Friday 6 September 2013


Dining at Nagae always feels like a treat, with the cozy interior and the views of the river right outside. It's also very pleasant in the afternoon, where the lunch sets are extremely good value. The location of my internship means it's pretty much impossible for me to have lunch there during the workweek, so M & I went there for dinner together instead. 

Nagae and Waterfront Copthorne by the water
We have been eating at Nagae since there was just a lone monkey-shaped sake bottle perched by the counter. With a zodiac animal added each corresponding new year, it's easy to count just how long we've been loyal patrons of this homely Japanese establishment. (The answer is a decade, in case the bottles seem to blend into each other)

Also in the picture: A framed photo of Nagae-san with the previous President of Singapore
The joke we have is that we're loyal because of a sense of kinship we feel with the owner Nagae, whose name contains the same character as our own surname - the kanji for 'e' is (), is basically our family name in Chinese. In both languages it means 'river'. It's a happy coincidence that still amuses us. 

But the main reason we continue to visit, apart from the consistent good quality of the food, is the fact that they know us so well. I once read an article that conjectured that one of the greatest little joys in life is having an eating place near home that you can go to time and again, where they know your face, name, likes and dislikes. A place where you can say "I'll have the usual", and with an indulgent smile on their part they'll bring it out. You feel like you matter when they remember the birthdays of the entire family and give you 15% discounts on such special occasions. And on their anniversary, you get 50% off. What's not to love?

And so you get customers like us who go at least once a month, and you also get Japanese professionals, some of whom have periods where they take a meal there every day. 

Then there's the additional layer of comfort of dining at Nagae, which was pointed out by the lady (Another longtime patron) who sat next to me at the sushi counter: Nagae-san does not judge you for the strange way you eat his food, so long as you enjoy your meal. Point: She had a small dish of chilli padi in front of her that she added to her food.

For me, Nagae-san is like an indulgent relative who doesn't mind that I have a tendency to add ponzu sauce to things. It's really a family restaurant. 

When we feel like trying something entirely new though, Nagae-san always obliges. The menu is wide and varied enough with seasonal additions that even if you don't order the same thing over and over, it takes a while to cycle through. Today M & I went for some teriyaki chicken and soup respectively. We also had the sushi omakase, where you entrust the menu to the chef. Nagae-san ran through the list of things we didn't feel like having this evening (Squid, Octupus, Sea Urchin), before setting about to prepare our meal.

Currently with the fears of radiated water seeping into the ocean, people are steering clear of sushi and sashimi, but Nagae-san gets his fish from the waters around his native Hokkaido or the Sea of Japan, which is away from the affected site.

Our sushi course began with Tai (Red Snapper), a very mildly flavoured fish to start. 

We were then moved onto a piece of Shima-Aji (Yellow Jack) with grated ginger. 

There was a light crunch to the fish, and the ginger brought out more of its sweetness. 

In between the sushi, M showed me pictures of D from their trip to Japan in May. In most of the shots, D can be seen standing outside a sake brewery and glowing with happiness (and alcohol).

After a short interval, Nagae-san dished up the scallop sushi - one piece the crunchy muscles that attach the scallop to the shell, the other the super soft and slightly translucent Hotate (Adductor muscles of the scallop) sushi proper. 

The two make for a very interesting contrast - Hotate (On the right) tends to be the softest piece of raw seafood on the plate, with a melt in your mouth kind of quality. It's also very delicately sweet. The frilly membrane on the other hand (The part that gives rise to the term 'scalloped edges') has a much heavier, slightly fishy taste, and packs a very satisfying crunch. 

We moved on with an enjoyably creamy piece of Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp) that glistened under the light. 

Normally I tend to skip salmon, because of our first trip to Hokkaido in Autumn 11 years ago. On that tour, all our catered meals (Including breakfast!) included it in some way or form, and sometimes a plate of teriyaki salmon triggers terrifying flashbacks. 

But the salmon served here is lovely and soft, with a good distribution of almost milky streaks of fat. 

My penultimate piece of sushi was a luscious piece of Hamachi (Japanese Yellowtail). Hamachi always tends to be slightly oily and buttery with an ever so slight sour tang to it, and this piece was no different. 

My sushi course was finished with a beautifully cooked piece of fatty Unagi (Eel) sushi. 

It came with a hint of citrus zest on top that was a great touch. 

M however, has never come around to the idea of Unagi, so she finished her course with a piece of Tamago (Egg) 

We've always liked the crockery at Nagae. Aren't these eggplants adorable?

My Dobin-Mushi (Teapot Soup) came out soon after. 

It's a clear but hearty broth that you sip out of dainty little teacups. 

What I like about it is how great it tastes when you squeeze in the juice of a small lime. The clear broth is simmered with a number of ingredients including mushrooms, fish, chicken, quail eggs and lily bulbs here to give it extra flavour. 

We ended our meal with our usual scoop of ice cream each, that comes with a dollop of sweet red bean paste on the side. The Goma (Black Sesame) ice cream they carry here is the best.  

Before we walked home, we paid up and thanked Nagae-san, then slowly drank our Houjicha (Roasted Green Tea). The teal cups with flowers etched in blue on the inside is relatively new, so we took our time appreciating it. 

392 Havelock Road, Singapore 1699663

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