In Singapore’s now-crowded world of high-end sushi-dining where guests think nothing of splashing out $450++ on food alone, the opening of yet another is hardly cause for extreme excitement. Still if the sushi-ya in question is helmed by 20 years-plus sushi veteran Yoshio Sakuta, the former chef de cuisine of two Michelin-starred Shoukouwa (up until now the only sushi-ya in Singapore to have attained two Michelin stars), you know it’s probably worth your while to sit up and take notice.
Enter Sushi Kou at Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre, where the Sapporo-born Sakuta now doles out omakase-style Edomae sushi from a nine-seat hinoki counter carved from a 300-year-old tree.
“What is Edomae sushi?” you ask.
Edo is the old name for Tokyo while Mae refers to “in front” or “style” and Edomae sushi refers to a style of sushi using Tokyo Bay fish created some 200 years ago during Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868), when modern day refrigeration of fish was not yet available. In Edomae sushi, the neta (ingredient) is generally treated or processed in the kitchen by a sushi master, who not only cuts the seafood but lightly cooks, marinates or preserves it with soy sauce, salt and/or vinegar prior to serving. While ageing of the fish is all the rage in both Tokyo and Singapore, it is but one of the techniques for such treatment.
Singaporeans seem to be convinced about the gustatory rewards of indulging in this style of sushi for not only is the raft of new sushi-yas proffering Edomae sushi getting smaller, the experience has become more intimate, and the bar – and prices – edging higher.
At Sushi Kou, the menu offers just two Edomae sushi omakase experiences at both lunch and dinner: Aya ($380++ for 3 dishes and 10 pieces of sushi) and Kou ($450++ for 5 dishes and 10 pices of sushi). At lunch, there’s also the Tsuki ($180++) and Hana ($250++) courses. While there isn’t an a la carte here, promotional add-ons (we did not try) are available – a mini Kou special ($80++) rice bowl with tuna belly, salmon roe, uni and caviar, and a white fish sashimi blanketed in freshly grated truffles ($120++).
For the omakase, you get to savour a parade of immaculately crafted nigiri sushi that brings to the fore Sakuta’s fine craftsmanship that quite frankly speaks for itself.
Although tight-lipped about the types of vinegar he uses to nourish the shari (sushi rice), Sakuta acknowledges that about 30% of the vinegar mix in his beautifully molded shari is contributed by red vinegar. Surprisingly, you will not see its reddish tinge but you can certainly taste it in the shari – an assertive acidity at first that rounds off to exude a hint of its trademark sweetness. Not only that, depending on the type of fish he is serving, Sakuta uses shari of varying temperatures. Hotter shari, for instance, is paired with relatively fatty fish like toro (tuna) and nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch).
For the neta, Sakuta suscribes to a less-is-more approach, doing the absolute minimum possible to his Toyosu Market-sourced fish and shellfish to bring out their best. Unlike many sushi masters who prefer to age their neta, Sakuta serves most of his fish and shellfish fresh rather than aged, yielding morsels with a cleaner mouthfeel. Kasugodai (baby seabream), which has parallel incisions through its length, has its skin lightly blanched in sake while kinmedai (golden-eye snapper) is charcoal-grilled skin-side first and chutoro (medium-fat tuna) marinated briefly in soy sauce. Each of these are then draped over a modestly sized morsel of warm, hot in the case of the chutoro, hand-pressed shari. But Sakuta’s nodoguro “sushi” clearly stands out for its uniqueness – the thick chunk of fatty fish is charcoal grilled and served in a porcelain atop rice and wasabi.
Apart from the 10 pieces of sushi, your experience at Sushi Kou will commence with five starters for the Kou menu (three for Aya). Wild ocean eel (unagi) is charcoal grilled until its skin is crisp and flesh soft, and served with nothing more than salt for flavour lift and freshly grated wasabi for an end note of sweetness. Wild amberjack is blanched briefly shabu shabu-style, then sandwiched in grated daikon and served in an appetite-piquing ponzu sauce. And then there’s also the springy steamed Hokkaido abalone drizzled with a buttery and deeply savoury sauce made from the its own liver. To prepare your palate for the arrival of the sushi course, he fields junsai (watershield), conch, shiso, iwamozuku (a brown seaweed from Okinawa) in vinegared jelly topped with a tongue of uni. The latter two courses are not served in the Aya menu.
Whilst tamagoyaki is usually served as a final course. Sakuta eschews that and skips right through to miso soup, ending on a high with a generous serving of kyoho and shine muscat grapes.
Apart from the price (and this is not the priciest omakase in Singapore), this omakase is impossible to fault.
11 Cavenagh Road #01-13/14 Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre, Singapore 229616; sushi-kou-sg.com