Wednesday, June 10, 2009

STI: Is 99 cent sushi just as good?

June 7, 2009

Is 99 cent sushi just as good?

By Natasha Ann Zachariah

Diners have been flocking to three Japanese restaurants for a sushi fix that does not hurt their wallets.

Suki Sushi, Nihon Mura and Shin Tokyo are offering sushi such as maki, gunkan and inari at just 99 cents a plate.

The bargain prices have attracted long queues during lunch hours and on weekends at these restaurants where customers can pick sushi off conveyor belts or order directly from service staff or sushi chefs.

But some have also complained about the quality of the fare. Their grouses range from the freshness of the food to the unappetising taste of the sushi.

First-time patron Sarah Tan, who ate at the Suki Sushi outlet at Punggol Plaza, was attracted by the price but felt that the quality could be improved and the variety expanded.

The 21-year-old student says: 'The sushi has obviously been left out too long, it tastes a little flat rather than fresh.'

Mr Jeffrey Lim, a patron at Nihon Mura at The Cathay, noticed that the portions were considerably smaller here than at other Japanese restaurants where the same dishes might be priced at $1.99.

The IT consultant, 35, who ate eight plates of sushi, says: 'The portions are obviously halved. Maybe they stinge on it to keep the prices low.'

The restaurants maintain that despite the low prices, the usual ingredients are used and food quality controls are in place to ensure freshness.

Ms Jill Ng, business development manager for Suki Group of Restaurants, says: 'The chefs periodically remove sushi that has not been consumed and they take the necessary measures to ensure the quality of the ingredients.'

She adds that the most popular sushi are placed on the belt, so they are taken up quickly.

Shin Tokyo's co-founder and managing director Yvone Lim says that the food at her outlets is constantly monitored to ensure freshness.

She says: 'Customers can order straight from the menu and it's prepared in front of them, so the chances of it not being fresh are slim.'

There are 13 Suki Sushi and Nihon Mura outlets, owned by The Suki Group Of Restaurants, located islandwide in places including Tampines, Ang Mo Kio and Orchard.

Nihon Mura started the promotion when it opened in 2006, while Suki Sushi introduced the offer in March last year.

Shin Tokyo, managed by Ramen Ten and Shin Tokyo Group of Restaurants, comprises three outlets at Tampines, Yew Tee and Clementi.

It began offering 99 cent sushi when its Clementi outlet opened in January. The offer has been so popular that it has become a permanent feature.

Regular patrons to these restaurants admit that they are attracted by the price, rather than how the food tastes.

Ms Eunice Ke, a 30-year-old IT consultant who has been to Nihon Mura's Tampines outlet more than 10 times, says: 'The food here is normal but I come here because it's cheaper than restaurants like Sakae Sushi or Sushi Tei.'

Both chains say that profits are marginal and rather than create a price war, the promotions are meant to keep the sushi affordable and the customers coming back.

Of Shin Tokyo, which is halal, Madam Lim says: 'The brand is just six months old, so this way we can introduce ourselves to our customers.'

And customers say they will keep coming as long as the price is right.

Mr Alex Sim, a 23-year-old student, says: 'It's really about the price and location. It tastes decent to me and it's Japanese food at a good price, so I'm not complaining.'

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