Hailed as the artisan capital of Japan, the prefecture in northwest Japan is also known for its seafood and local produce. For a culinary sample, head for Takayama Restaurant at OUE Downtown Gallery.

SINGAPORE (Dec 13): With a flick of his wrist, chef Taro Takayama cuts through the shell of a brown-mottled, highly prized Karo-Gani crab (male snow crab). He makes incisions all over the crustacean, deftly removing the inedible bits. His knife flashes in the light as he works, finally placing the prepared crab on a metal pan.

(Main image: Takayama delivers the very best of Japanese cuisine in the intimate setting of his restaurant)

He then looks up at the journalists gathered around him and watching intently, and deadpans: “This is my first time preparing crab. I learnt it from YouTube yesterday,” drawing a burst of laughter.

Indeed, watching Takayama at work is an awe-inspiring experience, for at his eponymous restaurant, a meal is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the tastebuds. In the intimate setting of the restaurant, with its dark wood panelling on the outside and a subtle, almost imperceptible signboard, chef Takayama delivers the very best of Japanese cuisine.

For a limited time — until Dec 31— a specially designed menu showcases seafood and local produce from Ishikawa Prefecture in northwest Japan.

Takayama was master chef at the residence of the Japanese ambassador to Singapore before he started his own kappo-style restautant. Kappo is a style of dining where the chef decides the menu, much like an omakase, but less formal. The restaurant serves up a nine-course meal ($280++ per person) that truly impresses with its refinement, delicate flavours and beautiful presentation.

Kobako-Gani (female snow crab), with its roe, flesh and innards served on top of the shell

We begin with the Kobako-Gani (female snow crab), with its roe, flesh and innards served on top of the shell, accompanied by a topping of delicately cubed apples, sweet vinegar jelly and light citrus foam that cuts through the rich, briny crab roe and sweet flesh. The dish plays with textures and tastes, with heaps of umami (savoury) flavours that are then enhanced when warm sake is served inside the empty shell.

Next, the humble yet versatile lotus root, Kaga-Renkon, is presented in a typical Ishikawa home-cooking style — steamed and grated to bring out its mochi-like texture (attributed to the unusually high starch content in the Ishikawa Kaga-Renkon), then formed into a round pancake and panfried for a crisp texture. The Kaga-Renkon is served with shirako, the sperm sac of the cod fish. The creamy, slightly cheese-like flavour is an acquired taste for some, but I love it. The dish comes with a generous shaving of black truffle on top.

Sashimi is next — fresh, succulent slices of charcoal-seared sawara (Spanish mackerel) and buri (Japanese amberjack), with freshly grated wasabi and two different types of shoyu (soy sauce): a ponzu shoyu (citrus-based soy sauce) and a yuzu ponzu shoyu that is delightfully tart and pairs perfectly with the fatty buri.

Gensuke-Daikon with ankimo (monkfish liver)

Ishikawa is also famous for its Gensuke-Daikon (radish), which is presented in two ways: pickled and thinly sliced, served on top of ankimo, a dish of steamed monkfish liver garnished with miso and shichimi pepper; and grated and marinated in yuzu ponzu shoyu to serve on top of slices of Wagyu beef prepared in the shabu-shabu style.

Finally, the snow-white, sweet flesh of the Karo-Gani is served in a claypot of rice, piping hot and bringing out every bit of the crab’s exquisite flavours. The entire meal is beautifully paired with sake from the Tengumai brewery and artfully presented in traditional Ishikawa gold-leaf Wajima lacquerware, Kutani porcelain and bespoke tableware.

For dessert, there is a delightful dish with fresh strawberries, and one with sweet potato (Gorojima Kintoki Satsuma Imo). The latter is steamed and pureed with thick soy bean milk and served atop puff pastry and whole chestnuts: a rendition of the classic Mont Blanc. The subtle sweetness of the sweet potato comes through in this dessert and finishes off a truly excellent meal.

TAKAYAMA RESTAURANT
6A Shenton Way,
#01-09/10 OUE Downtown Gallery
Tel: 6224 0864
Opening hours: Noon to 2.30pm, 6.30pm to 10pm (Mondays to Saturdays); closed on Sundays
Reservations preferred