Anyone who frequents Holland Drive is just plain lucky. Not only do they have Holland Drive Food Centre but there are at least 3 coffeeshops within walking distance, as well as a bunch of eateries in the area that make mealtimes a blast. There’s simply no arguing against the sheer variety on offer.
The Japanese Food Alley, tucked in one of these coffeeshops, is run by an amicable Japanese national from Kochi Prefecture. Taki-san (pictured above, right) first came to Singapore in 1998 and has spent the better part of 2 decades working under the RE&S Japanese restaurant group (known for brands like Ichiban Boshi, Ichiban Sushi and Sushi-GO).
Deciding to finally pursue his goal of dishing out restaurant-quality fare with his Japanese wife (pictured above, middle), he went on to open his own coffeeshop stall in 2021.
In Mar 2023, he launched Yosakoi! Japanese Food Alley at Clementi, an eatery styled as an izakaya concept named after an archaic greeting and a famous festival from his prefecture. Although the menus differ slightly — the stall offers tempura over the eatery’s katsu and various alcoholic beverages — his recipes and meticulous preparation are uniform across both outlets.
It’s not every day I come across a coffeeshop stall run by a Japanese local, so I had every reason to drop by for a hearty meal.
What I tried at The Japanese Food Alley
One cannot avoid the mention of ramen at any Japanese joint. A bowl of Tonkotsu Cha Shu Ramen (S$10) at The Japanese Food Alley comes with 2 slices of chashu, ramen egg, and a sheet of nori.
Taki-san keeps his tonkotsu broth recipe under lock and key, not literally, but he divulged that pork, chicken bones and vegetables are on the list. The dark bits afloat in the concoction hinted at the possible use of garlic oil.
With nothing to predicate our judgement on, the broth’s rich, smoky umami-ness was the ideal catalyst to kickstart our meal. Its milkier consistency gave each sip some body which matched the lingering savouriness.
The chashu were at risk of falling apart from how tender they were and lifting one almost tore the fat lining right off. The slices were braised to a briny flavour, distancing them in taste from the more delicate tonkotsu broth. Letting the second slice soak made it so soft down to the fat that it nearly disintegrated on my tongue. It was hard having to share this ramen.
The ramen noodles had also absorbed a good volume of the tonkotsu broth. Taki-san pointed out that we had let it sit for much too long. The strands were still firm with proper spring, though we could tell they were slightly soggy. Again, in these instances, it was entirely my fault.
The yolk of each Ajitama half had a balanced creaminess with not-too-bouncy egg whites that were very well marinated.
We had the Sukiyaki Beef Curry (S$11) next. A shallow pool of Japanese curry with half-submerged carrots and green beans occupied much of the plate with thin slices of beef between it and the mound of short-grain rice.
In a single sip, the curry brought my taste buds sky-high. This was nothing like the usual renditions done with stock curry roux (not a hit on Golden Curry, mind you). It felt lighter with an immediate, more pronounced piquancy that didn’t build too much. I later found some mushrooms buried in the curry.
The distinguishing factor was really the lift courtesy of an added sugariness to what most might already consider sweet. It still had the trademark savouriness of Japanese curry, but that took a backseat to the more striking elements.
The gyu-niku was perfect. It was as if Taki-san knew my preference for gyu slices is on the sweeter side. They were delightfully tender, tearing without too much force and imparting their sweet juices onto my palate. Tragically, this zenith of indulgence ended abruptly when I finished them all too quickly.
On Taki-san’s recommendation, we took on the Sashimi 3-type choice of Salmon, Swordfish & Yellowtail (S$29) that each came in 4 cuts. They were served on a bed of ice sandwiched between slices of lime while 2 dollops of wasabi accoutrements sat on smaller lime slices. I recommend leaving the platter on the tray so the condensation doesn’t flood your table.
Taki-san sources his salmon from Norway, the country we can thank for introducing Japan to serving salmon raw. When we took our first bites of the sashimi, the quality difference was clear. Possibly as a result of the extensive cooling from the ice, they possessed a distinct oily, fresh flavour.
The Yellowtail sashimi are from Kyushu prefecture in Japan. These were the fattiest slices of the entire platter and it felt like my teeth were gliding through smooth, rigid jelly. Exquisite!
Fibrous in texture, the Swordfish sashimi had the most noticeable scent of the sea. While we did add the wasabi to every sashimi, it complemented the swordfish best thanks to its relative resilience. The other slices were quickly chewed and swallowed, shortening the flavour trip of both it and the soya sauce on our tongue.
I couldn’t hold myself back from making an order of the Tendon Regular (S$12) after we had concluded our meal. This was, after all, not offered at Taki-san’s other branch. Expecting the tempura to come in modest sizes, we were caught off-guard by the towering pieces. A specially made tentsuyu (tempura dipping sauce) had been drizzled over the tempura before it was served.
The most surprising component was the egg tempura. Despite tendon being the dish I had most frequently in Japan, I’d never encountered this gloriously fried globe before. The vessel was so fragile, the yolk within began oozing from both ends when I bit down on the crust. Its creamy lava was further bolstered by the sweet tentsuyu. Wow.
As the source of the dish’s initial majesty, the fish tempura’s heft made the chopsticks a difficult choice of cutlery.
The meat within was moist and contrasted its crunchy shell excellently. If the egg and fish weren’t tempting enough, The Japanese Food Alley’s tempura are given a more substantial layer of batter. This is great news as the sauce gets to seep in without costing too much crisp and you get to enjoy a bigger meal.
The ebi tempura swaps the flaky, moist fish with the subtly sweet and tougher meat of the shrimp that managed to stand out, thanks to less coverage from the tentsuyu.
5 vegetable tempura also come with the Tendon Regular — notably pumpkin and eggplant. All were equally delicious but side-lined by the grander tempura I had before.
The accompanying rice bowl is also coated in some of the sweet dipping sauce, adding moisture and flavour to the plain grains. Some house-made pickles are presented on the side.
The Japanese Food Alley stands out for its superior quality as a coffeeshop stall in many respects. That’s likely in no small part due to the owner being Japanese himself and also having an extensive culinary background.
The superb tendon, ramen and curry aside, they also offer just about every dish out of a restaurant’s menu but at affordable prices. It’s definitely worth a visit if you love Japanese food as much as I do.
Order Delivery: Deliveroo
Expected damage: S$10 – S$29 per pax
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