KAPPO SHUNSUI

 

Put aside thoughts of the sombre, reverent atmosphere you've seen depicted in shows like Jiro Dreams of Sushi. A meal at Kappo Shunsui is anything but.

True, it takes a fair bit of effort to access: After snaring a reservation (there are only 19 seats!), you need to make your way past the izakayas and seedy karaoke lounges that litter Cuppage Plaza, then seek out the sign-less rose-gold door that's adorned with a single flower on its left and a biometric scanner on the right.

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But that mysteriousness is part of the excitement and once you've entered the restaurant, you'll find the service welcoming and energetic. Photos? Sure. Curious about your food? The team is always happy to explain.  

 

 

Quality ingredients are but of course. However, chef Tomo Watanabe's mastery is in the way he coaxes flavour from the produce in unexpected ways. Like reducing his special dashi broth into a champagne-hued jelly, such that it provides savoury interlude to the pristine sweetness of his fresh seafood starter. Or sauteeing harvested-in-spring-only Shin Tamanegi onions in dashi then blending it all into a silky smooth puree that absolutely steals the limelight from the A4 omi roast beef (in case you're interested, here's our wagyu guide) on the plate ─ never has an onion puree seemed so juicy, so gently sweet, with just a teasing hint of sharpness.

You'll want to complete the experience with a sake pairing. It's extremely affordable ─ from $55 for six sakes ─ and chef T is a certified sake sommelier. But if that cerebral logic doesn't convince, maybe his erudite collection of sake ware will. Each and every piece is an art piece unto itself, gingerly crafted from ceramics and glass.

Kappo Shunsui, #04-02 Cuppage Plaza, 5 Koek Road, tel: 6732-0192.

 

NAMI

 

A visit to Nami is inevitably marked by grandeur. There's the gorgeous lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel and the lush flora of its feature wall. There's the view from the restaurant's 24th storey top perch, offering a rare panorama of residential Orchard. There's also the expansive feel from the restaurant's lofty pitched roof and the way natural light floods the space. For all that, you might expect to pay through the nose for a meal but prices are surprisingly reasonable, starting at $110 for the eight-course Nami omakase set at lunch.

 

 

Helming the new fine-dine destination is Head Chef Shigeo Akiba, who once served Japan's Emperor Akihito. Like many of his Japanese culinary peers, chef Akiba strives to give a sense of seasonality through his food. Take for instance a tofu starter that has been suffused with the vegetal sweetness of the white asparagus ─ a unique yet thoroughly Japanese way of cherishing the white asparagus season. For textural play, he adds a fat lobe of uni for creaminess, and barely cooked leeks for snap.

 

 

Nor does chef Akiba shy away from painting bold strokes. His Pan-Fried Tuna Head makes a strong case for venturing beyond your comfortable routine of sticking to beef for the main course. Because that unctuous slab of tuna cheek, beautifully crisp outside from a flash in the pan, and gloriously unctuous and supple and buttery within, will give wagyu steaks a good run for the money. All you'll need is a squirt of lemon, or better yet, a bubbly glass of mikan (a Japanese citrus) aragoshi ─ that's sake laced with fresh fruit puree ─ to rejuvenate the palate.

Nami Restaurant and Bar, Level 24 Tower Wing, Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore, 22 Orange Grove Road, tel: 6213-4398.

 

BAM!

 

A confluence of Spanish and Japanese ingredients and techniques for omakase seems like a pretty bizarre gastronomic proposition, but Bam! will prove naysayers wrong with vibrant flavours and lots of sass.

Formally a Japanese-styled sake-and-tapas bar, three-year-old Bam! has just rebranded into an omakase-only concept, starting from $98 for a four-course affair (technically, it's about eight when you count the amuse bouche and dessert items). But here again, Bam! has a very progressive approach to its omakase offerings: Besides sake pairings (from $58 for a four-part parade), you can also opt for a vegetarian omakase (from $78), or indulge that sweet tooth with a dessert omakase ($48).

 

The unlikely executive chef of this unlikely concept is Pepe Moncayo, a Spanishman whose previous gig was at the Marina Bay Sands' now-defunct Santi. On a recent visit, a cunningly presented shiso leaf tempura ─ in actual fact, there were two shiso leaves, with a thin smear of tomato tartare between them ─ laid testament to chef Pepe's ingenuity in bridging the two cultures. The crisp batter and herbal sweetness were decidedly Japanese, and that bright tomato tartare brought sun-kissed Mediterranean appeal.

Chef Pepe is also a fan of the "modern Shudo" idea: That sake, having been brewed from rice, has an umami character that makes it superior to wine when playing to the savoury qualities in food. A comforting dish of chorizo rice with free-range toretama egg proved that wisdom. Given the briny smokiness of the chorizo rice, and the creamy richness of the soft-cooked egg, a standard wine pairing might pick a vino with higher acidity and tannins for contrast, rein in the heaviness. The sake pairing went the other way; yet the deeply aromatic, lush sweetness of the selected rice wine allowed the food's bold flavours to play out freely, while holding its own with grace.

Bam!, 38 Tras Street, tel: 6226-0500.