Shunka

Special thanks to Shunka and Penang Lang for extending this food review invitation.

Located along Burmah Road and several shops away from the former location of Marshall's, Shunka (旬香) is one of the newest eatery in Nagore Square. Today marks the official opening of this Japanese restaurant, although it has been operating for over a month now.
The Shunka franchise started with its flagship outlet at Bukit Mertajam and has since expanded to 7 outlets include one in Publika Shopping Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. Shunka made a brief debut in Penang Island as Shunka Yatai Ryori (旬香屋台料理) at 1st Avenue Mall, but the oden (おでん) concept was not as well-received as hoped. Shunka's latest opening at Burmah Road reverts to the traditional Japanese restaurant which Shunka has replicated with much success elsewhere.

The name "Shunka" derives from Chinese characters which mean "period" and "fragrance". "Shunka" is the corresponding transliteration of these Chinese characters to Japanese kanji.
Despite its local origin, the management of Shunka strives to keep the Japanese restaurants as authentic as possible. Its motto "Reliving Tokyo" (東京の追体験) hits this point even harder. Each year, the executives of Shunka embark on fact-finding missions in Japan to be inspired with new recipes and to outline future business direction.

The three major themes of Shunka are cuisine (料理), matcha (抹茶) and sake (酒). Notable absence from the menu is sushi (寿司), which is deliberate. Shunka feels that sushi has become cliché in Japanese cuisine, therefore opting to drop it altogether.

This outlet is elegantly designed to provide an upscale atmosphere suitable for both casual and business settings. For larger dining parties, there is a private dining room upstairs which accommodates up to 15 people.
Our hosts tonight are Mr. Edisson and Mr. YC Lim. Friendly and energetic, these gentlemen kept us entertained as we wined and dined.

Our first dish is the Salmon Sashimi (サーモン刺身, RM10.90) which is complimentary for all customers as part of its 3-day opening promotion. Three thick cuts of salmon are as fresh and succulent as one can ask for. We were told that the presentation of this dish has been simplified because it is the complimentary version. The actual dish is served over ice to maintain freshness.
Next is Shunka's sole dish which can be remotely considered "sushi", called Crispy Sushi (寿司カツ, RM11.90). This makizushi (巻きずし) is made the usual way: unagi (鰻, freshwater eel), cucumber and tamago (たまご, sweetened egg omelette) are wrapped with rice and seaweed (海苔). The roll is breaded, then deep-fried for golden crisp.
Another delicacy served hot from the kitchen is the Grilled Squid Butter (烏賊のバタ焼き, RM21.90). This palm-length squid is carefully grilled until the flesh attains the perfect texture: rubbery but still sufficient pleasant to chew. I prefer the taste of squid's main body over the tentacles.
Japanese Cheese Omelet (チーズの玉子焼き, RM9.90) is another dish which should be familiar if you visited Shunka Yatai Ryori before.
Cream cheese is enveloped inside a sweetened omelette to yield a delightful flavor.
Next up, we are treated with a serving of Grilled Pork Belly (豚トロ塩焼き, RM6.90). If there is one dish to be considered "guilty pleasure", this is the most befitting one. Made from pork belly, fat from the meat is used to grill the meat itself. The result is one crispy treat which keeps you mesmerized while you forgo your strict dieting regime. A hint of lemon serves to provide another dimension of gastronomic appeal.
Moving away from the grilling station, our next meal is the Pork Sukiyaki Steamboat (豚すき焼き, RM18.90). Ingredients in the steamboat are pork slices, mushroom, bean curd and different types of vegetables. As with any good sukiyaki, the broth tends to leave a lingering sweet sensation with every sip. This dish is simply appetizing and fulfilling indeed.
As usual, a cup of raw egg serves dipping sauce. A number of people are still uncomfortable with the idea of using raw egg as dip, but I find it just fine. The egg provides extra savory flavor and tends to cool the pork slices by a slight degree.
One of the most unusual dish here at Shunka is the Japanese Omelet Noodle (オム焼きそば, RM15.90). Soba noodles are stir-fried with teriyaki (照り焼き) sauce, and then wrapped in a thin layer of fried egg. Apart from aesthetic purpose, I fail to appreciate the assimilation of noodles and fried egg as exhibited in this dish.
Shunka's dishes are not meant for take-away orders because most Japanese food only maintain their tastiness within a narrow range of temperature. For example, tempura (天麩羅) are meant to be consumed hot while sashimi must be served chilled. The only exception to this general rule is bento (弁当), which is designed for take-away in the first place.
Shunka offers 10 choices of bento meals which differ in terms of ingredients. Each option is named after a flower, for example Plum (梅), Sakura (桜) or Lily (百合). Our bento today is called Sweet Flag Bento (菖蒲弁当, RM30.90). The highlights of this dish are grilled red snapper, barbecued beef and a couple of onsen tamago (温泉玉子). Side dishes are apple salad (リンゴのサラダ), pickled seaweed (中華ワカメ), pickles (漬物) and rice.
Japanese dishes are usually not spicy by Malaysian standards. Due to local demand for stronger flavor, Shunka's menu also offers a handful of Korean dishes. The most fulfilling one is the Kimchi Steamboat (キムチ鍋, RM15.90) which is not only spicy, but sour as well.
Besides the titular kimchi, other ingredients in the steamboat are shiitake mushrooms (椎茸), enoki mushrooms (榎茸) and bean curd. The kimchi broth is quite spicy by my standard, so use caution when sipping the soup. This dish is meant to be consumed hot and accompanied with rice.
Another Korean dish that we sampled is the Ishiyaki Bibimbap (石焼きビビンバ, RM16.90). A scorching-hot stone bowl keeps the rice dish warm and fragrant. In particular, I like the clever use of teriyaki sauce to flavor the chicken chunks. This is certainly a scrumptious treat.
For sampling purpose, a plate of Kimchi (キムチ, RM4.90) was prepared. The kimchi here is prepared in Japanese style. The Japanese style is less spicy and sour, but sweeter than its Korean counterpart. I reckon that the former is more appealing to the locals' palate.
As for salads, the Japanese Salad (和風サラダ, RM12.90) is the choice today. This garden salad consists of lettuce, cucumber, tomato, bean curd, corn, carrot strips and seaweed. The choice of ingredients is not distinctively Japanese, so I am convinced that the name of this dish refers to the salad dressing.
This salad usually comes with one type of dressing. However for the sake of our review tonight, all four choices are available for sampling. The Wasabi Dressing (わさびドレッシング) is the perfect choice if you have an affinity for wasabi. The Goma Dressing (ゴマドレッシング) is made from sesame seeds, not it is not quite my cup of tea. Wafu Dressing (和風ドレッシング) is distinctively Japanese-styled, but I somehow find it incompatible with salad. Finally, the Goma Yuzu Dressing (ゴマ柚子ドレッシング) includes a hint of citrus freshness.
Apart from the usual menu, there is also a "secret" menu specially catered for Japanese customers. Many of these dishes are almost unheard of, but we were told that these are popular street food which Japanese know and love.
Of particular interest is Kushiyaki (串焼き) which is essentially seasoned meat on bamboo skewers. The meat is then slowly grilled using heat from burning charcoal. Kushiyaki is typically enjoyed with sake (酒, Japanese wine). Each order of kushiyaki comes in a pair.

The Chicken Meat (鳥もも, RM7.90) is made from deboned chicken thigh. The flesh is well-marinated and very similar to the local chicken satay. The major difference is that the Japanese version is made from more lean meat and cooked more evenly.
My personal favorite is the Chicken Skin (とり皮, RM6.90). As unhealthy as it sounds, this delicacy is heavenly to say the very least! The crispy skin virtually melts away as it makes contact with my tongue. I truly enjoy this dish to the very last bit.

The Pork Skewer (豚バラ, RM7.90) is made from pork belly, which has a good balance of muscle and fatty tissues. One of it is coated with teriyaki sauce, but I find it too salty when consumed directly. According to Mr. Edisson, such saltiness is expected because kushiyaki is often consumed with sake. Saltiness from the grilled meat is enjoyed in alternating fashion with bitterness of wine.
The Smelt (ししゃも, RM7.90) is prized for its rich roe. True enough, the yolky roe is very savory indeed. The fish is properly grilled such that it can be consumed in its entirety, including its bones.

Finally, the Chicken Liver (鳥レバー, RM6.90) is bound to turn many heads if this were a Western restaurant, but using offal as food is not unheard of among most Malaysians. Unlike meat, the texture of liver is coarser but the taste is lovely nevertheless. We were told that this is a popular delicacy in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Matcha (抹茶) desserts are Shunka's latest addition to the menu. Matcha is essentially highest grade tea leaves are ground into fine powder form. Boasting strong antioxidant properties and a list of other health benefits, matcha has become increasingly popular as food flavoring and food coloring.

One of Shunka's bestseller dessert is the Matcha Pancake (抹茶パンケーキ, RM18.90). Not only is the ice cream topping matcha-flavored, so is the pancake batter itself. This explains the greenish hue of the pancake. I never knew that matcha-flavored pancakes taste so good!
Also present as toppings of the pancake are shiratama (白玉) and red bean paste. Shiratama is made from glutinous rice flour, which is shaped to bite-size spheres, then boiled till soft. It is similar in taste and texture to the more-familiar mochi (餅).
Another proud invention by Shunka is the Magic Matcha (マジック抹茶, RM15.90). This ice-blended matcha drink is infused with a handful of matcha ice cubes, two of which are visible on top. Unlike regular ice which causes the drink to become dilute as the ice melts, the use of matcha ice cubes is meant to make the drink thicker. Overall, each glass of Magic Matcha contains twice the amount of matcha than that of a regular drink.
As though matcha isn't prominently featured enough, a matcha ice cream serves as icing on the cake. If the Magic Matcha does not satisfy your matcha cravings, I do not know what will.
Diners who hold less extremist view of matcha will be contented to stick with the Matcha Parfait (抹茶パフェ, RM18.90). Although parfait is French in origin, tonight's dessert is closer to the American interpretation. Using a tall, clear glass, the bottom layer is laid with parfait cream (frozen cream stirred with egg and sugar). The cream is then topped with matcha ice cream, several pieces of shiratama and whipped cream.
From now till the end of this month (October 2014), the Matcha Moments offer is available as part of Shunka's introductory promotion. For any bento order (starting from RM18.90), any one choice of matcha dessert (up to RM18.90) is available for only RM5.00.

As a popular eatery among the Japanese community here, Shunka also boasts fine selections of imported sake (酒), namazake (生酒) and shochu (焼酎). Popular Japanese beer brands such as Asahi (アサヒ) and Sapporo (サッポロ) are also available.
Although we did not have the opportunity to try (nor the guts if presented the opportunity), fugu (河豚, pufferfish) is also on Shunka's food menu. In case you are wondering, pufferfish is the second-most poisonous creature in the animal kingdom due to its lethal dosage of tetrodotoxin. Only certain parts of the fish is safe for human consumption, therefore Japanese chefs require special training and license to process fugu meat.

According to Mr. Edisson, fugu is unpalatable for most people. The flesh is rubbery and has an unpleasant taste. The reason why fugu is so prized is because of its rarity and notoriety.

Name: Shunka
Address: 124E, Jalan Burma, 10050 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-228-3889
Business hours: 11:30am-11:30pm
Website: http://www.shunka.com.my
Coordinates: 5.42096 N, 100.32542 E
Directions: Drive westward along Jalan Burma (Burmah Road). After New World Park on your right, continue on for 200 meters. Shunka is also on the right. It is one of the shops immediately before Penang Plaza. There is limited parking spaces in front of the shop, and if you cannot find a vacant spot, you have to travel a long way to turn around. Fortunately, there is a parking lot for customers of Nagore Square (which Shunka is part of). To reach this parking lot from Jalan Burma, turn right into Jalan Nagore (Nagore Road), then right again at the first junction. The unsheltered car park is located on the right. Parking validation is available at Shunka.

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