Minori Dining and Sake Bar has been open at UE Square for a while now. The former owners of Hanabi set up Minori with a similar a la carte buffet concept for Japanese food. There have been a flurry of mixed reviews despite a positive press article. So I did not come here with high expectations, only curiosity as to how the place actually fares.
I had heard it can get really crowded but it was empty when I arrived today at lunchtime with my friend. As such, we didn't encounter any service problems or slowness that seemed to plague the restaurant in its earlier days. However, it did fill up considerably still past 12.30pm but service did not suffer too much. The waitresses (some seem to be from Myanmar) were quite patient and even took the effort to recommend popular dishes when we seemed stumped by the wide menu choices.
One of the chief reasons Singaporeans love a Japanese a la carte buffet is the unlimited orders of sashimi. At Minori, you get a choice of salmon, tuna, yellowtail, snapper, black king fish, octopus and cuttlefish. However, I think sashimi at Ikoi's is sliced much more generously, and tastes better too.
I will go through the rest of the food just very briefly. We ate a lot of dishes - really easy to do so as the portions served are very small. The potato salad was creamy but light-tasting, served on an interesting raised glass platter.
The California maki was messy but tasted passable. We had a repeat portion of this.
Handrolls here are not spectacular. Mainly because the dried seaweed sheets they used had a musty odour. Probably an inferior quality or type of seaweed used. And it wasn't crisp nor easy to bite through.
Minori also differs from Hanabi in that it offers grilled skewered items, mostly of chicken parts. The "buta to garlic" is probably the only pork item there, fatty pork belly cubes strongly laced with garlic. The tebasaki (chicken wings) strangely butterflied here, tasted a bit too plain. Kawa (chicken skin) was not crisp enough.
The tsukune (minced chicken meat balls) were huge. They and the yakitori tasted alike. Just all right. Lacked serious punch.
This is the SMALLEST ever tempura moriawase set I have ever seen. Two prawns and three thin slices of vegetable. I guess it's a small eater's single portion only. Average tasting, and the batter could be lighter.
This was a pleasant surprise. Sweet creamy pumpkin mash greets you as you bite through the crisp breaded exterior. It can be really hot though, so beware.
Plain looking but intensely garlicky beansprouts from the teppanyaki section. Not bad.
Refreshing kyuri (Japanese cucumber) in this appetiser but I didn't care much for the miso bean paste - a bit too close to "taucheo" (Chinese bean paste) for my liking.
Sushi isn't their forte, I guess. Or maybe I just really don't like that dried seaweed that they use. It made me long for the good quality, crisp seaweed that Sushi Kikuzawa uses.
Two bites and this one dish is gone. Cold tofu in soy sauce topped with bonito flakes and scallions.
Everything here is in tasting portions. Which is nice too, it lets you try more dishes from across the menu. The saba shioyaki is all right but your mind is on the next item already.
This was quite nice, a sweet fruity salad with a tart, soy-sesame dressing. The peach is of the canned variety, of course.
There are two kinds of chawanmushi here, the kabocha (pumpkin) one just has the addition of a layer of pumpkin puree on top. The mixture is a really surprising attack of flavours on your palate - both sweet and savoury combining to jolt your senses. The egg custard is quite smooth. and has lots of nameko mushrooms at the bottom. Yum.
This was one of the unexpected highlights. I thought they did their tori karaage really well. There is no oilyness on the surface and the meat inside is tender and juicy. Nicely seasoned.
I have seen people rave about this here. It's like a richer-flavoured version of Yoshinoya's beef. The soft beef slices taste almost buttery. We got served a really large portion too.
The salmon teppan special dish was too salty and sweet for me. Very strong hint of mirin (sweet rice wine) in the soy mixture.
Understandably, they aren't the most generous with their sashimi servings. Don't expect the best of fish slicing skills here either. Some of the sashimi were still sinewy. But for the price, I don't think anyone will complain.
This is very similar to the tori karaage, just that it involves the breastbone cartilage. I just love cartilage. Is that really odd? I remember even my Japanese friend looking at me strange when I ordered this at Nanbantei in Tokyo some years back.
Minori serves free-flow green tea and water as part of the buffet. Alcoholic drinks and desserts (mostly ice cream) are available separately. If you don't want the buffet, you can opt for their set meals.
In summary, Minori's food is fairly competent across the board but is still very average. Much like a jack-of-all-trades but master of none. The variety is undoubtedly better than at most joints, but many of the dishes involve same ingredients done differently (as sushi, maki, handroll etc). Personally, in terms of all-you-can-eat places, I'd rather head to Ikoi or Sushi Kikuzawa for a more fulfilling experience.
MINORI DINING AND SAKE BAR
(full buffet menu available online but prices not updated)
81 Clemenceau Avenue #03-15/16 UE Square
Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm
Dinner $33++ (price raised)