Toku Nori: Fun, modern Japanese hand roll bar in Telok Ayer shophouse, opened by a 28-year-old chef

By Evan Mua June 21, 2024
Toku Nori: Fun, modern Japanese hand roll bar in Telok Ayer shophouse, opened by a 28-year-old chef
Headed by a young chef-owner, this new hand roll bar has some fun and modern creations. Photos: Abdul Rahim Anwar/HungryGoWhere (top left), Evan Mua/HungryGoWhere
  • There’s a new hand roll bar tucked away in a quaint shophouse along Telok Ayer
  • It’s the first restaurant venture by young chef-owner Aeldra Leo
  • Modern touches make her hand rolls unlike those at the usual Japanese restaurants
  • Menu highlights inclu de the maguro as well as the uni & wagyu hand rolls

Another promising new concept has joined the growing ranks of Japanese restaurants in Telok Ayer — this time, it’s a hand roll bar named Toku Nori.

The forty-seater is snuggly nestled in a shophouse along Telok Ayer and features a litany of signature hand rolls, along with a slew of hearty izakaya bites and snacks.

toku nori
It’s hidden away on the second floor of a Telok Ayer shophouse. Photo: Evan Mua/HungryGoWhere

It takes over the space that formerly housed izakaya Kabuke. The setup now consists entirely of counter seats, which allow diners to watch the chefs prepare their hand rolls a la minute.

Perhaps most impressively, Toku Nori is headed by chef-owner Aeldra Leo, who is only 28 years old this year, but has been working in kitchens in both Singapore and Australia since she was 19.

Despite her young age, she’s already headed up the menu at several establishments, including a Japanese concept in Singapore.

With Aeldra at the helm, Toku Nori focuses on putting creative little twists on Japanese cuisine, especially when it comes to jazzing up hand rolls.

Bringing NYC’s hand rolls to Singapore

toku nori
The open-kitchen concept means diners can watch the chefs at work! Photo: Evan Mua/HungryGoWhere

So, why hand rolls?

When it comes to Japanese food in Singapore’s restaurant scene, hand rolls are usually just seen as an afterthought — as just another type of sushi. Hand roll specialist concepts are uncommon. 

By contrast, hand rolls are a popular fixture in the Japanese speakeasies that litter New York City.

In fact, both Aledra and her co-owner Mandy Lim cite the Big Apple’s hand roll obsession as one of the main inspirations for Toku Nori. Mandy had previously worked in the States.

toku nori
Chef Aeldra is young but has been head chef at a few restaurants. Photo: Abdul Rahim Anwar/HungryGoWhere

Despite Aeldra’s extensive culinary experience, opening a restaurant for the time was a big, daunting career move for her. Some might also wonder why she’d decided to open her own restaurant at such a young age.

”I have loved cooking since I was young and after Covid-19, I realised that life is short and I decided to take the plunge,” she says.

But what about Toku Nori makes it different from the rest?

Aledra’s love for trying new things in her cooking, as well as the inherent influence of NYC-style hand rolls, means that the flavours at Toku Nori are a bit more creative than what you’d normally find here.

toku nori
Hand rolls are prepared on order. Photo: Evan Mua/HungryGoWhere

But besides that, according to Aeldra, it’s also the curation of the menu, down to the most basic ingredients.

For example, Toku Nori uses koshihikari rice (Japanese rice of the highest quality) and seaweed that’s specially sourced from Tokyo, which are important components of a good hand roll.

The restaurant also uses unconventional and more modern ingredients in its dishes.

“I like to take inspiration from recipes — especially from non-Japanese cuisines — that I come across online and adjust them for my creations,” says Aledra.

toku nori
Aeldra enjoys incorporating elements from other cuisines into her hand rolls. Photo: Abdul Rahim Anwar/HungryGoWhere

Alas, there are more headaches to opening a restaurant than merely designing the food menu. For Aeldra and Toku Nori, it took a bit of time before they found the perfect home.

When asked about the biggest challenges she faced in setting up Toku Nori, Aeldra says: “We wanted to launch our concept in a location that has good traffic, fits into our budget and also has cultural significance, since we are a Singaporean brand,” 

“We were very lucky to find this pre-war shophouse at Telok Ayer,” she adds.

But the hard part is over, it seems: Toku Nori’s operations are in full swing now and were fully booked out for most nights in its first month.

Not your usual hand roll experience

toku nori
Scallops in sushi is a timeless classic. Photo: Evan Mua/HungryGoWhere

What’s the best way to enjoy Aeldra’s hand rolls? Get the Toku Nori set (S$38), which comprises five out of the six standard hand rolls on the menu.

It includes hotate (scallop, S$9), hamachi (yellow tail, S$8.50), maguro (tuna, S$8), salmon (S$8.5) and engawa (flatfish fin, S$9.50).

toku nori
But smoked onion cream with tuna is a bold twist! Photo: Evan Mua/HungryGoWhere

There’s a diversity of flavours. For example, the hotate is kept simple, with a nice sprinkle of citrus vibrance and a touch of chive sharpness to complement the scallop’s sweetness.

However, the maguro is presented with a more esoteric touch, as the tuna is coated in a layer of zingy smoked onion cream and topped with crispy shallots for additional fragrance.

The engawa is another interesting one, loaded with torched flatfish fins and touched up with white miso and roasted garlic to add some oomph to the hand roll.

toku nori
Premium hand rolls can be quite indulgent. Photo: Evan Mua/HungryGoWhere

In cases where you’re feeling extra baller, Toku Nori also offers a selection of premium rolls including the decadently fatty foie gras (S$16) and the luxurious wagyu & uni (S$16).

Those who enjoy rich — but not too indulgent — hand rolls should enjoy the exuberant burst of flavours from the wagyu, uni and caviar in the latter.

toku nori
The menu has other bites, in case you don’t want just hand rolls. Photo: Evan Mua/HungryGoWhere

Despite being a hand roll bar, it could get a tad monotonous, so the menu also includes an “izakaya” section that features smaller bites to switch things up.

One interesting creation is the aburi salmon crispy sushi (S$16 for three) with ikura and mentaiko-coated salmon tartare placed atop a slab of crispy fried sushi rice — almost like arancini.

The maguro poppers (S$12 for three) are another great option with succulent tuna tartare encased within an airy nori (Japanese seaweed) shell.

toku nori
Warabi mochi has been rather popular in the past few months. Photo: Evan Mua/HungryGoWhere

As for sweets, Toku Nori’s house-made warabi mochi (S$12) is a great way to end off the meal, if you’re craving the viral dessert.

The platter consists of three different flavours — kinako (roasted soybean), goma (black sesame) and matcha — and the texture is immaculately bouncy with a gentle chewiness.

If you’re looking for a Japanese meal with a bit of a modern touch, we reckon this new restaurant will probably be right up your alley.

It’s cosy, the hand rolls are well-made and the open-kitchen experience is charming — save this for your next date night.

For more ideas on what to eat, read our stories on which sizzling Teppanyaki spots you need to check out and the return of KFC’s wacky chicken filet pizzas, the Chizzas.

Do explore the new GrabFood Dine-in service for awesome deals.

You can also book a ride to Toku Nori.

Toku Nori

200A Telok Ayer Street
Nearest MRT: Telok Ayer
Open: Monday to Saturday (11.45 am to 3 pm, 5pm to 11 pm)

200A Telok Ayer Street
Nearest MRT: Telok Ayer
Open: Monday to Saturday (11.45 am to 3 pm, 5pm to 11 pm)

Evan Mua


Evan started off writing about food on Instagram, before joining outlets such as Buro and Confirm Good to pursue his passion. His best work usually comes after his first whisky shot in the morning.

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