There’s no way you can see it from afar, and surely no way in landing a guess that Todai is unit No. 1 without checking beforehand. A stretch of fashion labels precedes and hides its presence. (It is the last unit in a corner.) Only after spotting the ultra-luxe Pangaea club will you stop second-guessing your direction; you probably have to seek the seafood buffet restaurant in order to find it.
Todai first started as a sushi buffet in Santa Monica, California, opened by a pair of Japanese brothers. Ten years later, and after a series of ownership transactions with a hardcore Korean fan and his friends, Todai would later become known for its international seafood buffet.
The seating space at the Marina Bay Sands is typical of its American ambition. It sits hundreds at any time. The dining halls are either corridors with continuous rows of tables against the wall, or sporadic clusters of square tables. Small private rooms are around the reclusive quarters of the restaurant. Try spotting celebrities. (K-pop fans, watch out.) It was said that Justin Bieber had gone largely unnoticed in the restaurant when he was here.
Sushi, as the incumbent feature, occupies an entire length of the main buffet counter. Nigiris run the unsurprising few. Salmon and Tuna feature thinly sliced flesh with hardly a sight of fat.
Ebi, Inari (aburrage, or rice-stuffed fried tofu pouches), Crab Stick, and Tamago are the sweeter ones.
Ika, raw squid blazed for the briefest of time, was crunchy and tender.
It goes without saying that American sushi dominates the floor. The ubiquitous California Maki, what used to their livelihood, is flogged to a cloying effect. Spicy California is not as quite familiar to the classic maki in make-up. It was sweet and not spicy by any stretch, with avocado, cucumber and an inner roll of nori, buried by shredded crab rolls tossed in a sweet chili sauce.
Alaska is similar, save for the splat of mayo, wasabi mayo, pea shoots, and tobiko (which is funnily not in many rolls here).
Equally similar is the Seaweed California that has seaweed flakes, in place of tobiko, rolled into its outer circle of rice.
It’s obvious they love permutations. Chili, hot sauce, and cheese make the Volcano and Shrimp Love (same as the former but with tempura prawn) a little more unique. They were fun and rather complex in taste but do not expect to see blowtorch marks like the ones at Koh’s Grill.
With equally obscene amounts of mayo (at least it’s kewpie) are rolls with more texture – Spider probably is a confounding reference to mini cornflakes, while Crunch refers to bright yellow wisps of fried tempura batter circling its exterior.
Something in the same vein is the Potato Shrimp. The sliced rolls are turned flat and placed under needles of deep fried potato. ‘Seaweed‘ has an intimidating size. It was more than a mouthful and would be a good idea of a rice-and-kelp bowl, sweet, crunchy and full of bite.
More peculiar is the Soft Roll. Napkins of eggy crepe and strawberry syrup made a roll curiously more palatable. Its flashy vibes stood in contrast to Caterpillar, named possibly for the creamy avocado slices.
There are more obscure and meaty rolls. One had anago, slicked in tare, thatching a roll known as White Dragon. With chicken substituting prawn or fish, Yakidori has an additional share of teriyaki chicken and bonito flakes. Both rolls are nice to have.
The obligatory hosomaki (fillings are salmon and cucumber), and Spicy Salmon (American, evidently, and packed with more sugar than heat) are also other choices seen at the table.
Soba is covered under cheesecloth, each in a bundle. You can add toppings such as scallions, shredded nori, some yellows bits often used as udon toppings, chili powder and radish. Or you can add a wasabi sauce. (It was beyond understanding.)
Todai’s niche has since progressed to seafood. Their website blatantly trumpets Elmer Dills’ “Mother of seafood buffet” quote of the restaurant. The Alaskan King Crab Legs headline the Facebook page and other ads of Todai. The impression built was initially deflated upon seeing a seafood station that span a width of the central buffet counter, smaller than the length belonging to the sushi.
But it was good that quality triumphed quantity. The crabs take a third of that space, a rocky trove of red and white spears. Each stalk of poached crabmeat is swollen and briny. One side of the shell has been stripped so the flesh can be downed in whole, not as little fragments. Lots of shears are provided for the crabs too though patience really does pay off. Just the crabs alone may deal your money’s worth.
Beside the crabs is the Sashimi, a conspicuously different batch than the ones used in the nigiri. A queue piles up at times but hang around for some salmon belly cuts.
The other seafood is holed up together in a shallow refrigerated box: cooked Scallops, Clams, and Mussels, well seasoned; easy-to-bite Baby Octopus; and full-grown Octopus, lynched on a stake as they would in Korea. Ask and they will serve up slices of the soft chewy creature.
Braised Abalone comes in shells with a ladling of rich gravy. They have a little bite to them. Trust in the staff. It will be there at this station but only 6 of these expensive mollusks are dished out at a time.
Todai keeps the menu changing often. And outside of the sushi station, the names of dishes are much more clinical. Chicken Ginseng Abalone Soup was offered as nourishment, as the main draw of what is essentially heartwarming and healthy. A bite out of the abalone suggests care with pricey delicacies.
The same could be said for Red Crab Legs piled in a steaming sink. You get sweet meat and nothing else. Well, and a pair of shears to snip the shells. It won’t help you imagine how warm King Crab legs would be though. That sort of heft just isn’t present with this type of crab.
Japanese traits of Todai are still retained. There was Fish ‘Cutlets’ breaded with panko, drier and less satisfying than pork. Tempuras fared average among the staples, like Pumpkin, Shrimp and Sweet Potato.
They further utilize the deep fryer eagerly. Cardboard Fries shaken up in seaweed, Deep Fried Banana and Deep Fried Broccoli, are strewn all over blond wooden boxes.
The teriyaki Japanese food is directly opposite from the tempura station. Teriyaki seems a little overused – Teriyaki vegetables and Teryaki Beef might have both came from the same pan. And it’s understandable since the sauce is rather tasty
Over at the Chinese section, they try their best to bring local flavor, with the occasional success. There is the Sweet and Sour pork and the Fried Rice, Pumpkin, Ham, Seafood, with a generous stirring of beaten eggs.
Steamed Fish with Light Garlic Sauce is not too overcooked and rather smooth. Fried Sea Cucumber, Broccoli, and Mushrooms, planks on the familiarity of a Chinese wedding banquet.
Many people should be no stranger to the Yam with Seafood too, where taste is concerned. Nuggets of deep-fried yam are arranged next to a mount of baby octopus and fishballs in a syrupy chili sauce.
If anything, the Bailing Mushroom and Tofu Vegetable shows Todai’s effort to keep tabs on local food habits – oyster mushrooms are coated in a light soy-based sauce with kai lan and carrot slices. Cereal Prawns were edible from shell to tail, a decent take on the ubiquitous dish in Singapore.
Other common dishes stayed in the so-so level. Fried Pork Belly with Mango Sauce was imbued with a tartness that works well with pork, let down only by dried-out flesh. Escargot Cream Sauce was baked a little past their time. The snail meat had retracted inwards and the cream sauce did rather little to play up their umami and reduce their characteristic stench.
Seafood Pasta Risotto was hardly a pale imitation of risotto. Should chopped-up pasta try to impersonate those short chewy grains? It came closer to macaroni languishing in cream.
You’d wish for some of their stuff to be better, like Duck with Fig Caramel Sauce that was juicy and smooth. The skin, scored and glazed like baked ham, had not the coveted crisp of roasted duck. Spinach Fritata was an effort of theirs to include healthful (as opposed to healthy) ingredients. Flavor came mostly from red and yellow peppers, and the spinach. It could do more with some cheese or salt.
It was extremely comforting to find pleasures in the simplest thing. When Stir-fried Vegetables with an adventurous amount of wok hei appeared, you knew it’d easily earn a place in your gut.
The quality gets better as you hit the “oven food” section. Boiled Green Mussels with Hot Sauce was fresh and reminiscent of salsa, Miso Shishamo with Gratin Sauce crispy, Spicy Chicken appetizing and yet filling.
Salmon Steak with Digon Sauce is cooked to a flaked texture but kept relatively moist by the buttery sauce. Roasted Yellow Corvina with Garlic Butter Soya Sauce is the less heavy, though no less intense, alternative. Unless picking flesh from a whole fish is too much for you.
Oven Broiled Fish and Bacon was quite flat in execution when next to them. And spot, as you go, the number of eyebrows raised at the corn flakes in the dish.
The grill station below that is really small but they serve some of the best in Todai. Sea Eel BBQ is simply good. The anago flesh possesses a firmer texture than unagi. Ignore and bite your way through the hair-fine set of bones down the middle. Grilled Lamb Rack, though cumbersome to slice through at times, is juicy and buoyed well by a starchy mint sauce that holds rosemary.
For more meat, there is a churrasco section where raw meat was displayed alongside their cooked counterparts, as if you could help yourself to the rotisserie behind the table in the first place. The crown is the Roast Beef as usual whereas, each on tiles hot plates in front of the beef, BBQ Chicken Wing, Pork Sausage, Chicken Sausage, chunks of King Oyster Mushroom and Pineapple, and Japanese Chicken Sausage take second-place. The well-seasoned mushroom is be the best among these.
Check out the vegetables too: Lime Onions that relinquished every bit of sting, crunchy and yet soft; Cilantro Yuzu Salad that had a tropical hit of citrusy dressing with cubed cucumber and peppers; and Roasted Potatoes.
The vegetables that have undergone heat are inevitably better than the raw ones. A salad station is present as part of expectations. (Who, at Todai, looks forward to this anyway?) Choices of leafage include Alfafa Sprouts, Iceberg Lettuce and Red Lettuce, to go with Cherry Tomatoes, Croutons and Bacon Chips (the dehydrated yeast sort).
Salads really aren’t their thing. You can tell that from a dreary Lentil and Chicken Sausage Salad with limp bloated sausages. Smoked Salmon Salad could fill your cravings for smoked salmon but ruin you for it after having to work through a mush filled with mayo.
A non-salad, a browned pile of Garlic and Mushrooms fared much better. It might have been even better if kept warm.
Todai is now Korean anyway. Look to their Korean food station and grab those palm-sized Korean Pancakes, or Pajeon, sizzling fresh from the griddle. The frying creates a ‘skin’ with a telling clunk when hit with a spoon.
Still, there isn’t much Korean stuff to go round. Korean Kimchi and Cucumber Kimchi are both house made. Dried Pollock Moo Chim felt surprisingly healthy and savory from a coat of red chili flakes while Cold Jellyfish was balanced out nicely with yet another salad of onions, red pepper, chili and cucumber. And do not miss the Silkrye, just the popular traditional drink you would normally find at any respectable Korean supermart. It was mostly barley, a tinge of milk, if diluted by ice from the night.
There is a platform of theatrics. At the Italian station, a beech oven is squandered at the making of a Vegetable Pizza with Yogurt Sauce (hardly a good piece of reliable crust left, soggy from a sweet yogurt sauce that could just have been mayo with lemon). The Diablo Pizza, with a mixture of chili and barbeque sauce, was its redeemer. Maybe it isn’t a true beech oven after all – there was a glass door attached to the opening.
Dessert had a similar level of hits and misses. Some of the common daily baked goods miss the mark. Brownie was the sort of stodgy chocolate cake. Cream Puff was profiterole with chantily that had been a tad light.
Chocolate Muffin attracted more attention than it deserved. As it turned out, it was just mostly oil-deprived sponge with no variation throughout except for some chocolate chips.
Things went to catering levels with the bread. They looked inviting, in 6 or more variations. It was not until the tough papery skin gave in to expose powdery insides that you reconsidered wanting to try the rest: cream and nothing else; sweet red bean paste; and mixed vegetables. One had no filling but had a buttery cookie choux on top. It was the keeper among them.
Chiffon Cake was a questionable item of yore from now-defunct days of hotel restaurant hegemony; the presentation is ostentatious and more whipped cream does not improve the cake by any bit.
Other cakes actually are pretty decent. Lints Schnitten was milky pound cake with a layer of cream. Also German was the bi-colored Kugelhopf, mostly pillowy with sugary crusts at random sections.
Green Tea Roll and Strawberry Roll both have an attractive fill of cream. The strawberry was the preferred one, with a bit of strawberry jam to make things less one-note.
Cheesecakes like the New York Cheesecake adorned with a bit of cream (a little lighter but drier than expected) and the Mango Cheesecake (mousse-like and intense) have no crunchy crust but their main component is pretty well done.
What might be a reiteration in another flavor would be the Strawberry Mousse Cake.
With expectations overturned everywhere, the Gateau Banana Cake was no exception, relying well on a classic combination of chocolate ganache and baked bananas. Rich, airy and dark. Green Tea Mousse was another hit, easy to down and rather intense.
Other milky confections were good too. Berry Milk Pudding packed light fruity flavors in a shallow dish (thankfully).
And please, enough talk about the Macarons. They stand as a pyramid and would still be one even without the metal structure. The shells were way too sturdy and impervious to chewing. It hadn’t mattered what flavor they were.
For drinks, there is a range of soft drinks at the back. All alcoholic beverages from the bar are chargeable.
Todai has more than a few bells and whistles. The range of food is achingly wide but pay attention to the few that matter. Use your instincts and gun for the expensive produce if you’re not confident.
Monday & Wednesday Adult: S$42++ Child (below 1m 30cm): S$22++
Tuesday & Thursday (special days) Adult: S$46++ Child (below 1m 30cm): S$26++
Friday Adult: S$46++ Child (below 1m 30cm): S$26++
Saturday, Sunday and Public Holiday Adult: S$64++ Child (below 1m 30cm): S$26++
Monday & Wednesday Adult: S$58++ Child (below 1m 30cm): S$26++
Tuesday & Thursday (special days) Adult: S$68++ Child (below 1m 30cm): S$26++
Friday Adult: S$68++ Child (below 1m 30cm): S$26++
Saturday, Sunday and Public Holiday Adult: S$68++ Child (below 1m 30cm): S$26++
Many thanks to Mr. Brandon Chu from Todai for the tasting.
#B2-01, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
2 Bayfront Avenue
Contact Number: 6688 7771
Mondays to Fridays, 11.30am till 3.00pm and 5.30pm till 10.00pm
Saturdays, 11.30am till 3.00pm and 5.30pm till 10.00pm
Sundays, 11.30am till 4.00pm and 5.00pm till 10.00pm