Sakurazaka: Traditional shabu-shabu with refined European flair

It's hard to fault an establishment when the starter blazes a trail in its path. The meal begins on an all time high with the Ishiyaki and Onsen Tamago leaving me tongue tied. Depending on the set that you've ordered (Pork Set - 95++, Bouillabaisse Set - $108++, Beef shabu shabu set ($128++), Sukiyaki Set ($150++); slices of Iberico pork, Japanese wagyu beef or seafood is served alongside a searing hot stone heated till 140 degrees in the oven so that your thin slices of protein get cooked with a quick swish in under 15 seconds. Proceed to dip your loot into the bowl of onsen egg mixed with spring onion and sukiyaki sauce -  and after that is done, smash the rest of the egg mixture in one elegant swoop.

Sakurazaka, an upscale shabu-shabu-sukiyaki-kakigori joint has got a lot of things going for it. Bringing to life several menu items that are just a tad unusual for the run-of-the-mill 'eat-all-you-can' shabu shabu establishments targeted at feeding the young and ravenous. Debuted at the kitsch little neighbourhood of Greenwood avenue, the team, mostly consisting of consultant chef, Masashi Horiuchi of Shelter in the Woods and Verre fame; are well known for injecting modern European flair into his heartwarming Japanese upbringing led cuisine. Needless to say, Sakurazaka, with the backing of wine merchant, Wine Culture, curates an exquisite choice of wines, sake and Japanese craft beers.

With only 3 sets on the menu, ordering is simply led by your choice of protein (beef, pork or seafood) followed by an executive decision on the broth which comes in 6 variations - beef consomme, bouillabaisse soup stock on top of the regular 4 Japanese stock; chicken, pork, ago dashi and soya milk. Each set comes with a starter, meat, vegetables and mushrooms, rice or noodles and a dessert.

As the ago dashi and beef consomme stock reached a slow boil on the induction stoves, you marvel at the marbling on the Shirobuta pork belly and pork loin as the Aomori rice-fed sirloin and ribeye beckons out to you. A quick swish in the heated pools and the thinly sliced meat are cooked in no time. A trip to the array of dipping sauces is completely optional, if not unnecessary in my opinion, as the meat alone shines with a subtle explosion of flavor. That being said, the accompanying platter of vegetables and mushrooms take to the tamari ponzu and shio ponzu with so much affinity that one would wish for a larger portion of greens. 

However, if indulgence is your preferred game, then I would strongly suggest the Japanese Joshu Wagyu (Grade BMS 6-7) (Ribeye or Sirloin for $45/100g) - wagyu beef from the Japanese Black cattle raised in Gunma prefecture. Owing it to the region's mountainous landscape and clear waters, Joshu Wagyu is prized for its succulence, tenderness and rich flavors. Sure enough, these large slabs of wagyu, less than a quarter inch thick leave an oleaginous sensation in the mouth even after the shabu shabu treatment. A real treat for those looking to splurge.

And just like any customary Asian type meal, the lunch concludes with a carbs course. Japanese rice risotto cooked with the remaining broth in the pot that has successfully absorbed the flavors of all the meats and vegetables that have gone through its silky depths. Eggs and two different types of cheeses are added in at different stages of the cooking process to thicken the mixture and intensify its flavors. Try to subdue the crazy tendencies to crowd the risotto with condiments, perhaps just a little spring onions, toasted sesame seeds and homemade garlic confit will suffice. This comforting bowl is guaranteed to find space in your belly despite the gut-busting meal that precedes the final course.

Wrap up the meal with Sakurazaka's unique dessert offering of Kakigori which comes in 7 flavors. The Ujikintoki/Matcha Green Tea Kakigori ($16) - basically Japanese shaved ice with a neat ball of matcha ice cream tucked under the ice mountain, drizzled with matcha syrup is suitably intense and utterly delightful in view of the sweltering heat.While the Tiramisu ($14) version is your classic example of the fusion magic that happens when Chef Mashashi is around. A hill of shaved ice conceals a ball of coffee ice cream, semi-soaked lady fingers and a dollop of rum mascarpone overhead brings to mind the typical Italian dessert. 

My preferences lies with the less dishy Hokkaido Milk ($12) option - here, Hokkaido milk curds sit atop beautifully sweet milk infused shaved ice with showers of kinako powder for a injection of nuttiness. Nodules of candied milk paving the way for greatness. By far, the best rendition on the dessert menu.

Sakurazaka may not offer a plethora of choices or a bang-for-buck experience, but its presentation of quality and finesse is un-debatable. And thus, befitting of any special occasion or just plainly to satisfy your needs as a marbled meat lover.

24 Greenwood Avenue
t: 64630333

Operating Hours:
Mon - Wed: 6pm - 10pm
Thurs - Sun: 11 30am - 3pm; 6pm - 10pm

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