Dining with a difference at Fukuzushi

“What’s so different about dining at this Japanese restaurant?” I ask myself as I find my way to Jalan Sutera in Taman Sentosa, where the restaurant is located.

Chunks of salmon sashimi topping on the Yee Sang,
auspicious Lunar New Year raw fish platter
As I pass the rows of shop-houses, I realise that a number of restaurants have opened along this stretch of road but I spot something distinctly different – a Japanese thatched roof – and know I’ve found the right place.
        
This restaurant is designed within a double-storey house located on an inner parallel road. I’m glad there’s space to park my car without obstructing traffic on the busy main road.

Potted bamboo bushes mark the entrance to Fukuzushi Japanese Restaurant and in just two steps, I’m wrapped in charming Japanese ambience, complete with the sound of gurgling water features and the sight of wooden furniture in the outdoor dining area.

When I step into the indoor section, the staff call out a chorus of “Irasshaimase!” a typical Japanese way to welcome guests.

The shake or salmon sashimi
served with the Yee Sang platter
I’m joining several guests for a dining preview of the restaurant’s signature dishes and Yee Sang or raw fish platter, served during the Lunar New Year season.

When I take my place at the long table set out with placemats and Japanese crockery, I surreptitiously scrutinize the ceramic plate and tea tumbler, admiring its rustic finishing typical of Japanese pottery.

The restaurant boasts of over 300 items in its menu and I’m looking closer at the various sections for Salad, Soup, Sashimi, Sushi, Tempura and specialty dishes prepared by Executive Chef Derick Wong.

Then I see what sets this Japanese restaurant apart from the rest: At Fukuzushi, discerning diners can savour Japanese pork dishes in a range of favourites like Tonkatsu Ramen as well as Buta Kakumi, slow-simmered Japanese braised pork belly and Buta Amiyaki, grilled spare pork ribs!

I cannot help but eagerly anticipate what Chef Wong has prepared to impress us today so I sit back, ready to be wowed.

Executive Chef Derick Wong
at Fukuzushi Japanese Restaurant
Mentored by Master Chefs in his 28-year culinary career in Singapore, Chef Wong brings a wealth of Japanese culinary experience to Fukuzushi. Combining his skills in Japanese fine dining with fusion Japanese cuisine, the Chef has created some exciting dishes paired with own-made sauces for the dishes here.

Prepared with an auspicious 18 items including ten chunky slices of shake or salmon sashimi, the colourful Yee Sang platter is presented with a side the Chef’s own-recipe plum sauce in an elegant cocktail glass.

The sense of excitement is palpable as this is probably the guests’ first taste of Japanese-style Lunar New Year Yee Sang (RM88) for the season.

I like the way the raw fish is arranged in a pretty fan and we can see the thick chunks of sashimi on the saucer.

Maybe the only thing absent is the typical Chinese way of chanting auspicious phrases for well-being and good fortune while various topping ingredients are added to the Yee Sang.

But it really doesn’t matter because we happily substituted it with our specific wishes for each other as we add in the raw fish and drizzle the plum sauce on the platter before tossing the salad together in the Lo Hei tradition.

Negima Nabe, tuna and leek soup,
served warm and comforting
At first bite, the tangy-crunchy flavours bursting in my mouth reminds me how Japanese-style Yee Sang wins hands-down simply because the serving consists of real raw fish in sashimi slices and not tiny slivers that would simply get lost in a pile of other ingredients. To me, this is the authentic way of enjoying raw fish, cleverly combined with Lunar New Year traditions.

The agreeable Yee Sang flavour certainly whets my appetite for more from the Chef’s recommendations.

Next is the comforting taste of Negima Nabe, tuna and leek soup, brewed and then steamed in a clay pot before serving. While the fatty parts of tuna are usually eaten raw, the leaner portions are gently brewed for its rich flavour along with leeks, shimeji mushrooms and tofu cubes.

Among the popular salads is the Soft-Shell Crab Salad or Sarada (Japanese word for salad) and here, it comes with deep-fried soft-shell crabs and crispy salmon skin tossed in fresh multi-greens with a side of Goma or sesame dressing.
                           
Chef Wong modestly explains that the Goma dressing is own-made as well as the restaurant’s ice-creams. When I hear him say that they make two ice-cream flavours, matcha or green tea and black sesame, I must confess that I cannot wait to taste it!

A side of Goma dressing to add
to the Soft-Shell Crab Salad
But first, I should take my time to savour all the Chef Recommended specialties that seem to come flying out of the kitchen. There’s Mixed Tempura and Salmon Spicy Maki.

And then fragrant Garlic Fried Rice. I consciously try not to finish the tasty rice just to save some space for the exciting pork dishes that Chef Wong has prepared for us.

I can recognise Buta Kakumi, slow-simmered Japanese braised pork belly served with a side of Japanese Yellow Mustard, in the deep bowl.

It somehow feels unladylike to bite into the multi-layer chunk of pork belly for its full flavour, so I politely dissect the portion, drizzle some sauce and mustard on it before popping bite-size pieces into my mouth. Mmm… tender and oh so delicious!

Looking at the grilled spare pork ribs, I can imagine how the marinated pieces of Buta Amiyaki is both tasty on the outside as well as inside and to do justice, I should hold the rib in my hand to savour its taste.

When I voiced my desire to use my hand, a waiter comes forward, proffering plastic gloves. As I hold a spare rib in my gloved hand, I forget my manners and boldly gnaw the tasty meat right down to its bone!

Dishes [Clockwise] Tori Piri-Piri Age, dip sauce for fish dish,
Chashu, Spicy Salmon Maki, Buta Spare Ribs Amiyaki, Karei Karaage or whole deep-fried flounder
Another specialty, Japanese stewed pork belly or Chashu, are slices of marinated pork belly drizzled with sauce. This is a popular ingredient for Ramen but equally good to eat with rice or as it is.

Own-made sesame ice-cream
Fans of fish will like Karei Karaage, whole deep-fried flounder, where pieces of fish fillets are served separate from its bones with a side of Ponzu dip sauce. Its bones, deep-fried to a crisp, are so enticing that I cannot resist plucking off a section to nibble!

Chef Wong tells me that many young diners like to order Tori Piri-Piri Age, deep-fried chicken in spicy sauce, so he reduces the Piri-Piri spice upon request to match their tastes.

The choices in its menu, the freshest ingredients, own-made sauces and dips, as well as delightful pork dishes, makes this charming Japanese restaurant distinctly different from the rest.

And of course, their own-made ice-cream.

I smile when a scoop of sesame ice-cream topped with a dash of red-beans is served. This is indeed a fitting end to an extraordinary Japanese meal.

Fukuzushi Japanese Restaurant is at No. 163, Jalan Sutera, Taman Sentosa, 80150 Johor Baru, Johor. Open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6pm to 10.30pm. For reservations, Tel: +607 – 3309777, +6012 – 777 2778 and +6016 – 209 3357.

Note: The restaurant is open throughout the Lunar New Year season.