The dearth of kaiseki restaurants in Singapore makes the task of hunting down a great kaiseki meal decidedly arduous.
But one restaurant is trying to change that one seasonally inspired dish at a time.
Not only did it install Kyoto-born native, Kazuhiro Hamamoto, as resident chef, the restaurant is also housed in a double storey heritage colonial mansion complete with a kappo counter as well private dining rooms with shoji sliding door and tokonoma alcove. Located majestically amidst lush foliage along Scotts Road, it’s no exaggeration to say that this property, Ki-sho, is reminiscent of a ryotei (a type of luxurious traditional Japanese restaurant), probably the only one you’ll find in Singapore.
Chef Hamamoto schooled in Kyoto and cut his teeth with kyo-kaiseki institutions including Kichisen, a three Michelin-starred kaiseki restaurant set in the tranquil surrounds of Tadasu-no forest. At Ki-sho, he is a proud proponent of contemporary kaiseki, fielding the multi-course Japanese cuisine with a contemporary slant but with his heart postured firmly towards omotenashi (Japanese art of hospitality). This means that guests who come at dinner are served a glass of Royal Blue Tea’s The Uji (tencha from Uji, Kyoto) before commencement of the meal and then a glass of Royal Blue Tea’s Kaho (hojicha from first-flush gyukuro) before the closure of your meal.
With his ears tuned to the pulse of Japanese seasonality, the former Waku Ghin chef weaves in highly seasonal Japanese ingredients in his daily-changing omakase menu. In spring, he awes guests with the freshest hotaru ika (firefly squid), prepared raw and served with nothing more than shoyu and a hint of sugar, and bincho flame-licked bamboo shoots served sheer with nothing but a hint of smokiness and leaf of kinome.
As we step into summer, Hamamoto has created a pair of omakase menus exclusively for OCBC at lunch and dinner, each showcasing a special summer-inspired OCBC dish.
At lunch, the headline OCBC dish is kamonasu, a bulbous Kyoto variety of eggplant named for the Kamo River that runs through the city centre. In season from May to September, the firm and meaty eggplant is cubed, matched with Hokkaido’s summer delicacy of kegani (horsehair crab, in season from April to August) and served in the shell of the crab with junsai (watershield) doused in a thick and savoury dashi sauce fortified with ginger.
Inspired by his Kyoto culinary upbringing, Hamamoto puts the OCBC spotlight on hamo konabe (claypot conger pike eel) at dinner. A summer delicacy in his hometown of Kyoto, where the city’s most important festival is named Hamo Festival for the seasonality of the eel, hamo is a long and thin fish with thousands of tiny bones but its pin bones are impossible to pull out as these run down the middle of each fish. Skilled chefs therefore use a hamokiri bocho knife to make micro surgical-like incisions on the bones, a technique named hamo honegiri, so that these can be eaten with the fish along with its skin. At Ki-sho, Hamamoto has mastered the art of handling hamo, the best of which are sourced from Awaji. The fish is delivered to Ki-sho alive, slaughtered right before dinner service and served with winter melon in a hot pot teeming with a delicate broth prepped from fish bones and hamo trimmings. To finish, he sprinkles the freshly grated zest of sudachi, a small, round and green citrus fruit of Japanese origin, so that you get a whiff of citrusy refreshment before the umami of the broth envelopes your palate.
For the rice course at dinner, Hamamoto serves a parade of five types of sushi, showcasing at times the fully developed umami flavour of the neta (a sushi’s fish topping) that he ages on site. A parcel of rice draped over with aged kinmedai (golden eye sea bream), aged chutoro zuke (soy marinated medium fatty tuna) and then grilled nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch), followed by shiroebi (white shrimp) sushi served with a crown of murasaki uni (line spine sea urchin) from Yoichi, Hokkaido, or even a freshly shucked gigantic torigai (Japanese cockle).
To cater to Singapore’s love for wagyu, Hamamoto ends the dinner omakase on a high with his signature wagyu sukiyaki – slices of Omi wagyu from Shiga Prefecture cooked in a sukiyaki bath at low temperature, served rare with tongues of uni, marinated organic egg yolk and shavings of black truffle. It’s not always that you get uni or black truffles paired with sukiyaki, think of it as the Mercedes of sukiyaki and the richness of the luxurious pairing makes perfect sense. That’s not to mention the rush of euphoria when the sweet, briny and earthy flavours get together for a party in the palate.
Ki-sho offers the OCBC Gastronomic Adventures Menu at lunch for $150++ and at dinner for $300++ from now up until 20 September 2018 for OCBC Cardmembers. VOYAGE Cardmembers may opt to have the six-course sake pairing at a special price of $128++ (usual price $158++); they may also purchase Ki-sho’s 720ml premium sake (only 18% rice polishing) at $408++ each (usual price $458++). Find out more about OCBC’s exclusively curated menus at ocbc.com/gastronomy.
This post is presented to you in partnership with OCBC
© Evelyn Chen 2013