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Three Japanese restaurants showcase varying interpretations of Kappo cuisine

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin8/10/2022 03:52 PM GMT+08  • 10 min read
Three Japanese restaurants showcase varying interpretations of Kappo cuisine
Oumi
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Kappo, which means “to cut and to cook”, is an all-encompassing word for a type of Japanese cuisine that emphasises a proximity between the diner and the chef, who typically stands behind an open bar or kitchen counter to cook, serve and introduce the dishes.

Falling somewhere between casual izakaya and more formal kaiseki, Kappo is believed to have origins in Osaka in the early 1900s. It gained prominence when the high-end dining scene started to wane and people were looking for a more casual style of dining. Unlike Kaiseki’s focus on cooking techniques and presentation, Kappo is an approach and philosophy more than a cooking style. It is about savouring the flavour and freshness of the seasons; the quality of the ingredients; and the skill of the chef.

While traditional Kappo restaurants are hard to find in Singapore, but not wholly non-existent, there are quite a number of modern establishments that offer their own renditions which are equally impressive. Here are three to check out.

Oumi
88 Market Street, #51-01 CapitaSpring, Singapore 048948
Contact 8338-3251
Opening hours Mon to Sat 12pm to 2:30pm; 6pm to 10:30pm

Meaning “sea” or “ocean”, Oumi is a contemporary Kappo restaurant located on the 51st level of CapitaSpring, and part of 1-Arden, a multi-concept F&B and lifestyle destination by 1-Group. On this floor, you’ll find a 10,000 sq ft Food Forest — the world’s highest sustainable and organic urban farm managed by Edible Garden City that grows flowers and vegetables to be used in the kitchens of Oumi and its sister restaurant Kaarla, which specialises in modern Australian cuisine.

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Enjoying unparalleled views of the sea and urban skyline, Oumi sports a clean and contemporary aesthetic with a restrained organic palette of granite, beige and deep moss green, complemented by a wood veneered ceiling and natural stone finishes. The heart of the restaurant is the large 7m-by-4m U-shaped open kitchen counter, made of upcycled Magna glass, where one can banter with head chef Lamley Chua, while enjoying a multi-course Kappo dinner starting from $228 for seven courses or $288 for nine courses. There’s also an extensive ala carte menu for those that prefer communal-style dining in the main seating area.

Oumi might call itself modern Kappo, but I get more izakaya vibes from its buzzy atmosphere and dining repertoire which runs the gamut of sashimi to sushi, teppanyaki and robatayaki, tempura and more. What’s uniquely different is that Chua applies a “nose-to-tail” concept to his menu, and draws from the bounty of fresh ingredients from both Australia and Japan.

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Some Australian-inspired starters include the Kabocha Uni Tofu, featuring housemade Australian pumpkin tofu topped with fresh uni; a moreish Nasu Dengaku, featuring Australian eggplant grilled over binchotan and garnished with deep-fried sakura ebi; and a crackling good Tempura Crepe topped with Australian scampi roe.

Of course, when it comes to tomatoes, nothing can surpass the divine sweetness Momotaro tomatoes from Japan, which can be found on the menu, served with miso cream cheese and nori puffs.

We enjoyed the Japanese twist that Chua applies to Australian-imported red meats, such as lamb chop grilled over binchotan and served with Japanese sweet potato puree; pork belly braised with dried orange peel, shoyu, sake, mirin, awamori and Okinawa brown sugar for 4.5 hours; and my favourite, the Australian Tajima beef tongue grilled and topped with Japanese leeks.

With every dish served, there is a concerted effort to incorporate as many greens and flowers as possible from the 1-Arden Food Forest, bringing each dish to life with colour and texture. This also shows diners that local produce can look and taste just as good!

Curated to complement the pure flavours of Oumi’s cuisine and suit different taste preferences, there is a beverage selection of Japanese teas, as well as libations of artisanal sake, shochu and umeshu, as well as exquisite spirits, and craft cocktails.

Esora
15 Mohamed Sultan Rd Singapore 238964
Contact 6365 1266
Opening Hours Thurs 12pm – 2.30pm | Wed – Sun 6pm – 10.30pm | Closed on Mon and Tues

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A modern Kappo restaurant by the Lo and Behold Group, Esora — meaning “painting in the sky” — opened in 2018, serving a cuisine inspired by nature and purity of the finest seasonal produce. Located in a conservation shophouse on Mohamed Sultan Road, the bright wood-and-stone interior of the restaurant is as modern and zen-like as its head chef, Takeshi Araki, and chef de cuisine, Noboru Shimohigashi, both born in Hiroshima and trained in Japanese and European cuisine.

While Araki has worked at renowned three-Michelin-starred Nihonryori RyuGin in Tokyo, Shimohigashi has trained at Tokyo’s two-Michelin-starred Ryuzu, one-Michelin-starred Béni in Singapore, and most recently, three-Michelin-starred Odette.

Dining here, you expect extremely high standards given their accomplished backgrounds, and the boys never disappoint. Supported by well over a dozen service crew, the chefs work calmly and efficiently like a well-oiled machine to deliver one stellar dish after another.

For Esora’s current summer menus — a nine-course lunch at $298++ and 10-course dinner at $338++ — the duo presents an experiential journey through their food, evoking the sensory pleasures of a Japanese summer. The resulting flavours are new yet familiar, with exceptional harmony and balance.

As with every multi-course meal, it begins with a dashi broth to prime the palate. For the summer, Araki has chosen to flavour the stock with grilled baby corn which is light and refreshing. That preps us for the signature amuse-bouche called Monaka, which features a delectable wafer filled with Maison Mitteault foie gras torchon and married with fresh fig, fig jam and crunchy microgreens. The fun part of eating this snack is enjoying the difference in flavour nuances when you bite into it upside down, and right side up.

What follows is a light and clean dish showcasing summer’s most popular catch, the tiger prawn. Araki presents his Kuruma ebi lightly blanched with braised abalone over some fresh tomato gelee, edamame puree and abalone liver sauce.

An Esora signature is the fried chicken wing, deboned and stuffed with fresh summer vegetables like chives and cabbage, along with hairy crab from Hokkaido. It’s amazing how something can look so simple, yet tastes devilishly good.

For this season’s Hassun (grouping of dishes), diners will be thrilled with a mini zen garden featuring a four-part platter of summer ingredients curated from land and sea. There is everything from big slices of grilled barracuda to Japanese flat fish carpaccio, corn chawanmushi topped with uni, and some pickled summer to balance everything out. Honestly, if the food wasn’t so delicious, we’d be spending more time taking pictures of this work of art than eating it.

An unlikely favourite of mine is the Hamo, pike eel cooked in a clarified broth of kombu and winter melon, much like a hotpot. Showcasing the chefs’ expert knifemanship, the bones of the eel are diced so finely without disintegrating the meat and cannot even be detected in the mouth.

To satiate the needs of red meat lovers, one of Esora’s draws is the Omi Wagyu. For this season, we get beef from the Okaki farm in Shiga prefecture, an area known for producing one of Japan’s most respected brands of beef. The meat is so soft and succulent that it only needed a light marination of red miso and red wine to bring out its natural flavours.

A fan of summer — the season during which he was born — Araki is not only drawn to the fresh bounty of produce, but also the season’s celebratory mood evoked by festivals, outdoor adventures and convivial barbecues. For the final Donabe, Araki takes inspiration from yakitori served at summer festivals, but uses golden eye snapper instead and grills it tataki-style on a skewer. It’s served on an aromatic bed of rice cooked with kombu dashi, and finished with final toppings of seaweed and uni.

Dessert is a delightful two-part warm and cold treat, starting with a light yet enlivening peach soup filled with fresh peaches and plums. To wrap things up, we enjoy an ice kacang-ish Kakigori made with shaved ice, topped with a blend of fresh mango puree and cut mangoes from the Miyazaki prefecture.

For those interested, Esora offers tea pairing, featuring very creative and thoughtful blends that help to enhance flavours of the dishes and cut through some of the grease.

Jinhonten
1 Scotts Road, #01-11, Shaw Centre, Singapore 288208
Contact 9635-0973
Opening hours Daily | 12pm - 3pm, 6.30pm – 11pm

The latest Japanese dining concept by Les Amis Group, Jinhonten is a 10-seater omakase speakeasy located on the ground floor of Shaw Centre, helmed by head chef Issey Araki, who has years of experience in the fine culinary craft of traditional Kaiseki and Kappo cooking.

Formerly from KYUU by Shunsui, Shun x Sakemaru and later, his eponymous restaurant Araki, the young chef brings diners on a culinary expedition where the season’s finest harvest and produce are honoured and presented in their most pristine form. Although his approach to cooking is steadfastly simple and unfussy, Araki is not one to shy away from inventive flavour pairings that elevate a good dish to an excellent one.

Although refusing to be labelled, Jinhonten leans toward Kappo-style cuisine where diners get to enjoy a culinary performance by Araki and his executive chef Makoto Saito, who work together seamlessly to present their dishes. Throughout the meal, diners will be regaled with details about the catch and produce as the food is prepared and plated amid the fastidiously-neat kitchen.

With only one prix-fixe menu each for lunch and dinner ($180++ for eight-course lunch and $450++ for 10-course dinner), Chef Araki and his team can focus on sourcing for and serving only the finest premium ingredients airflown mainly from Japan.

At quick glance, every dish on the omakase menu showcases a different cooking style from steamed to deep-fried, grilled and boiled. It begins with an appetiser — in our case, we enjoyed a chilled appetiser comprising a decadent trinity of Japanese Pen Shell from Hokkaido, Murasaki uni and Kristal caviar, served on a delicious homemade egg-yolk sauce.

Next is a steamed dish featuring black abalone from Yamaguchi served with a rich sauce made with abalone liver sauce and fortified with uni. After that, Araki serves a handroll of flavourful grilled blackthroat sea perch with some pickled winter melon and wrapped in a crispy roasted nori sheet. Next comes a mouthful of fresh Pacific sea perch sashimi, followed by a shabu shabu of kinki rockfish in pumpkin somen to warm the stomach.

The pièce de resistance comes closer to the end with thick and buttery Hida sirloin steak grilled over binchotan, as well as the donabe rice dish, loaded with generous amounts of Hokkaido hairy crab, pickled cucumber and ikura. Don’t forget to mix in the homemade hairy crab “miso” which imparts more depth, creaminess and sweetness to the donabe.

All in all, the dining experience here is quite befitting its lunch price, especially when you can catch Araki in a chattier mood. The dinner however, might need some serious consideration, as it costs $270 more for two more courses. Hopefully, it involves a lot more caviar and maybe lobster!

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