Willow Shima Aji Featured image

Willow – Winner in the Contemporary Asian game.

Willow, you had me at Human League. Walking in to the beats of Don’t You Want Me, hubby and I both couldn’t help but bob our heads as we were ushered to our counter seats.

The heads continued bopping as chef Nicolas Tam showed his love for our generation via his curated playlist that vibed up the rather serious mood of the place, thanks to everything from A-ha to The Clash.

But, we are not here to asses his taste in music, although he gets three stars from us Gen X-ers.

Willow was meant to be my husband’s birthday lunch in July, but I had waited a tad bit too long and couldn’t secure a seat. Still, I decided to visit one month later, and chose a random Saturday for the Michelin-starred meal.

Chef Nicolas was formerly the sous chef at 3-Michelin-starred Zen and now, he and the team have scored their very first star for Willow at such a young age – they had only opened last year in April.

What awaited us at Willow.

Willow bills itself as a contemporary Asian restaurant. Indeed it is, with a leaning towards Japanese influence and ingredients.

Willow snacks
Bread course at Willow

A beautiful set of snacks started us off. Brilliant red tomberry tomato baubles hiding sweet crabmeat. The other was a fatty fresh mix of chutoro and hosui pear. Good stuff, setting the tone for more Japanese-inspired creations to come.

The bread course shows off a freshly baked pain au lait, within which is a trio of seaweed butter and served with bonito sabayon. Mmmm… delightful tearing the bread up and slathering the sabayon all over it. If only I could have it for breakfast every day!

The next dish is prettiness personified. It was a delight watching the chefs gently plate it up with the many hands and steps it required.

Willow Shima Aji in prep
Willow Shima Aji in prep 3
Willow Shima Aji in prep 4
Willow Shima Aji Featured image

This is Shima Aji, aged soy jelly, yuzu and caviar. You’re encouraged to mix it all up to eat the sashimi – a great idea.

Then came the lightly-crisped Hamo (conger eel fish), homemade tofu and salted vegetables. It’s a good pair, the fish and the tofu, both are delicate but lifted up by the vegetables.

Willow Conger Eel Tofu 2
Willow Conger Eel Tofu

Lucky ducky me.

Now all this while, I couldn’t help but notice several plump ducks sitting around, awaiting their final touches over the smoking hot binchotan grill.

This was the main course that we had both selected – the 2-week Dry Aged duck. It comes with an onion essence surrounded by a ring of black garlic and a stuffed shallot.

Willow Dry aged duck 4
Willow Dry aged duck 5
Willow Dry aged duck

That perfect scoring, so hypnotic staring at the lines, imparts smoky flavour into the duck so well. I loved watching how the chef masterfully slices off the duck breasts with one clean cut, the flesh remain pink, almost too pink for the faint-hearted, and artfully arranges it on a plate.

Willow Dry aged duck fatty

When I first saw the duck being served to a diner next to me, I had half a mind to change my order. Not because it looked bad, but because for a second, the fatty skin appeared mighty and I was tempted to stick to the fish dish. A ridiculous thought because the skin is the part that most people normally appreciate.

Well, I came to my senses quickly because I knew that it would be well-rendered plus everything else about it looked so appetising, so I stuck to my order. And it was worth it!

Hubby remarked that it was one of the best ducks he had ever eaten.

Willow Dry aged duck 3

Willow, will you stock up that bone broth for me, please?

When I arrived, I saw chef Nicolas working on a long, slender fish and I think this was the fish for the next dish. Or perhaps it was the conger eel, I’m not so sure as it had already been cut.

Willow Chef Nicolas Tam in action

We decided to top up our meal by adding the Tachiuo and rice dish as a second main to be shared between us.

Tachiuo (Beltfish – I guess because it looks like a belt?) is grilled lightly which benefits the mild summer fish. But that was not the most exciting thing about this dish.

Make no bones about it, the best part was that roasted bone soup. Just look at the colour and density!

Tachiuo Bone broth Rice
Tachiuo Bone broth Rice 2
Willow Tachiuo Bone broth Rice landscape

The fish is served with Koshikari rice and you’re given an entire teapot of the broth. My goodness that broth! I have never tasted a fish bone broth so redolent, so unctuous, I think it’s the best broth I have ever tasted. It’s simmered for nearly the whole day of cooking, that explains a lot.

Normally I prefer rice dishes without drowning them in liquids but this one I couldn’t stop pouring the broth into my rice, it was delish! The waiter asked me later if I wanted the last slurps remaining, and how could I say no?

A light touch to end it off.

I was already full by now so it’s a good thing dessert was a light peach dish with acacia sorbet and shards of white chocolate. Just the right follow up to the rich main courses.

Two petit-four to complete the meal – a mango chilli lime and a jivara orange caramel, and we were well satiated.

Peach dessert

A note about the service: Props to the person managing the whatsapp chat via which I settled all the minor details of my booking, they are to be commended for their warmth and quick response time.

Service was the same from everyone – no airs and earnest.

Well, Willow was definitely worth our drive to Hongkong street on a rainy Saturday afternoon. With their dedication to showcasing seasonal and special ingredients, we will definitely await what other exciting stuff Chef Nicolas and team comes up with.

Tip: Best to request counter seats when reserving, it’s much more engaging, though I did see chef Nicolas present dishes to those table-side, as well.


Address: 39 Hongkong St, Singapore 059678

Contact: +65 8843 4066, hello@willowrestaurant.sg


Opening Hours:

Lunch: 12 PM – 4 PM (Friday and Saturday only)

Dinner: 6 PM – 11 PM (Tuesday – Saturday)

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