Last night I had dinner with my colleagues at Waraku at The Central (Clarke Quay) to celebrate the birthday of 2 people in the department, and we ate there only because the after dinner plan was to head to Shanghai Dolly.
Don’t even get me started on the layout of Central’s carpark, which was obviously built by an idiot who either doesn’t hold a driver’s license and has a personal vendetta against drivers because I had to drive 5 floors up a spiral ramp with a bloody SUV tailing me so closely that I got dizzy when I finally reached the first floor of the carpark. Then the lots were built so oddly that I had to 5-point turn into my lot. And then I got lost trying to find the lift lobby to shops. Then I got lost trying to get to the restaurant coz The Central was built by the Goblin King.
But the crux of my angst isn’t about the building but about Waraku. It is apparently run by some Japanese dude who decided to leave Japan for Singapore to open what he termed “casual Japanese dining”, which means the usual fare of don, udon, sushi and bento sets. But frankly from the standard of the meal last night, it felt more like some bloody local decided to fake the whole Japanese dining experience by throwing some rice and meat together, toss in some Japanese soy sauce he ordered in bulk, serve it on “Japanese ware” he bought from Daiso, and call it “Japanese dining”.
I guess it’s OKAY to serve mediocre Japanese food as there are mediocre Japanese cafes in Japan. BUT they don’t cost me $34 a meal. The simplest meal you can have in Japan, or Tokyo to be more precise, come from those vending machine cafes. These cafes are small and unpretentious, usually patronized by businessmen and office workers. There’s a small vending machine at the front of the café that has the entire menu. You pick what you want, press the corresponding button, toss in a few yen, and out comes a ticket at the end. You take the ticket to the row of chefs at the back of the café, who quietly whip up a simple meal of don or udon complete with free cup of tea or water. All this for 700-1000 yen. That’s SGD10-15. The fare is simple, but good. You don’t leave filling as if you’ve been ripped off. Last night’s dinner was another story altogether. I ordered a Sukiyaki Wazen coz it was the easiest thing to eat. I admit it’s my own fault that I didn’t study the menu properly where it listed clearly what was in the set. So when the set came, I was mildly surprised that it contained:
- 1 Suki hot pot (with the usually sukiyaki sauce I could have bought from a supermarket for like $5 for an entire bottle) with 2 pieces of tofu, half a mushroom (HALF), 1 small clump of golden mushrooms and a few pieces of cabbage and vermicelli.
- 5 thin slices of beef (FIVE. Excuse me, I can finish a 400g piece of steak in one sitting).
- 1 bowl of raw egg.
- 1 bowl of rice.
- 1 bowl of cold udon (why the fuck do I need 2 types of carbohydrates?)
- 1 bowl of chawanmushi.
- 1 bowl of mashed potato.
- 1 small aluminum foil of Japanese pickles.
WHAT. THE. HELL.
Granted by the end I was full from the meal but that’s coz I HAD ONE BOWL OF RICE AND ONE BOWL OF UDON! HOW TO NOT FEEL FULL?! But it really astounds me that there are “Japanese restaurants” in this country who think they can get away with cutting corners like that by filling the set with useless nonsense and then charging a high rate for it. I berated myself for not going for a simpler don but instead got drawn to the pretty pictures and ordered a set.
I tried to calculate the estimated cost of my meal:
- Suki sauce: $0.50
- 5 slices of beef $3?
- Rice $0.30
- Udon $0.30
- chawanmushi $0.50
- potato $0.50
- raw egg $0.50
- pickles $0.20
I obviously don’t go to the market a lot but at the very most, it’d have cost them $6 to make the meal. So they were charging me $23 (after taking out GST and service charge) for what? The rental of the utensils (remember, Japanese sets use a lot of bowls and plates)?? Or maybe the rights to play the terrible ENGLISH boyband music (they didn’t even bother pretending with Jpop) in the restaurant. This reminded me of the experience I had at MOF Japanese Desserts and Shit Like That at Bugis Junction, where I paid $9 for a plate of stir fried mushrooms (again, a handful of golden mushrooms and 3 shrunken mushrooms the size of a 50 cent coin each). What was even more astounding was that place was full during dinner time and we actually had to queue for that rubbish.
So now I don’t know what I’m more upset by. That there are other people out there who enjoy eating bad food at premium price or that there are restaurant owners out there getting rich on people’s lack of taste.