Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The heart of dining

Japanese grilled - http://web-japan.org/I rarely write about dining experiences. No, let me correct that. I have never written about my dining experiences, because eating is not a hobby for me, unlike many others in Singapore. Until now.

Vivo City is the hottest place in Singapore right now. Even on a 'working' day, you can meet throngs of people at this new spanking mega shopping mall, as I did yesterday afternoon. This wasn't my first time there and I amused myself identifying the new shops that were opened since my last visit a week ago. I decided to have dinner there. My companion seemed very interested in a Japanese Restaurant called Shin Kushiya which is billed as a Japanese Charcoal Grill restaurant. A look at the prices on its menu suggested that it was a mid-priced restaurant. I could afford that. The only problem was it opened only at 6pm for dinner. Well that gave us time to wander around a bit more - something not difficult to do in this vast mega-complex. We joined the queue at 5.50pm as the queue had already formed - by two young couples.

That's when everything went wrong. We could see many restaurant staff going about their preparatory work in the restaurant and were expectant of a good dining experience. The hour came and passed, and nobody came to welcome us into the restaurant. Well, time is relative, so we waited. Another 5 minutes and we could see the staff still busying themselves in the restaurant except welcoming guests - and I thought that the customer is king. In this case, the customer seemed to be a peripheral concern. My companion said that we would wait another 5 minutes, after which we would take our business elsewhere if we continued to be ignored. Before the next 5 minute mark was breached, others in the queue were also vocally frustrated. I was thinking of an alternative restaurant already. At the eleventh minute mark, a waiter finally deigned it appropriate to lead the first couple in, after which he disappeared elsewhere, seemingly ignoring the second couple at the door. I wondered, "Did the first couple have a reservation?" We could see a number of other waiters and waitresses inside the restaurant, but I suppose in a Japanese organisation, each one has his/her appointed position, and they do not cross each other's assigned responsibilities. We had to wait another 2 minutes before the second and third couple (us) were ushered in. At last to dine in a restaurant with a tinge of exclusivity. But that was not the end.

Many restaurants in Vivo City have marvellous sea-view frontage. We were the third couple in, so we expected that we could sit where that sea-view would be ours for the evening. But no, the restaurant has blocked off the section of tables nearest the sea-frontage and what's more, it had a black, albeit see-through, curtain separating the sea-view from the diners. What a royal waste of view. But customers cannot be choosers, can they (?)

Well, at least we were seated. As the restaurant did not have set menus for dinner - it is all ala carte, we took a while placing our orders, though not much longer than the other diners. Then we waited and waited and waited for our food. For the first half-an-hour, the only thing available to our famished tummies was a small cup of salad and a cup of green tea each. That salad consisted of two bite-sized wedges of carrots and cucumbers and several small pieces of chopped cabbage, all contained in a typical Japanese-sized cup - small and dainty, that is. It was already close to 7pm and other diners where already well into their meal. Many of them had come in later than us. In fact, the first couple had already left the restaurant after their meal. We felt like the invisible couple but more so that the waiters needed some prompting. Sure enough, the reminders seemed to work as our dishes were served up to us in quick succession. What if we had not asked?

Only, my companion noticed that some grilled items in a dish she remembered she had ordered did not appear on the dish. So it was clarification time. Then only did the restaurant realise that they had missed out those items. Then only were we also informed that one of the missing items was no longer in stock, so they cancelled this off the bill. The restaurant was busy, but not serving up the customers' orders promptly and correctly is a sin where restaurants are concerned. There is just no excuse, especially when something has run out of stock and you are not told. If we had not noticed the discrepancy and settled the bill, we would have paid for some things that were never offered. Tsk tsk, this is no way to run a restaurant. We reminded each other the last time we dined at a fine-dining Japanese restaurant and encountered similar delays. That restaurant has since closed.

Well, what about the food? you may ask. I am no connoisseur, but I would say that the food is good though not something to shout about. Its Saba couldn't compare to the one that I ate in a neighbourhood restaurant in Korea some one and a half years ago. The portion was what you'd expect, not overly generous, but enough to fill the tummy, though my companion, a women, may not agree. The ambience is good and could have been better if they had offered the sea-view. Surprisingly, their waitresses, all of whom do not appear to be more than 20 years old, are very polite and helpful

So the next time your are at Vivo City and you are thinking of dining here, note the time. The accuracy of their Japanese watch remains much to be desired. And watch that you do not get overcharged for food that was never served. If you want sea-view frontage, you'd probably have more luck with the other restaurants.

This restaurant has the Chinese/Japanese 'heart' word displayed prominently at its entrance. I suppose it sits there proudly too. However, if our dining experience is anything to go by, it has already lost its 'heart' in putting the customer first.

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