Meet Taiga Kanekuni, the strapping sushi chef fronting his eponymous 11-seater sushi-ya at Regent Singapore. If Oxley Holdings' executive director Shawn Ching, who has zero background in F&B, is willing to invest in this skilled shokunin and even name the restaurant after him, he must be worth his weight in sushi!
Trained for over 20 years in the fine art of centuries-old edomae or Edo-style sushi, Kanekuni earned his stripes in Niigata and Tokyo before venturing to Singapore to work at omakase restaurants, Sushi Ayumu and Sushi Kou.
According to Shawn Ching, executive director and group general manager of Oxley Holdings, the pair were introduced by a mutual friend and they immediately hit it off. “The restaurant was in the making for six months and throughout this process, we grew closer. His art of sushi-making immediately appealed to me,” shares Ching.
For its launch, Taiga Dining presents three omakase menu options. Ino Shika Cho ($280), Ka Cho Huu Getsu ($380) and Hi To To See ($480) are available for lunch, with the latter two also available for dinner. Each menu comprises a selection of artistic appetisers, nigiri sushi, miso soup and dessert.
Medium Fatty Tuna Sushi
The real stars on show are the ingredients based on the finest seasonal offerings from Japan — focusing on auction-grade and wild-caught seafood — which Kanekuni procures from a single trusted source over the past 10 years.
Not only will you get to enjoy some rare finds like codfish sperm (delicately placed inside the chawanmushi), Iranian beluga caviar and purple shrimp from Toyama, Kanekuni is also using this opportunity to showcase the best of his hometown Kochi’s indigenous produce, such as pomelo and katsuo (skipjack tuna), as well as sake. If you’re lucky, you may be treated to a round of bekuhai (a sake-drinking game that translates as “the cup never gets put down”) featuring Kochi sake served in the chef’s own sake cup set.
What makes Taiga’s food extra special is Kanekuni’s specially concocted al dente sushi rice (or shari) made using a secret blend of four different kinds of rice from four regions in Japan, combined with just the right amount of red and white vinegar to enhance the umami and flavour of each catch. In each piece of nigiri, the cut of sashimi is so large that you barely see the delicious nugget of shari.
Even the decadent handrolls of crispy seaweed are filled to the brim with the highest-quality fatty tuna in one, and three types of premium uni in another.
Black Truffle with Shiro Ebi
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Flounder with Buntan and Caviar
While staying true to heritage and tradition, Kanekuni also employs his keen palate and interest in Italian cuisine — traced back to his early days working in an Italian restaurant in Tokyo — where he infuses unexpected ingredients like arugula, black truffle and caviar into his dishes. When combined with the sweetness from sake (whether from Kochi or premium-grade labels), the flavours of Taiga’s dishes become even more heightened.
For a first-time restaurateur like Ching to take a leap of faith in this sushi artisan really does speak volumes of Kanekuni’s talent and craftsmanship. Not only is the restaurant named after him, the architecture designed by Park+Associates also pays homage to Kanekuni’s hilly hometown in Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku.
Before you can enter Taiga Dining located at the lobby level of the hotel, you have to first find the door — which gives off a speakeasy quality — well-hidden within the design of its façade that depicts the rocky topography of Kochi. Once in, you walk through a darkened passageway resembling a narrow crevice in the mountain and arrive at the cavernous dining atelier that continues to take inspiration from the prefecture’s famous mountain and river vistas.
A fresh departure from the conventional light wood ryotei design of traditional omakase restaurants, Taiga is dark, contemporary and masculine like its founders, and no expense is spared to give its customers a rich and experiential dining experience. Among its pricey assembly of stylish elements, there is an intuitive day-to-night Barrisol lighting system which cost $30,000, a $50,000 bar counter made from Hinoki wood, a dozen mini lamps costing $500 each, thousand-dollar chairs, a wall with split-face granite, and Baccarat plateware. We haven’t even mentioned the cost of putting together the kitchen, which Ching reveals was the heaviest investment.
As a property specialist, Ching admitted to being a little zealous with the renovations, spending a sizable seven-figure sum for both Taiga, and the soon-to-open sake lounge across the hallway called House, serving premium spirits and grilled bites.
“Having enjoyed dining out over the years, I wanted to create a welcoming space where I can enjoy hosting people, and where others would enjoy frequenting as well,” he says. He’s only expecting to break even in a year or so, but is extremely confident that Taiga will draw crowds — not just because of the dashing chef and his exquisite menus, but because of the location of the hotel itself which is a hub for dining and drinking.
1 Cuscaden Road
#01-03/04 Regent Singapore
Email: [email protected]
Opening hours: Tuesdays to Sundays | 11am — 11pm, closed on Mondays