Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sumi Yakitori, The Centrepoint

Clockwise from upper right: kawa, asupara maki, shishito, buta, negima, nasu, and shiitake

I must have walked past this place (176 Orchard Road #B2-101, 6836-0912) at least two or three times last month when it was still under construction. It had a bit of an odd fish bowl design with shoppers peering in at you from above, not to mention a strange view of the lovely basement parking structure from inside. But they were building grills into most of the tables here, so I was glad to see a sign outside Centrepoint today that signaled that they had finally opened (about three weeks ago, as it turns out). I wasn't quite sure how DIY yakitori would work, but I definitely wanted to find out.

Their intention with the cooking was baffling. They told us that the kitchen was overloaded by the full house tonight, and that it would be quicker if we cooked the food ourselves, which we happily agreed to (wasn't that the point of building those grills into the tables to begin with?). But what was weird was that these grills were sunk into the tables rather than being raised above it, the former of which would be more suitable for yakiniku, as opposed to yakitori where you need to have the ends of the skewers sticking out away from the flame. Indeed, by placing these skewers down into the grill, it made the skewers so hot that I scalded my fingers several times. They give you tongs for use with the grill, but the problem was that the heat was retained in the skewers when you tried to hold the skewer with your hands to eat the food.

More importantly though, we quickly realized that yakitori was something that you really needed a pro to do it for you. As much as I b*tch-whine about Korean BBQ places that don't let you DIY, yakitori is something that requires a professional's experience to be able to get things like the kawa crispy enough to be pleasurable yet not so crispy that it is burned. Us amateurs also had trouble with the chicken skin sticking to the grill and completely falling apart into a mess. Perhaps there is a reason why yakitori chefs are in short supply.

Not surprisingly, they were still undergoing some teething issues in these early days too, although I didn't expect it to be so bad. They had tons of wait staff around, but they kept delivering other people's food to our table (and our food to others). On numerous occasions did we see groups of the staff huddled around in a circle, as if they were trying to solve a problem. Tables were left uncleared and dishes piled up. And while it was understandable that they hadn't setup their Amex card processing yet, they didn't have enough small change to give me when I fell back on cash.

Well, I'm sure that they'll overcome some of these initial growing pains over time. And to their credit, the quality of the ingredients was generally pretty good (although a bowl of their somen was lifeless, without enough broth, and oddly came with a cheap metal spoon like one would find at a hawker center). Next time I'm looking for yakitori, I'm going to Kazu or Kushigin across the street instead. They may cost twice as much, but the experience here just wasn't very fun (our table also suffered from a nasty drip from the air conditioning above, thus forcing us to move our food out of the way of it). I would try their "Express" counterpart for casual pre-cooked takeaway on the other side though; I'm sure that it would be much better than that Tori-Q stuff.

1 comment:

ben said...

kazu is EXCELLENT!!!

is where i developed my love for foie gras =)