put in the best showing, with the tomato an umami bomb and the Satsuma-Imo, buttery, soft and sweet. But the grilled chicken skewers – the true acid test – while ticking boxes, unfortunately did not make for compelling eating. Perhaps it was the uneven seasoning, or the lack of depth to the smoke. Maybe the grilling felt a bit rushed? And as for the grilled beef, the sprinkling of rough-chopped aromatics atop only served to dominate the delicate meat, not enhance it. Sigh.
Jinjo clocks in at 3 wings as there is a feeling that the chef was one layer removed from the evaluation process and hence every dish, and as prettily plated as they were, was a strangely flat in-mouth experience.
It’s a nice joint, feels like a great venue for celebration. But we hope they can cross that tipping point to magic with the food soon!