Opening a sushi bar with an aeroplane theme in the Arab Street area – known better for its Indonesian and Middle-Eastern eateries – may seem daring, but SushiAirways is so quirky that the idea actually flies.

The restaurant, which opened last month, is tucked away on the second floor of a shophouse but it is hard to miss the aluminium-clad stairs leading up to it.

The tiny, 765 sq ft area upstairs is decked out like a retro aeroplane cabin, with lots of chrome and a row of round-edged windows like those in aircrafts.

It seats only 33 people, with a few small tables lined up against the windows plus counter seats facing a cramped open kitchen. It is gimmicky certainly, as one sees little connection in the theme other than that the fish is flown here. But its kitschiness also brings on a smile and one has to admit the whole concept is put together rather well.

A lot of credit goes to the service team, a trio of lovely women any airline would be proud to have serving on board. Dressed in figure-hugging black-and-white sheath dresses, each in a slightly different design, they look more attractive than many stewardesses. And their gentle tones are tuned to please First Class passengers.

The food, however, is more Business Class than First Class, with prices and quality targeted at the executive market rather than the fine-dining gourmet. Running the kitchen is chef E.C. Wong, formerly with the Grand Hyatt’s mezza9 restaurant.

As one would expect from a sushi bar, the menu focuses on sashimi, sushi and maki rolls though there are also appetisers and other small dishes to complement them. The special chef’s sashimi mori ($58 for small), a platter of assorted raw fish enough for two or three persons, is decent. It looks pretty with the pink slices of fish arranged artfully on a bowl of ice and the fish is fresh enough. But it doesn’t stand out from what many Japanese restaurants here serve. Neither does the uni sushi ($25 for two). The toro sushi ($38 for two) fares better, with the fatty tuna belly packed with aromatic oils.

SushiAirways salmon tataki main.jpg
The salmon tataki (above) is flavourful while the avocado maki (below) oozes freshness. — ST PHOTOS: WONG AH YOKE, SUSHI AIRWAYS

SushiAirways avocado maki main.jpg

What I find more interesting are the maki or sushi rolls. They are not revolutionary but are made very well. My server recommends the avocado maki ($25 for eight pieces) and it is certainly an easy pleaser. Rolled in the rice are strips of crisp cucumber, tasty crab and omelette, and on the outside are thin slices of soft avocado. Topping each piece is a dollop of mayonnaise and a small scoop of tobiko or flying fish roe.

It is little different from what many Japanese eateries here serve but what makes this sparkle is the freshness of the ingredients, which ensures that their different textures and flavours are more pronounced.

The same goes for the futomaki ($8 for four big pieces), where the fillings of kanpyo (dried gourd), cucumber, prawn and omelette have a refreshing crunch that I seldom experience. It is a clean, healthy taste that makes one feel good.

The kani mentai cheese maki ($38 for eight pieces) is much richer and a lot more complicated. Each dollop of crab-filled rice is topped with marinated roe and seared before grated cheese is sprinkled on top. Then the maki is put under a salamander grill to gratinate it. Some mayonnaise goes on top of the melted cheese next and tobiko as well.

The maki is served warm and the rice becomes a bit dry from all that searing, creating a very different mouthfeel from normal maki. What doesn’t work for me is that the mentai makes it too salty, but I can imagine it going very well with a cup of sake.

Other than the maki, a dish I like a lot is the salmon tataki ($15). Thin slices of raw salmon are dressed with yuzu and soya sauce and there is a hint of sesame sauce as well. Sprinkled on the fish is a colourful salad of greens, yellow chrysanthemum petals, grated radish and sprigs of dill. In the mouth, all these come together in an explosion of flavours.

I can just imagine how this would make an excellent Japanese-style yusheng for the coming Chinese New Year.

This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on January 6, 2013. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.