Tanjong Pagar has become a little enclave of really good Japanese restaurants surrounding the block around Orchid Hotel. And Teppan Kappou Kenji is one that I have wanted to try for a while.
Teppan Kappa Kenji opened in one of the conservation shophouse in 2019. Many were in high praise of the Nadaman-trained chefs and the kaiseki course. I wanted to book a meal but alas, Covid happened. Finally, I managed to come back to this restaurant that I have earmarked to try.
I first tried Chef Kenji Okumura 奥村 けん司 culinary skills at Takumi at Keppel Bay back in 2012. He is always excited by the many different ingredients he works with and expresses this through his evolving techniques. He particularly enjoys working with the rich array of Japanese produce available in Japan and presenting them in the best possible method of cooking is what he enjoys the most.
Besides omakase and some set menu items, they also offer a teppanyaki menu. I would return to try the teppanyaki omakase another time. We were quite impressed by the teppan chef as we chomped through our kaiseki course.
We ordered some sake to go with the meal, and we got to select the sake glass to match our mood for the evening. A beautiful platter of crystal sake glasses.
Originally, kaiseki 懐石 comprised a bowl of miso soup and three side dishes, which forms the basis of Washoku 和食 (the Japanese set meal) in modern day. Kaiseki continues to be developed into Japanese version of fine dining featuring the seasonal ingredients. It has evolved to include an appetiser, sashimi, a simmered dish, a grilled dish and a steamed course, in addition to other dishes at the discretion of the chef.
1/ Wanmono (椀物) Course – Edamame Vichyssoise with uni, ikura, and wasabi-hojiso seasoning
Traditionalist would frown that the usual appetiser and soup course were combined into one. Chef Okumura’s creativity can be seen in this non-traditional soup course. Edamame cream of leek and potato soup flavoured with wasabi and hosiji (穂紫蘇 beefsteak plant flower) is a refreshing combination. The spices did not overpower the light flavours of the peas, and the umami was provided by the uni (sea urchin) and ikura (marinated salmon roe).
2/ Mukozuke (向付) Course – Sashimi featuring bonito, conger eel
The next course was the sashimi course which is called the Mukozuke (向付) Course, but usually it is the third in the sequence. But I guessed Singaporeans could not wait that long and wanted the sashimi to come first. Mukozuke translates “placed to the side”. It refers to porcelain ware that is used to serve seasonal sashimi, eel and other foods that are tasty but unappealing to the eye
There were four different sauces that came with the course, one for different kind of fish served. The regular sashimi soy that has been infused with dashi, the soy flavoured with yuzu, a citrusy ponzu dip, and a non-traditional garlicky vinegar sauce that is more like the Teochew 蒜泥醋.
Sashimi course is usually the course when sake is poured in abundance and lots of toasting are done. We usually spent the most time during this course to banter and build relationship. After this course, the proper kaiseki starts.
3/ Hassun (八寸) Course – Okra with eggplant, grilled ayu, corn tempura with edamame, satsumaimo, baby yam, sea whelk
The Hassun (八寸) Course is the seasonal course, and is usually served as the second course after the appetisers. The course introduced the meal we were about to partake, of the seasonal ingredients of Jun-Aug, which is summer in Japan.
The arrival of ayu (sweetfish) is a sign that summer has arrived. Simply salted and grilled is the most popular way of serving this tender-fleshed fish. And they had done well here, making me wished for more. Okra (ladyfingers) and eggplant are also summer eats in Japanese cuisine. These were mashed and topped with a dashi jelly. Chiramenjako ちりめんじゃこ are dried sardine whitebaits that are flavour bombs to whatever they are added to, and it brought a lot of flavours to the wakame (seaweed). Mozuku もずく is an edible seaweed grown 99% in Okinawa and is paired with ponzu.
The last quartet of small eats included satoimo 里芋 (Japanese baby taro) and satsumaimo さつまいも (sweet potato) that are usually eaten in autumn. The super-sweet sweet corn that was tempura fried was amazing. These days they can be found all year round these days. The sea whelk simmered in soy sauce and sake was the most delicious.
4/ Shiizakana (強肴) Course – Miyazaki A5 wagyu steak
The A5 Miyazaki Wagyu Tenderloin Steak was simply seared to bring out its natural flavours. The beef had a beautiful and even marbling that simply melted in our mouths.
There’s some sea salt and Japanese steak sauce to enhance the flavour the steak, but these were totally unnecessary.
5/ Konabe (小鍋) Course – Conger eel simmered in egg and broth
There was enough in this course for three persons, but it was for one. I never had so much hamo (conger eel) in one meal since the last time I was in Kyoto and had that wonderful conger eel themed kaiseki in Gion.
6/ Gohan (御飯) Course – Kamemeshi rice with mushrooms and bonito
The next course is the main course of the meal and is usually a rice course as the name implied. Kamemeshi 釜饭 or “kettle rice” featured a blend of rice from Niigata prefecture that was cooked in a flavourful fish bone broth. The fish of the season was bonito and was generously scattered all around the clay pot.
The Japanese pickles or Konomono 香の物 were delicious. They complimented with the bonito rice perfectly.
Tomewan 止椀 is usually a miso soup. They used a red miso that I enjoyed very much.
7/ Mizumono (水物) Course – Matcha ice cream with peach and fig jelly
And finally the dessert course or Mizumono (水物) was usually the weakest course in a Kaiseki. While they look pretty, they are usually not as exquisite as the ones from French fine dining. I was just happy it was not plate of fruits. Matcha ice cream with peach and fig jelly was nice balance of sweetness of the peach, sourness of the fig jelly and bitterness from the matcha ice cream. The gold flakes did nothing to enhance any flavour.
I was looking high and low for a kaiseki meal in Singapore since the lockdown began, I was disappointed again and again until this evening. Mrs Okumura manned the front of the restaurant, while Chef Okumura and the Teppan Chef manned the back. It was just after reopening so they were short staffed.
In spite of that, the kaiseki dinner we had was the closest one would get in this tiny island of ours. Every course was thought through meticulously, evident in the Hassun course. So if you’re in the mood for an authentic Japanese kaiseki dinner, head down to Teppan Kappou Kenji. But you will need to book in advance as they need to prepare the ingredients needed.
Teppan Kappou Kenji 鉄板割烹 けん司
99 Tanjong Pagar Road #01-01, Singapore 088520
Tel : +65 9152 3118
Visited in Jun 2022