29 Scotts Road
NOTHING quite impresses like taking friends to a hidden restaurant secluded from the masses - better still when it turns out to be one right under everyone's noses in the heart of town.
So it is with Ki-Sho, a fine dining Japanese restaurant situated within a black-and-white colonial villa along Scotts Road. The month-old restaurant has been flying so low under the radar that you've probably driven past the villa countless times without realising it has traded in its former life as an antique store to be reincarnated as Chateau TCC, a duo of fine dining restaurants run by the parent company of the TCC coffee chain.
The two-storey Ki-Sho comprises a 10-seat sushi bar and a sake bar downstairs as well as two plush private rooms above.
Its kitchen is helmed by Kazuhiro Hamamoto, who formerly worked the teppanyaki section as a sous chef at Waku Ghin in Marina Bay Sands. And he's eager to impress: the omakase-only dinner menus here come in three sizes ($230, $280 and $330) and feature plenty of Japanese delicacies.
Chef Hamamoto is a native of Kyoto and started his chef training there, so expect a Kyoto slant to his dishes.
The yuba starter, for instance, is a classic Kyoto speciality comprising cold shreds of soy milk curds pepped up with sprinkles of grated horseradish.
Likewise, the silky chawanmushi that acts as a bed for the fugu shirako (seared fish sperm sacs that the chef euphemistically calls "pufferfish roe") is made with soymilk, another Kyoto touch.
White truffle shavings are mixed into the custard to give the dish a luxe upgrade, but the soaked slivers don't deliver much in terms of flavour or texture.
Also outstanding are the uni and caviar, beautifully married atop aqueous jelly blobs made from briny clam both. Crunchy sticks of asparagus and char- grilled eggplant give it bite.
But it isn't always flawless. The ankimo, or steamed monkfish liver, lived up to its name as the foie gras of the sea with its rich, pate-like texture, but left a sharp and bitter aftertaste that tickled the back of the throat well into the next course.
And the rather conventional spread of tuna, snapper and yellowtail is firm and fresh but not particularly memorable.
The sushi rice has more vinegar than necessary, its sour tinge overpowering the fish at times and it tends to fall apart before you can pick it up.
Bonus points to the restaurant, however, for its attention to detail in changing tea pairings thrice throughout the meal: a bold roasted green tea for starters, a milder green tea during the sushi course and a nutty sweet genmai tea to go with the desserts.
With no other diners in the room to attend to, the pleasant but reserved Chef Hamamoto is a one-man show that alternated between quietly staring as we self-consciously devoured each morsel, and leaving us awkwardly alone and feeling quite forsaken in the too-pristine-for-comfort dining room as he attended to patrons in the next door bar.
It doesn't help that not a peep comes from beyond the kitchen's curtains and that their impossibly clean sushi counter looks more showroom than functional space, which leads one to wonder how far in advance the dishes are usually prepared.
Or perhaps as Singaporeans who are more used to dining as a convivial experience, there's a Zen teaching in all this we're just not getting.
Rating: 6. 5
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good