Before the where, let’s start with the what.
When it comes to forms of Japanese cuisine, Kaiseki and Izakaya are terms that you hear most often thrown around. Both are at the opposite ends of the Japanese culinary spectrum with the former offering an intricate and elaborate dining affair while the latter being much more casual and pub-like.
Kappo cuisine falls somewhere in between the two. Kappo is simply defined as “to cut and cook”, and is one of Japan’s most traditional forms of dining, with a small counter being all that separates you and the chef.
Both Kappo and Kaiseki employ the concept of omakase, which translates into “I’ll leave it up to you”, letting the chef prepare the menu at his whim. For some, that is a terrifying notion to have the choice of what you eat taken away from you, while forking out an exorbitant price for it no less.
If you can overcome the idea that there’s no menu, what you actually get is an exquisite culinary experience, with the freshest seasonal food that can hardly be replicated anywhere else.
So, what exactly is the difference between the two? Kappo focuses a lot on the season’s highlights, and offers a dining experience that is much more casual, an open kitchen rooted in the chef-patron relationship. Kaiseki, on the other hand, is much more intricate, usually held in private dining rooms and often featuring a melding of art and cooking.
Kappo-style dining establishments in Singapore are as rare as they come, but not wholly non-existent, here are 3 places where you can experience this traditional Japanese experience without having to fly to Japan.
The newest kid on the Kappo block, ESORA takes a fresh and modern approach to the traditional Kappo dining. Tucked in a heritage shophouse along 15 Mohamed Sultan Road, much of ESORA is still anchored on the hearty interactions between the chef and customer, a core element of Kappo dining.
Behind the counter, Chef-owner Shigeru Kozuimi will be seen busy taking his profound knowledge on Japanese culinary traditions and combining it with modern techniques such as pacojet and liquid nitrogen garnered from his immaculate experience working in Michelin-starred restaurants, most notably Tokyo’s Nihonryori RyuGin and Singapore’s Odette.
It all sounds unbelievably complex, but interestingly, Chef Kozuimi’s favourite dish is the simple and humble dashi, with his version featuring a savoury broth consisting of katsuboshi (dried, fermented skipjack tuna), bonito, and kombu (edible kelp) finished with a dusting of zest of yuzu. Though it doesn’t employ any flashy techniques, the dashi broth is full of intricate layers that speak to the chef’s skill.
What truly sets ESORA apart, however, is its tea-pairing programme, a first of its kind in Singapore. At ESORA, tea is elevated and brewed to perfection, adhering to the perfect temperatures and served in delicate stemware and champagne coupes.
ESORA takes its Kappo dining seriously, providing a holistic culinary experience that will enliven your tastebuds.
15 Mohamed Sultan Rd, Singapore 238964
Tuesday: 7 PM to 9 PM
Wednesday to Saturday: 12 PM to 1:30 PM, 7 PM to 9 PM
Closed on Mondays and Sundays
2. Kappo Shunsui
Kappo Shunsui is not a place many know about, let alone how to enter. Standing outside the entrance, there’s no indication that what lies behind the metallic door is a Japanese culinary delight.
Minimalistic to the extreme, all you can see is a biometric fingerprint scanner, not even any semblance of a name. Regular customers would have had their fingerprints recorded, thus, entry is easy for them at this highly exclusive restaurant. Have no fear though, all it takes is a simple ring of the doorbell to dispel all the cloak-and-dagger drama.
An intimate affair with only 19-seats, Kappo Shunsui offers Kappo-style dining with an atmosphere that is reminiscent of Kaiseki. The menu at Kappo Shunsui changes daily, highly dependent on the ingredients that Chef Nobu Nishi gets from Japan. If you want a complete experience, opt for the sake pairing programme, where the chef will recommend libations according to the menu of the day.
As if his family’s 200-year lineage of chefs wasn’t enough, Chef Nishi was schooled under legendary Chef Hideki Ishikawa, chef-owner of three star Michelin restaurant Kagurazaka Ishikawa. Get yourself acquainted with the intimate setting of Kappo Shunsui, and entrust your meal to Chef Nishi.
5 Koek Rd, #04-02 Cuppage Plaza, Singapore 228796
Tuesday to Sunday: 6 PM to 12 AM
Closed on Mondays
Like the previous two head chefs, Chef Taro Takayama has trained under world-renowned chefs and Michelin-starred restaurants.
What is different is Chef Takayama didn’t start out wanting to be a chef, and was actually pursuing an undergraduate degree in law. Life has a way of throwing its curveball, and the lawyer-to-be had to change his career when he couldn’t pass the bar exam. It was actually a photo of a chef preparing sushi that spurred him to enter the competitive culinary world.
The restaurant takes its inspiration from shiki (the four seasons), believing in creating dishes that pull from the freshest seasonal produce. This mindset forms the backbone of crafting his daily and seasonal menu and pushing for excellence in food sustainability.
At the heart of Takayama is the epitome of Japanese hospitality: the spirit of omotenashi. It’s hard to adequately define this spirit but the word comes from a combination of “omote” which means a public face/image and “nashi” means nothing.
Together, it foregrounds the idea that service, or hospitality, honest and upright, from the bottom of the heart. Chef Takayama takes pride in his Kappo-style service, taking every chance to interact and get to know his diners, offering the best he knows to everyone he serves.
6A Shenton Way, #01-09/10 OUE Downtown Gallery, Singapore 068815
Monday to Friday: 12 PM to 2:30 PM, 6 PM to 10 PM
Saturday: 6:30 PM to 10 PM
Closed on Saturdays