Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ki-sho Singapore

In the past 5 years, Singapore is never short of high qualities of top restaurants serving high-end Japanese cuisine. The old school places such as Aoki and Tatsuya still did pretty well while the new kids on the block, mainly franchise from Japan, such as Shinji Kanesaka, Sushi Ichi and Hashida Sushi have grabbed the island's 'market share' pretty significantly. Among the latest wave of Japanese restaurants here, there was one named Ki-sho that's quietly and slowly has become the new jewel of the town. This place apparently opened about three years ago but never under my radar until the 2nd half of last year. Ki-sho is headed by a genial and proficient Japanese chef - Kazuhiro Hamamoto. Despite a relatively young age, Hamamoto-san's culinary craft was established by working at elite sushi and kaiseki places in Kyoto (Kichisen) for 10 years or so. Additionally, four years prior to the opening of Ki-sho, he was working at Waku Ghin, Tetsuya Wakuda's most successful restaurant nowadays. Looking at his tremendous experience, I know that Ki-sho will be a special place in which the executive chef himself will always be in the kitchen/counter serving and preparing dishes for his guests. Furthermore, Hamamoto-san has mastered the culinary skills of traditional Japanese kaiseki & sushi as well as modern European-Japanese fusion - a rare combination.

Apart from Waku Ghin, there's hardly any fine dining restaurants in Singapore that I would visit twice in the span of 12 months (to be fair, a couple of years ago - I did come a few times to Shinji Kanesaka, but there were for business lunch at others' expenses). Kazuhiro Hamamoto's dishes somehow managed to "make" me want to return there voluntarily. Hence, in this review I will share both of my experiences in the past 7-8 months. The main restaurant at Ki-sho is a sushi-bar/counter, designed in contemporary kappo style, seated at most 11 people. Moreover, there are a few private dining rooms upstairs. The omakase menu served here reminded me of the meals at Urasawa Beverly Hills (still my favorite dining place in the entire U.S.), where diners would savor 7-8 kaiseki dishes followed by 10+ sushi pieces and desserts. Perhaps, that's why after two great meals, Ki-sho has probably become my favorite restaurant in the island. Actually, Ki-sho was perhaps the 'culprit' on why I have yet returned to Waku Ghin for more than 2 years now. It's generally better to have a meal at your favorite restaurant when the Chef-patron be present and consistently lead his kitchen.

1st meal - Sep '14

Katsuo no Tataki (Seared Bonito fillets) - The smoke Skipjack (top quality) was served with 'dry grass'. I liked the distinct aroma from the char fragrance; the fish was indeed meaty, delicious and tender. An awesome way to start my Omakase set 
Seasonal Appetizer - A combination of Sayori, Ikura, Matsutake and early Fall vegetables. A refreshing dish with clean flavors; both Salmon roe and Pine mushrooms were decent and served generously

Matsutake Dobin Mushi ("steamed teapot") served with Amadai - The dashi was nourishing and delicate; it successfully brought out the delicious & unique aroma of Matsutake. There was a play of texture contrast between the Pine mushroom and the Tilefish; both items were delicious. I liked this dish a lot
Chef ’s Signature: Uni and Caviar - The creamy & sweet Sea urchin, served in generous portion, was apparently a combination of "Aka (red) + Murasaki (purple) shell" uni. It's served with salty Italian caviar, white vinegar jelly (to tone down the rich taste), shiso flower, sweet corn and fresh fava beans. An excellent dish and very heavenly, especially when you scoop all the 'elements' together. One of the best dishes of the night ..

Char-Grilled Hokkaido King Crab - The lightly grilled crab, served on the salt, was tender (though a little bit spongy for my taste) and well-seasoned. Simple and tasty; it's almost as good as Waku Ghin's Alaskan crab leg
Seasonal Sashimi - It consisted of Anago (light & a bit smoky), Shima Aji (clean taste), Tako (chewy & average), Ika (crunchy), Karei (fresh & light), Hotate (slightly sweet), O-Toro (good but not that flavorful), and Akami (lean & nice). Overall, they're good qualities but nothing memorable

Seasonal Dish - King crab wrapped in winter melon served with Matsutake mushroom. The broth revealed a combination flavor from the crab and matsutake. This dish was not too bad with generally rather 'weak' taste
Wagyu Dish: Charcoal grilled Toriyama beef - The succulent beef, coming from Gunma prefecture, was served with tomato, fried garlic and wasabi. The crust was smokey, the meat was very tender despite lacking its 'oily juice'. It's delicious as expected, but unfortunately the portion was too small

Kinmedai (Splendid Alfonsino) - sublime and smooth, nearly melt immediately in my mouth
Aji (Horse Mackerel) - The marinated fish was succulent and silky
Uni (Sea Urchin) - Velvety and sweet; a different presentation of uni nigiri sushi. It's very hard to go wrong with this creamy creature
Botan Ebi ('Botan' Prawn) - Clear, sweet and juicy with excellent texture. Among the best morsel in my nigiri sushi pieces

Saba (Mackerel) - A big piece of fish; it's fresh and oily with a slight acidity & fishy flavor. I thought the presentation was interesting
Otoro (Fatty Tuna) - The Otoro has been aged for 2 weeks to bring out its optimum flavor. The luxurious fish was soft, fatty and heavenly. Awesome!
Kama Toro ("Collar" fatty tuna) - The fatty toro was lightly seared. It's also very 'marbling' with high concentrated & intensive taste. It's as good if not better than the previous Otoro
Wagyu roll served with Uni and egg yolk - This was ethereal. The fatty Toriyama beef was lightly grilled and combined with the buttery Sea urchin, sushi rice & wasabi and intense yolk creating a burst of umami flavor. A perfect example of a well-done & creative "nigiri sushi"

Uni Gohan served with Ikura, Chutoro and Shiro ebi - What more can I say for such 'perfect' combination; arguably my favorite dish at Ki-sho. The creamy and sweet Sea urchin nicely mixed with the 'al dente' rice. Then come the flavor and texture display from the bursting of Salmon roe, sweet shrimp and fatty tuna. The wasabi balanced this rich & heavenly dish; I must have it again when I re-visit this restaurant in the future
Seasonal Fruit - There were sweet & watery musk melon and pear with granite; comforting and refreshing. Some sweets - Warabi mochi, velvety Matcha chocolate and Hojicha Monaka ice cream; they're Ok

2nd meal - Apr '15   

Komochi yari ika served with takenoko and wakame - A wonderful opening representing Spring season. The pregnant spear squid (with its egg) was simply soft and sweet while both the aromatic white bamboo shoot and the seaweed were fresh and delicious. A delightful beginning ..
Tairagi served with akagai, ikura and white & green asparagus - The pen shell, similar to scallop, as well as the ark shell were of top qualities, tasty and in great textures (some contrast). The asparagus was fine and the salmon roes were fresh and salty in a good way. Another way to whet our palate early in an omakase meal

Baby anago served in steamed custard and warabi sauce - The baby conger eel was a pleasant delicacy; the experienced was enhanced by warm custard and 'simmered' of earthy bracken fern that's quite tasty
Noresore served with yuzu sauce and ginger - The conger eel whitebait (usually only available in Spring at limited period) was clean and light. It went nicely with the sauce above. Without serious attention, noresore could be mistaken as 'clear noodles'  

Seasonal Sashimi - It consisted of Chu-toro, Anago (lightly grill), Saba (delicious), Tako (in 2 ways) with sea salt, and Kawahagi with its liver (the liver in particular was heavenly). Sashimi might not be Ki-sho's main strength but they're still very good in general
Uni served with caviar, edamame and vinegared jelly - This time, the sea urchin was 100% of Bafun uni (sport spine from North Hokkaido). The uni was dense, rich and delicious. Chef Hamamoto displayed plenty of flavor contrasts here such as tart vinegar, briny caviar, mild soybean and 'creamy' sea urchin. Thus, it's recommended that each scoop would contain all of the ingredients if possible. Excellent as always!

Steamed water eggplant with kegani - The eggplant was truly the star here. It was well cooked and flavorful while the horsehair crab was surprisingly only alright
Wagyu Dish: Charcoal grilled Toriyama beef - The delicious beef was coming from Gunma prefecture and fried garlic and wasabi. Unlike earlier visit, Chef Hamamoto prepared the beef in "roll" form - a collection of several thin layers beef. It was melting, moist and flavorful   

Shiro ebi (White shrimp) - Pretty, fresh and tasty
Ika (Squid) - A bit crunchy, silky and rather sweet with a pinch of salt. A wonderful morsel
Sayori (Half beak) - Elegant, clean and delicious
Kinmedai (Splendid alfonsino) - Tender, 'fatty', and really tasty 

Nodo-guro (Rosy seabass) - This 'black throat' white fish was (somewhat) oily/moist and fatty but in a good way
Aji (Horse mackerel) - Fresh, and flavorful; often underrated
Akami (lean Tuna) - Tender with good texture and flavor

Murasaki uni ('Violet' sea urchin) - smooth and sumptuous
Bafun uni ('Green' sea urchin) - sweet and creamy. I can eat this anytime, any day ..
Awabi (Abolone) confit - The luxurious clam was "crispy" with delicate/subtle taste. Chew it slowly and savor its 'rubbery' texture
Engawa (Karei's fin) - First time eating this Flounder's edge and it's really tasty. It had distinctive succulent flavor and chewy/concentrated texture. One of the best pieces during this dinner  

Kama toro no aburi (Seared tuna collar) - Concentrated rich taste and very umami
Otoro no aburi (Seared fatty tuna) - Buttery, melting, and heavenly
Saba (Mackerel) with ginger - A little bit fishy, but tasty with distinct aroma

Char grilled Anago (Saltwater eel) with barely any sauce - Smokey and fragrant with soft texture and natural sweetness   
Kohada (Gizzard shad) - Robust flavor. Spring is probably the best time to enjoy it
Tsubugai (Sea whelk) - Inherently sweet with crunchy texture, ocean flavor and refreshing 'meat'
Akagai (Surf/Red ark shell clam) - Like its chewy texture, 'unique' sweetness and fine taste
Tamago with hotate - Decent 'egg custard' with relatively light flavor

Miso soup with hamaguri and goma tofu - A nice traditional soup with good quality of clam and sesame tofu. The end is near ...
White strawberries with sake jelly - Spring season strawberry. They might look pale, but they're sweet, rich and refreshing. The sweetness was balanced with the light jelly

I only had ocha for the first meal and during the second visit, Kazuhiro Hamamoto-san generously gave me a few glasses of in-house sake to try and savor. The first sake was having junmai daiginjo "profile" - fragrant, strong, a bit sweet with soft acidity; the second one was junmai ginjo "type" - lighter than the 'daiginjo' and more delicate. Both were good. I was thinking to buy a carafe size of the house brand sake, but cancelled it after knowing it cost 3-digit for such a small amount (out of my budget). Chef Hamamoto laughed and knowing me perplexed, he gave me an additional glass of it instead. I felt a bit embarrassed yet grateful at the same time for his kindness and understanding. 

By now, you should have clear ideas that I love the food at Ki-sho a lot. However, what makes it a special place is that Ki-sho also excelled in its service and the place has an elegant interior design. The hospitality rendered by both local or Japanese staffs was excellent in both occasions. They're polite, friendly and sincere. Staffs and sometimes the chef would escort me on the way out. The tea was always re-filled, even often replaced with new ones when the tea was not hot anymore. The ultimate experience here is actually the chance to have direct interaction with Chef Kazuhiro Hamamoto himself. He had a good command of English (thus able to patiently and clearly explain every dish if necessary), knowledgeable and cared with guests' overall dining experience. This could not be more obvious during my 2nd visit when I happened to be the only customer that night seating at the sushi counter. The ambiance at Ki-sho is calm with minimal decoration while the main counter was spacious and zen. The restaurant's building is a grand bungalow in colonial style with lavish entrance - a rare and (hardly) imitable combination.    

You're welcome to see the pictures of both meals below. Note that during the 2nd visit, I unfortunately forgot to take several pictures because I was too excited with the food and immediately consumed those delicious dishes
Part 1: First meal
Part 2: Second meal 

Food (and Wine): 95 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 95 pts

Overall: 95/100