Japanese makeover of style and substance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 February, 2001, 12:00am

ONCE KNOWN FOR its network of almost identical Chinese restaurants and fast-food outlets, Maxim's has transformed itself into an eclectic caterer. Over the past year or so, it has created new eateries to suit the changing tastes of locals. Existing restaurants have also been refurbished and given new names to reflect their contemporary identities.

Miso, a stylish establishment in the basement of Jardine House, is one of these places. According to the restaurant's promotional material, it has been created to serve Japanese delicacies in a chic setting. The decor displays strong modernist influences with earthy colours and designer touches helping to give an edge over its conventionally decorated counterparts.

The menu also offers some pleasant surprises. Apart from staple choices such as sushi, sashimi and noodles, an array of fascinating innovations can also be found. Most of these represent the restaurant's aim to deliver modern Japanese fare. The cream cheese and salmon roll, for example, is a marriage between Asian and Western culinary traits.

On a recent weekday evening, Miso was a popular choice with diners who were eager to escape the chilly weather outside. A waitress showed us to a table in the corner, which offered more privacy than the sushi bar or teppanyaki counter.

We started with ocean shrimps ($120 for six), which were beautifully presented and equally gratifying in taste. The raw shrimps had a natural sweetness that was proof of their freshness. Tuna and crispy eggplant ($60) was also a delectable choice. Succulent pieces of raw tuna were well complemented by wafer-thin eggplant slices, which had been grilled to add a crispy touch.

We loved the beef tataki ($60) - thin slices of seared beef on a bed of onions. The meat was tender and a specially made soy sauce enhanced the flavour of the dish. The sake chicken roll ($50), however, was disappointing. The bland chicken slices did not carry the fragrance of the Japanese rice wine and we had to rely on the spicy peanut sauce for taste.

From the list of teppanyaki dishes, we opted for foie gras, value for money at $120. It featured two large slices of goose liver, pan-grilled for a crispy exterior while remaining creamy inside. The only cause for complaint was that the goose liver was slightly lacking in flavour. The same problem was repeated in the soft shell crabs ($80), although the crustaceans came in a generous portion and were deep-fried to perfection.

Salmon chazuke ($50) was a perfect choice to wash down our richer courses. Chunks of salmon worked surprisingly well with white rice in a clear broth, while toasted rice grains added flavour and bite.

For dessert, a scoop of ice-cream was reasonably priced at $20. We decided against the green tea and sesame varieties and went for lemon instead. It turned out to be an fittingly refreshing end to the meal. The lemon curd parfait with orange ice-cream ($38) was a successful combination of two citrus flavours without compromising their separate identities.

A sumptuous dinner for two, which came with friendly, well-timed service, was $655. We are eager to return to sample the other delicacies on offer.

Miso, LG/F, Jardine House, 1 Connaught Place, Central. Tel: 2845 8773. Open: Monday-Saturday 11.30am-3pm, 5pm-10.30pm