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Fuss-free cooking at Teppan Kappou Kenji
Teppan Kappou Kenji
99 Tanjong Pagar Road, #01-01
Tel: 9152 3118
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 11.30am to 2pm; 6pm to 10.30pm
IT'S funny how similar restaurants tend to gravitate towards the same location, to the point that you can almost predict what a new eatery is going to look like, just from its address. Go to Keong Saik and you know the restaurants will be all designer chic. Go to Tras Street and you'll find a more eclectic, bohemian chic without the same polish. And then there's Tanjong Pagar, where low-brow eateries gather to do chic on a budget but soon find out that reality tells a different story.
The latest to make the attempt is Teppan Kappou Kenji - which, as the name suggests, offers a combination of teppanyaki and counter-style cooking. The Kenji refers to head chef Kenji Okumura - a rather taciturn Nagoya native who spends most of his time at one end of the counter doing rather secretive things that we can't see from our end, but which invariably lead to something tasty appearing in front of us.
The restaurant is nothing to look at with its no-frills decor and functional kitchen, and a menu with big colourful pictures more in keeping with big chain restaurants than a serious Japanese kappo eatery. There is a S$150 omakase if you feel like testing chef Okumura's skills, but we decide to take our chances with the comprehensive a la carte menu.
A medium-sized platter of assorted sashimi (S$58) is surprisingly decent for the price. Adding to the usual suspects like kinmedai and yellowtail are nice touches like Spanish mackerel - looking like victims of freezer burn but are actually lightly smoked slices with a smooth supple texture - and white fish rolled around broccolini tips dipped into a sweet-spicy kimchi sauce. It's followed up by a warm, home-made sesame tofu (S$6) - rustic and rough-textured rather than commercially smooth.
Working the teppanyaki is chef Okumura's affable assistant who can deliver an extensive repertoire with just some oil and a light sprinkle of salt. Three fat oysters from Mie prefecture (S$22) are dusted in flour and pan-fried for a seemingly long time before being reunited with their shells and plated like an elegant still art. The shellfish still retain a coolness within even after biting down on its lightly crisp and hot exterior. A garnish of grated spicy radish acts as decoration and a foil to the briny richness.
We see the chef frying up some intriguing looking snacks out of avocado and cheese, but we get Iberico pork loin (S$28) simply cooked on the teppan hotplate, and sliced and eaten with a dab of yuzukosho - a spicy citrus condiment.
While the Spanish pork has its virtues in the form of marbled fat that keeps the meat from drying out, it can't beat the genetically engineered fat content of A5 Miyazawa beef (S$50 for half portion). We're not sure if the chef took a liking to us or grabbed a wrong piece of meat but we're not complaining at the generous-sized portion that looked more than the 60gm listed in the menu. Well-executed with an attractive seared surface and glistening rareness within, it's extremely rich but enjoyable, along with the tender mushrooms and asparagus on the side.
The trouble with watching a teppanyaki chef cooking other people's orders in front of you is that you suffer from diner's envy - especially when a big bowl of rice is expertly tossed and turned into what must be garlic fried rice that's devoured by a trio of Japanese men.
Not that we do too shabbily, especially when we get a bubbling claypot of seasonal hotpot comprising fresh bamboo shoots, fish and little clams (S$58). It's the priciest item we order next to the sashimi and we're not sure about the value-for-money here, but that aside, the clear dashi has oomph and fresh bamboo isn't an everyday treat.
Teppan Kappou Kenji is one of the few places to serve traditional kamameshi, which is different from the donabe-cooked rice dish at the end of a meal. It's usually served as a casual, family style one-pot meal where rice is cooked in stock along with assorted ingredients. Ours comes with chunks of fish that are still moist and tender when dished out of the pot with a heady fragrance of seafood and a touch of ginger. The test of how tasty it is comes the next day, when you heat up the leftovers that are doggy-bagged for you - it's just as good, if not better, because the flavour has had time to sink in.
Teppan Kappou Kenji is not going to win any prizes for being pretty or sophisticated. The concept of omotenashi aka Japanese hospitality is pretty much lost here but no matter. Its ungainly appearance and unpolished service is made up for with food that is comfortably-priced, satisfying and straightforward. What you see is what you get, and that has its own appeal.
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.