"Being a novelty had its advantages."Jessica Savitch
Wow, the word "megamall" is such a slut - it'd get in bed with anybody!
Now, anyone who knows me reasonably well would know that I'm a confessed foodie with a special soft spot in my palate for Japanese cuisine, and that person would have heard my frequent and manifold lamentations that there are no truly exceptional restaurants serving that in the provinciality of Malacca - or Melaka, whatever. Today, I bring you another contender to the table.
Earlier this year, Dataran Pahlawan (a Malay phrase which directly translates - amusingly enough - to 'plain of warriors') saw the debut of a new sushi place in town called Sushi Boat and it's a refreshing exercise in calling something exactly what it is,
There seems to be a dearth of real reviews for this place in the blogosphere, so here I am with one.
The name Sushi Boat works on two levels. On one, it's a sushi bar built to resemble a chokkibune, a traditional Japanese water taxi associated with Edo romanticism. On another, they have replaced the kaiten or conveyor belt which most fast food-style sushi restaurants employ with this neat canal system in which little watercrafts, each carrying a plate of sushi, travels round and round the stall with the help of propulsive pumps. While it's not exactly an original concept, this is the first time I've seen its use in Malaysia. Maybe I just need to get out more.
If you're an unsophisticated manchild like me who's into novelty dining, you might just get a kick out of eating here. It's freaking sushi! On freaking litte boats! OMGOMGOMG!
Of course, the snack bar approach isn't very conducive to social dining, an F&B niche which most Japanese restaurants in this country occupies. It's hard to chat and make merry when everyone's facing one direction, you know. Couples wouldn't run into that hitch here, but Sushi Boat is really for the quick-and-dirty, rocket luncher - just park your ass down and start eating immediately. The longest you'll need to wait is like half-a-minute tops for the hostess to bring you your drink. It's my kind of place when I'm out and about on my own.
What did bother me was that the place was rather exposed in a human traffic heavy area, being situated between the Carrefour supermarket and the escalators. It's a small favour that their bar stools are designed to prevent your lardy bottoms from overflowing the the seats' sides, protecting you from the derision of passing shoppers. Still, I seriously hope that they make enough soon to get their own shop.
Because their sushi are pretty decent stuff!
When I check out a new eating spot, I like to start off with the basic classics; just to gauge where they stand in comparison to their competitors. My poissons of choice are usually a tobiko gunkanmaki, a sake nigirizushi and a simple unakyu maki or nigiri,
All of them tasted excellent and fresh, but the unagi slices in particular were very tender and juicy - and the thick kabayaki tare (eel sause) was delicious, as always. Sushi King, I believe, charge almost double for their inferior unagi nigiri, and I'm happy to say that the last time those crooks took my money was years and years ago.
Convinced that they know their way around sushi, I decided to kick it up a notch and go for some of their more artistic creations - and believe me, these fellas really know how to make food look too good to choo.
Chew, I meant chew, dammit.
This here is an uramaki with mango and crisp green filling with fish roe, raw salmon and cheese slices draping its up side, all slathered with mayonnaise (lending the illusion that the cheese is hot and drippy) and peppered with a hint of chili flakes. Oh, it looks very tempting - I don't deny - but even without tasting it, I could already tell that it wouldn't fly right with me. And that's because I recognise the salmon as the centrepiece of this sushi.
Raw salmon, as a rule, does not have a very bold taste and that's why they work best on sashimi platters or on top of some vinegared rice in a nigiri. Throw anything else with a strong flavour in and suddenly, the salmon will do a disappearing act. The biggest offenders here are the cheddar and mango, by a lightyear. Stay away from this dish at all cost, or ask them to slap on a second sliver of salmon in the cheese's stead.
Okay, I might have gotten it wrong. Maybe it's meant to be a cheese and mango sushi after all but that immediately begs the question: why slip in a perfectly good slice of raw sake then? Such a criminal waste of good salmon.
As far as I can tell, there's a deep fried prawn in it accompanied by a fresh stick of cucumber and garnished with a thin slice of mango and little dabs of fish roe; all artfully ribboned with mayonnaise. Unlike the cheesy mango thing above, this one was simply a-ma-zing! The nectarine sweetness and meek acid of the mango worked wonders in concert with the shrimp and I could totally appreciate the added freshness of the cucumber to the ensemble - all this coming from a guy who dislikes crustaceans at the best of time. In fact, I pretty much only like prawns if they are deep fried tempura-style or deep fried in a wonton skin.
Speaking of deep fried exoskeletal metazoans,
One of my favourite sushi is the soft shell crab roll, a delicacy which I have grown to love after my maiden encounter with it 3 years ago at Hajime, what I believe to be the best Japanese restaurant in all of the Malay peninsula. To date, I have never eaten better and Sushi Boat's spider maki - I'm reluctant to report - was several magnitudes beneath that of Hajime's in every possible aspect. It's a case of getting what one pays for, I guess, since I especially found the crab-to-rice ratio here to be wanting. They should start stuffing the sushi roll with twice as much crispy soft shell crab and while that is no guarantee of success, it's a start in the right direction at least.
This one is basically a rehash of the salmon and cheese maki but with unagi instead - and I question their wisdom in including a mayonnaise bukkake in its decoration. It seems to be in their repertoire for the preparation of ALL their designer uramakis, and my two cents is that the indiscriminate use (and abuse) of any one ingredient is always a bad mark against a chef. Less discerning patrons wouldn't notice, but mayonnaise really doesn't mix well with either eel or teriyaki sauce. While I am generous enough to let it slide in all the previous sushi rolls, ruining unagi is not something I can easily forgive. This sushi could have been quite good otherwise though; the tart sweetness of mango being an interesting contrast to the savoury sweetness of the unagi.
I'm not saying "Don't use mayonnaise, period!" because in the case of the ebi tempura roll, the condiment was a welcomed complement. I'm just saying that they shouldn't go about blowing their load on every plate. A good dictum is that presentation should never override flavour.
They should also experiment with other types of fruit for a change; I'm thinking pitayas or avocados (but no durians or bananas, please). Mangoes can only take you so far, you know.
I like how the chefs (there are two) wore face masks when they are working. See the triple-nozzle mayonnaise squeeze-bottle?
Another comment I would like to make pertains to their dish-to-dish variation. After I took a plate of a pair of seasoned baby octopus (each served on a gunkan bed), the chef immediately replaced the vacated boat with a new serving - and I noticed just how much bigger those new octopodes are when compared to the puny ones I got,
Nevertheless, the taste was fine. It was sweet, vinegary and crunchy, and serving it with sushi rice in a gunkanmaki is one way of eating it which I haven't explore - I suppose they did it this way to hold the sauce in since their chuka idako uses much more of it than the dryer garden variety I'm used to. I must say I like it; rice, nori and all, but I recognise that this is strictly personal preference territory.
Another minor nitpick I have relates to their kappamaki,
I commend and appreciate the initiative they took in diversifying the flavour of such a simple sushi, but the one with the pungent, spicy orange-red powder (I'm guessing some sort of pepper) was a quite the misfire. The other two were great. I understand that the kappamaki is a sort of palate cleanser traditionally and is suppose to be refreshingly bland, but I've never given two hoots about traditions before and I'm not about to begin now. It did, however, need thicker sticks of cucumber in it. Very doable, considering the price of cucumber.
And like the case of the chuka idako, I saw another kappamaki making its rounds in the moat minutes later and that one had sesame seeds covering it circumferentially; not just on the top like mine was. And there's even a pinch of tobiko on each one. Cut that out, Sushi Boat people! Stop making me feel as if I've been duped into taking the lousier versions of your sushi!
Inarizushi is basically rice in a pouch of sweetened fried tofu, and it tasted exactly like how you think it would taste everywhere else. It's a reliable sushi but long due for an update. Someone should get creative and throw in some new ingredients to enliven things up - wasabi infused mayo tuna or salmon perhaps? Plain mayonnaise is not what I have in mind but it did make the inari look less dull, if I must say something nice about it.
It's also worth mentioning here that their green tea, at a buck, is perpetually refillable and while real, freshly grated wasabi rizhomes are a market rarity (and I certainly do not expect a small outfit like Sushi Boat to provide that), the green paste they dole out is still superior to the extra-chunky special which popular sushi chains like Sushi King and Sakae Sushi use. Their service is also top notch and I didn't even have to call for a refill even once because they are constantly checking if your cup is filled - but not in an intrusive way.
I know I might come off as being overly critical of some of their sushi, but really they are head and shoulders above the usual commercial crap while charging pretty much the same prices (or lesser even). Besides, they give out a 20% student discount on weekdays! And if I remember correctly, they also told me that they will be running a promotion from the middle of this July till the end of August: a blanket 20% discount for every customer, weekend or weekday alike. So if you're a fan of Japanese cuisine or are just someone who's always on the lookout for new food places to try out, go give Sushi Boat a sail soon. I for one would like to see them do well enough to set up their own restaurant because with a little more resources and capital, I'm sure they would do handsomely. We need more eats like Sushi Boat in Malacca, and much less of this.
Besides, the hostess was also a really charitable and gracious lady. After handing me my bill, she ventured to ask if I'm a student and when I told her that I am, she practically snatched the check back from me to deduct the 20% off it, without even asking me to show her my student ID (which I did not have on me at the time, so all's good).
At the moment, their à la carte selection is restricted to just sushi and sashimi since they don't exactly run a fully outfitted kitchen. While I'm not the world's greatest fan of raw seafood, I'm raring to check their sashimi dishes out in my next visit. I'm also wondering if they would do custom, made-to-order sushi seeing that their chefs are so accessible. My bet's on yes, but I'll ask them.
Nothing grabs attention like neon.
Sushi Boat's business timing is married to the shopping centre's hours and is presumably open 7 days a week. The quirky naval joint could be found in the third floor right in front of Carrefour's entrance. They have a Facebook page as well where you can look at more pictures of their sushi, but it's not very friendly to Chinese illiterate blood traitors such as myself.
Sushi Boat is one of the best sushi bars in town; that's my verdict. It's not a patch on the Japanese restaurants one can get in say KL, but it certainly shows a lot of promise. I'd like to see them bloom and boom.
P.S. The first picture in this post was cropped from a photograph found in this blog because I have totally forgotten to take a picture of this snack bar's most distinctive feature. Man, I'm so unprofessional.
Sailing for sushi,
k0k s3n w4i