Local Celebrity Shane Pow wanders into the magic of Japanese fusion cuisine
Mediacorp artiste Shane Pow ventures into the restaurant scene with the opening of his first restaurant, MOJO. Partnering Sean Lim, the owner of an established hipster cafe Sin Lee Foods, and with the help of a little magic – the 26-year-old actor opened MOJO in Telok Ayer Street two days after Valentine’s Day.
Riding on the Japanese-style donburi trend, MOJO serves grilled protein rice bowls in the day and transforms into an izakaya at night, with a menu featuring yakitori, small plates, and beverages infused with Japanese alcohol. Local food writer Daniel Ang who blogs at Daniel Food Diary was delighted with the oriental flavour and variety of ingredients and toppings in MOJO’s day menu. The Japanese Furikake topping, which is a traditional Japanese condiment made of seaweed, dried seafood and spices, was also highly recommended by local food writer Toh Mu Qin – more affectionately known as Miss Tam Chiak, who finds that it accentuates the flavours of the rice bowl.
According to MOJO’s website, the restaurant serves food for the best folks and urges its patrons to drink sake and stay soba. Being the soba lover and dinner time alcoholic that I am, I could not wait to check out the restaurant.
I was delighted to find a wide variety of food items on the night menu which includes a selection of twelve traditional yakitori dishes and nine creative fusion style items for sharing. What really impressed me was its cocktails and spirits menu which consists of Japanese cocktails, whiskey, sake and craft beers. The restaurant also serves wine and champagne for those who are not into Japanese beverages. I was surprised by the length of the list, definitely not what one would expect from a place that sells protein and carb bowls.
The vibe at MOJO is very unlike the nostalgic Sin Lee Foods or any other restaurants along Telok Ayer Street. The modern Japanese decor is outstanding with cool pink neon lights arranged to spell ‘MOJO’ at the shop front, for a brief moment I was transported to the vibrant streets of Tokyo. The restaurant is airy and spacious with a substantial bar and counter seats in the front, and standard dining tables and chairs at the back. The kitchen can be observed through a glass wall lined with cute fresh alfalfa sprouts in pots on the ledge.
The restaurant’s choice of electronic ambient music creates a youthful and relaxed atmosphere without being too noisy. Unlike many other hipster places where having a conversation can be more tiring than work, my friend and I had no problem hearing each other as the place filled up. The soft and adequate lighting also enabled my pre-dining Instagram ritual. Snap-snap!
Like other restaurants in that area, prices at MOJO is reasonable but not exactly value-for-money. For example, a serving of three cubes of pork jowl yakitori costs $6. The cubes were small, about the size of a dollar coin, which made me feel slightly ripped off.
The Pork Jowl yakitori has the most delightful mouthfeel I’ve ever experienced with a piece of meat. It was served without any sauce or condiments, but the smell of roasted lard was so captivating that the dish felt rich instead of plain. The meat got juicier and tastier as I chewed at it mindfully, and I felt a tinge of sadness immediately after I swallowed it. Bye-bye, buttery goodness. If it didn’t cost that much, it would have been the perfect companion for my ice-cold Asahi beer.
Another noteworthy dish is the Uni Soba, a cold soba lightly coated with mayo and shrimp seasoning then topped with fresh sea urchin, scallops, and salmon roe. Having paid $38 for it, I found the presentation of the dish underwhelming. Can’t it be more uni, less soba? However, the sweet freshness of seafood could do no wrong. The soba was springy and each strand of noodle was evenly coated, it was very flavourful but it did not overpower the subtle complex flavours of the seafood.
The Aburi Broccoli ($12) arrested my nose with fragrances of parmesan cheese, mixed chili pepper, and citrus zest. The vegetable dish which is popular at Sin Lee Foods was well liked by various food reviewers, I was, however, unimpressed. Unlike blanched or stir-fried broccoli, the deep fried version at MOJO was overcooked and lacks crunch. The wonderful fragrance was not reflected in its taste and the typical sweetness of broccoli was missing.
Towards the end of my dinner, a friendly waitress came asking if we would like more to drink because she was taking the last order of their Happy Hour. MOJO’s Happy Hour begins at 12 pm and stretches all the way to 9 pm with 1-for-1 draught beer ($15) and wines ($22). I had enough of beer by then so I gave in to the temptation of their signature cocktail and ordered the Niwatoko-Ume – a blend of elderflower essence, Japanese plum liqueur, and Italian herb and fruit liqueur, served with a round ice ball ($18). I savored my delicate fancy drink sip by sip and enjoyed every moment of it. To my untrained palate, it tasted like very much like apricot jam with the oomph of good booze.
MOJO’s signature cocktails were crafted by their head bartender Noreen Ong who previously held the fort at renowned Singaporean cocktail locales Maison Ikkoku and Operation Dagger. Bespoke cocktails crafted to diners’ specifications are also available upon request at $25.
The food may have been a hit and miss affair, but the vibe at MOJO is alluring and I find myself making plans to go back.