Ikoi. Seems like almost every Tom, Dick and Harry has dined here and several times to boot. Notorious for requiring reservations weeks in advance, it's really popular with those who love a good bargain. This is my first visit. Because of my skepticism of buffets, I did not go with high expectations for this S$30 all-you-can-eat Japanese spread.
I had heard the sashimi was quite OK here. Indeed it was. Granted, it will never compare with the freshest imports from Tsukiji but I've had worse in Singapore. My friend and I asked for a four-person portion to start with. The salmon was the best of the lot. Kajiki or swordfish also not bad. Tuna firm but so-so. The tai (snapper) was a bit fishy though.
A small platter of tempura soon followed. This first batch was quite good - the batter was lighter and crispy (I even ate the shrimp tails). But subsequent orders fell really short - much more greasy. Anyway, they have all kinds - prawns, squid, fish, mushroom, okra, carrot, sweet potato, lotus root, pumpkin and eggplant, etc.
They also serve you throughout the meal certain "complimentary dishes" not on the menu. First thing that greets you before you order any food is the small plate of marinated salmon - too fishy for my liking (it was probably leftover sashimi from the day before).
Early on, you also get a teapot of seafood broth (dobin mushi) with a dash of lime. I've had much better elsewhere. This was too fishy-tasting for me, even with the lime to counter the stink.
Then, in the midst of your meal, a huge salmon-vegetable soup (sake-nabe?) in foil comes boiling on a cooker stand. The soup was too bland for me but my friend loved it and almost finished it. Bewarned: it's very filling.
Here is a "two-person portion" of chicken katsu (fried cutlet). Yeah, two slices. Fried to a crisp and a bit chewy but not outstanding flavourwise. We didn't ask for more.
Ahh, my friend's favourite here. Reasonably tasty and well-marinaded, these are fried until crispy on the outside yet juicy on the inside. My friend ate eight plates of these the last time he was here. We had two plates - the third one never arrived. Conveniently forgotten perhaps.
One of the lightest and whitest chawan mushi I've seen. They must be using a lot more egg white in this. Flavour also equally subtle but it grows on you. Refreshing break in between deep-fried items.
These may look like certain charred body parts but are quite tasty. The little cocktail sausages inside are nothing unusual but they pair well with grilled bacon. Would have preferred aspagarus inside the bacon but oh well. This foursome here is a four-person portion, by the way.
I normally prefer my meats charred really well on the outside (best if til a little crispy). But the yakitori was not bad even though it was not grilled to that extent. The meat was tender enough. They were fairly big and chunky too. Nice sauce.
The tebasaki came piping hot. This was a lightly spiced fried chicken wing (mid-joint). Quite mild in flavour and yet it somehow brought out the inherent taste of chicken even more strongly. Should have had more of this.
Of course, we were going for multiple serves of the sashimi. This time minus the fishy tai. In general, the sashimi was sliced quite thickly and generously but not necessarily skilfully. The tuna, looking a strange dark blood red, had sinews present in some parts in the second round. Again the salmon was the star. Sweet and fresh. Too much kajiki this time!
For a place like this, you can't expect excellence in aesthetics. Food here frequently looks like it was assembled together in a slap-bang manner. But most cost-conscious folks don't mind. A few plates of the sashimi alone is worth the price of the buffet.
Moving on to some carbohydrates. Thick and crass-looking California maki arrived without much in them. No avocado or tamago. Measly on the tobiko too. Edible but not worth repeating, at all.
Our other sushi orders came squeezed together on a tiny plate. Tamago maki and sushi, inari and sanshoku maki (3 combinations, which turned out to be just oshinko/pickles, tuna and cucumber). They looked and tasted like they were made by a child. Ikoi's strong suit is NOT their sushi for sure. And tamago must be like gold here - such tiny slivers on both sushi and in maki.
Our second order of tempura did not do so well. It almost seemed as though another chef took over. The shrimp also tasted less fresh and the batter extra coarse and greasy. Hmm, some inconsistency here.
The fried rice was a colourful and aromatic mixture. However it looked better than it tasted. The shrimp bits were not too fresh, I think. Fortunately it was also tiny in portion - only about two tablespoonfuls.
I had some cold soba to close the meal. Not bad, quite refreshing. Again, small portion but just nice. I think in general, most of the stuff is not great. Sashimi, tori karaage and maybe a couple others are notable. I didn't try any of the grilled fish - saba (mackeral), sake (salmon), sanma (pikefish) or shisamo.
Quality concerns aside, the problem with a buffet is that after a certain amount of food, you start getting diminishing returns on satisfaction. You can be really full but not exactly happy.
The meal can leave you strangely thirsty (especially if you've been at it with the soy sauce). All other drinks besides green tea is over and above the buffet price. My friend went for a kyoho grape shochu (S$9). Was it more grape juice or shochu? Well, neither, it was mostly ice. Tasted lighter than a beer! The grape juice evoked childhood memories of grape-flavoured cordials.
Desserts? None included for that price. Ice cream of various flavours (matcha, goma/black sesame, vanilla) available at additional cost. My friend and I simply adjourned to Zion Road for cheng tng and mango aloe vera.
401 Havelock Road #01-01, Hotel Miramar
S$30+++ per person (same for lunch or dinner)
Lunch: 11.30am - 2.30pm
Dinner: 6.00pm - 11.00pm
P.S. I noted that the staff here speak Mandarin (even for reservations), so English requests may not always be fully understood.