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Accessible kaiseki fare at Yoshi
#B1-39 Forum The Shopping Mall
583 Orchard Road
Open for lunch and dinner Mon to Sat: 12pm to 2pm; 7pm to 10pm
WITH its rebranding as just "Yoshi", the original Kaiseki Yoshiyuki has dropped the "Kaiseki" and half of its chef's first name - probably to sound more millennial-friendly as it reaches out to a dining crowd whose idea of culinary craftsmanship is the number of toppings you can squeeze into a grain bowl.
Kaiseki is beautiful - every flower petal and morsel arranged in a way to take your breath away; a blood-sweat-and-tears badge of honour for the chef who spends his entire life perfecting this art form. But it's a wasted effort outside of its birthplace Kyoto or a Japanese ambassador's residence in San Francisco and Singapore, where chef Yoshiyuki Kashiwabara was personal chef for seven years before "coming out" in 2012 to create his own little Kyoto in the basement of a child-friendly shopping mall.
It was cool then - Japanese restaurants were firmly in the high-end category and the intimate eatery enjoyed an exclusive, hard-to-find niche as the senpai to the young, upstart Horse's Mouth cocktail bar beside it. But all manufactured universes have a sell-by date, and apart from the regulars who still form a loyal following, out of sight has slowly become out of mind.
Today, Kaiseki Yoshiyuki has gone from "find it if you're worthy enough" to Yoshi's new "come on in, one and all" demeanour with a much bigger, more visible entrance that is crucial in a playing field exploding with old players and newcomers.
It has moved from kaiseki - or rather its trimmed down version - to be even more simplified, kappo-style cuisine where chef Yoshiyuki does three fixed menus and one omakase at dinner time. Lunch is strictly a set meal affair - bara chirashi don, wagyu rice bowls or sushi/sashimi set platters, all priced from S$58 for a wagyu don with onsen egg to S$108 for the sushi platter. They all come with appetiser, chawanmushi, sashimi and dessert which makes lunch a very digestible deal.
There seems to be a deliberate attempt to keep things affordable even at dinner time, which is usually when the sashimi knives come out to cut more than just seafood. There are just three menus that revolve around key ingredients - uni, wagyu and maguro - priced just below the magic S$200 figure. You can go for broke with the separate S$329 omakase menu, or challenge him with a figure of S$200 to see what he comes up with.
Which is what we do, as we settle on the S$188 uni menu and a S$200 "surprise me" option which turns out to be just bits and pieces cobbled together from the previous three set menus.
While the prices seem fair on the surface, you're not getting great value for money. You simply get what you pay for which is above average but still below prime quality ingredients. Chef Yoshi does his best to slip in some nice morsels here and there, but there isn't a lot of room for him to manoeuvre.
As a kaiseki-trained chef, he is particularly good with composed dishes, such as a lovely melting soft disc of eggplant dusted with starch and deep-fried for a tender, crunchy, sticky mouthful in a savoury and rich dashi broth, let down just slightly by two skinny matchsticks of crab leg meat.
This is one of the highlights of the omakase menu - an eight-course affair which meanders in ho-hum fashion with occasional bright spots. A starter of cold eggplant in ponzu jelly is refreshing although the same stunted crab legs have a habit of popping up.
A mini hassun or appetiser platter showcases plump grilled gingko nut; tender baby eggplant smeared with sweet miso; a slice of marinated octopus, pressed "terrine" of cooked chrysanthemum petals, cucumber and mackerel; and a curious but tasty combo of gluten and kyoho grape topped with tofu cream.
This and a grilled fillet of silver pomfret that's bouncy and milky overlap with the uni menu which, of course, stars various permutations and quality of sea urchin.
The first is a cold slippery mound of beancurd skin topped by sweet fresh lobes of bafun uni. There's an interlude of so-so Hokkaido corn soup before a sashimi platter of a creamier and richer uni with a lingering finish, as well as slices of deliciously oily tuna belly and mild-flavoured stone flounder. This is the moment where chef Yoshi slips us a complimentary serving of uni in sea water that is not as rich but with a light, salty clean finish.
A tasteless but perfectly steamed chawanmushi is a sidekick to the more assertive lobes of slightly lower quality uni on top.
It's clear that chef Yoshi's expertise is in pretty dishes, not stomach-fillers like the amateurishly-prepared uni chirashi don with its clumpy cold rice topped with chunks of sashimi (thankfully no salmon) and not-so-good uni; or the almost-powdery textured wagyu strips in the wagyu rice bowl in the omakase menu.
The restaurant is stylish and chef Yoshi a good-natured and generous host who's trying hard to accommodate a wider clientele. But he seems hemmed in by the restrictions of fixed menus. Price will bring in diners once, but a strong storyline and a better menu will make them want to come back.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: The Business Times pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.