Noka: When Japanese Meets Locally Grown Produce | CoolJapan

Hidden among the grey concrete and glass slabs in the Central Business District is a sanctuary of green. It sits atop Funan Mall, an edible garden comprising basil, lemongrass, mint, lettuce, watermelon and 45 other fruits and vegetables grown around the ledge of a rooftop.

And it is here in this garden where Noka serves inventive Japanese small plates in an attempt to reconnect diners with the source of their food. Farm-to-table in a mall sounds like an oxymoron. But there we were, eating dishes garnished with marigold, blue pea flowers and microgreens — all grown 20 metres from our table.

The folks at Noka are no strangers to foraging: its sister restaurant, Open Farm Community, has been serving freshly harvested ingredients for several years now. At Noka, Chef Takuma Seki does a great job of taking locally grown ingredients uncommon in Japanese cuisine, like spring onions and kale, and infusing them in traditional dishes.

The starters

Noka Kampachi sashimi with truffles and dill

Kampachi sashimi with truffles and dill

There is an SGD150 omakase menu, but we opted for the tapas-style dishes to share, beginning with a kampachi sashimi speckled with truffles and dill. The truffle was aromatic without overwhelming the fish. Dill, an herb more commonly used in Western fish dishes, was an appreciated subtle touch.

Noka Left: cauliflower tempura; Right: chicken yakitori

Left: cauliflower tempura; Right: chicken yakitori

The rest of the starters were a mixed bag. There were hits, like the popcorn-sized cauliflower tempura finished with an aromatic miso tamarind glaze. The unassuming-looking yakitori  — grilled chicken thighs —were outrageously tender and full of smoky char.

Noka Left: chicken karaage; Right: calamari tempura

Left: chicken karaage; Right: calamari tempura

Others were less memorable. The chicken karaage, while well-fried, tasted quite ordinary, and the calamari tempura, dyed an inky black, was disappointingly bland.

Noka Left: salmon aburi roll; Right: sake

Left: salmon aburi roll; Right: sake

Fortunately, the misses were quickly salvaged by the salmon aburi roll that followed. The rice is the star here. It’s imported from Niigata, a prized rice-producing region, which incidentally also produces very good sake that they’ve brought in.

The mains

The mains were probably the strongest part of the menu. Chef Takuma opted for a tightly curated list of four items — two fish and two meat dishes.

Left: Grilled Pork Jowl; Right: Black Cod Marinated in Miso

We first ordered a black cod marinated in miso, served on a bed of roasted tomato, spring onions and sweet potato crisps. The cod was roasted extremely well. The miso packed each bite with umami, while lending a subtle sweetness that perfumed the fish.

Next, we had a lightly grilled pork jowl. The pork jowl is marinated in koji, a mould (it’s better than it sounds) that is used to kickstart the fermentation process that turns soybeans into soy sauce and miso. The koji imbued the pork with richness, accompanying the tender and fatty. It’s so rich that it could become jelak after a few mouthfuls, but it was saved by the yuzu paste on the side that provided much-needed acidity.

... And lastly, the dessert

Noka Yuzu cheescake

Yuzu cheesecake

For dessert, I particularly liked the yuzu cheesecake. It’s a playfully deconstructed dessert, with each element — the cream cheese, crust and cake — served individually with a side of yuzu sorbet.

Noka takes typical Japanese dishes and puts an unexpected spin on them, thanks to the multitude of fruits and vegetables at its disposal. It’s on the pricey side, but with plates as pretty as its surroundings, it’s worth a visit.

Noka is located at #07-38 Funan 109 North Bridge Road, Singapore.

Alan Yuen writes about food and travel. Inspired by the travel philosophy of Anthony Bourdain, Alan’s favourite way to experience culture is through food. In his free time, Alan loves reading and watching movies.
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