[编辑 Editor 吕大人 英译 Translator 刘大人 摄影 Photographer 刘大人]
The name may not ring bells in your head, but Kisho certainly spells good fortune for those who have been craving for Kaiseki meal without heading to Kyoto!
Anyone familiar with high end traditional Japanese ryotei would not be surprised by the long-established practice of only accepting reservations from known customers or referrals from established clientele.
Of course, one cannot experience a meal like this in just any setting. With the Japanese being so adept at harmony, they would never allow such gourmet food to be served in an inappropriate environment. Hence, Kaiseki ryori is usually served in private rooms, allowing us to enjoy our refined meal in the most Japanese of atmospheres. We might even say that a meal can’t be considered Kaiseki without this added element of tranquillity. Hidden amongst the old shophouses along Jalan Perang, without any visible signage in front is Kisho – a restaurant known only to gourmands for all of its merits, with up to 14 privileged few able to savour the Japanese version of haute cuisine, the ultimate in Japanese fine dining. Here, we can enjoy dining in a seat that suits our preference, with hall seats, tatami room seats, sushi counter seats and tearoom-style private rooms all available.
Considered the pinnacle of Japanese gastronomy and sophistication, Kaiseki ryori is not only an extraordinarily refined and varied menu in terms of taste but also an exact composition of different shapes, textures and colours. Traditionally, a Kaiseki meal is composed of a succession of small dishes, all different in terms of ingredients, cooking and presentation.
Despite only been opened since February this year, Kisho‘s unique blend of cuisine quickly garnered a strong following. While there is no set menu in a Kaiseki meal, there are all the same rules to respect. First, the ingredients used must be seasonal and of the utmost freshness, according to the basic rules of traditional Japanese cuisine. To achieve this, Kisho flies in seasonal produce from Tsukiji market three times a week, with no intermediaries to keep their ingredients ocean fresh, and priced competitively! Other feature of Kaiseki ryori also stipulates no duplication of ingredients (fish being an exception) and cooking styles across all the courses so that we can experience new tastes and textures throughout our meal!
Of course, such refinement has a price. The degustation experience typically lasts beyond two hours and can easily reach three-digit figures, much of it due to the use of fresh ingredients flown in directly from Japan. Truly authentic kaiseki meals can easily reach three-digit figures, with some regulars even going as high as RM500 on average per pax. There’s no menu per se, but there are some pretty bespoke signature dishes we can request for. So, what’s for dinner based on a modest budget of RM200 per pax for a party of 3?
The art of Zen & culinary composition
Our first-ever Kaiseki ryori at home is off to a great start, with a unique combination of Tako (octopus), Basashi (horse) sashimi and Mozuku (brown seaweed) served on a black stone plate. We were pretty impressed with the tender, and clean tasting octopus, which we understand can be quite hard to achieve due to its rubbery texture. The Mozuku seaweed, the pride of Okinawa, is served as a palate refresher and has a smooth and chewy texture compared to other species of seaweed. As for the basashi, if you can get over the mental hurdle of chowing down on a little pony, then you will probably enjoy it as much as we love the strong, sharp and salty meatiness of the salami.
Our third course saw an exciting pairing of Uni (sea urchin) with Ikura, topped with Caviar, Kegani (horsehair crab) and Kanimiso (crab tomalley) that’s packed full of umami goodness that we can still find chunks of crab meat in each bite. Possessing more adventurous palates, we go directly for the uni sashimi with a briny taste and creamy texture. The sea urchin with salmon roe was a surprising combination but what really made this union utterly divine was the presence of both the red and black caviar which contributed to its unmistakeable saltiness and slippery texture. Course number four was presented in the form of grilled Soramame from Kyoto served with sea salt and the extremely seasonal and the rare Hozuki (Chinese-lantern plant), whom many believed can bring health benefits.
Our fifth-course brings about more sweet and creamy Uni and Tairagai (Japanese pen shell clam) which is comparable in texture and taste to hotate (scallop), but the flesh is firmer, less sweet and has more concentrated umami. But wait, there’s more. With a selection of premium, fresh cuts of Maguro (tuna) from Hokkaido, along with Kanpachi, Buri (both yellowtail), Akagai (red clam) and Hobo (red gurnard), Kisho is not one to skimp on the thickness of the cut. Each slice of sashimi is of sufficient thickness, and we could tell that it was really fresh.
Our next course is a sinful platter of oily, delicious Otoro (the fattiest part of the tuna) and yet more Uni with Caviar and Tako sashimi. At this price point, the quality of the creamy tuna, alongside no-frills and fresh cuts topped with juicy micro tomatoes is unbeatable and certainly blew us away.
As a fitting finale, we were treated to a sizeable Abalone and Tako salad, as well as more raw fish encased within a smooth, silky Avocado. Honestly, how many slices of sashimi do you think one can eat? By now, we’ve seriously lost count as the sashimi were really fresh and generous with thick soft and almost melt-in-the-mouth kinda texture. In the end, we just went with the flow and look forward to being surprised at the hot dishes that would be coming up shortly.
Although the preparation and the order in which our food is served vary from one restaurant to another, certain dishes are regularly found in the menus of the kaiseki ryori. Starting with Aperitif and Sakizuke (appetizer), followed by the Wanmono, a course served in a small bowl with a lid, typically a soup. Then comes the Mukosuke (sashimi course), where each premium piece of raw fish is meticulously presented and varies by season and location. The Hachizakana (typically grilled dish) and Shiizakana, the more substantial dish will feature cooked vegetables, mushrooms or meat according to the choice of the chef.
As the first character in the name of Tomezakana means “to stop”, indicating that our meal will be coming to a close soon, this course will typically be vinegared vegetables. The Shokuji course is typically served simultaneously with rice, a bowl of miso soup and another pickled vegetable dish, before concluding with the Mizugashi, a small dessert usually a seasonal fruit or a small serving of ice cream or sherbet. Our table ends up being completely covered with small dishes, so it feels like a real banquet!
Kaseiki dining is characterized by its gorgeous appearance, hence the chefs plate our food using Imari-yaki (Japanese porcelain) bowls and dishes with bright designs so that we can enjoy the beautiful china after we are done eating Our next course of hot dishes come in the form of seasonal Buri (yellowtail) done in two ways. The stewed version married surprisingly well with the crunchy Daikon (big root, radish), while the other Buri was evenly grilled and absorb all the marinade with a nice bite to it, making it flavourful with no fishiness.
For those of us who appreciate lovely fatty juices and a richer beef taste, you would be pleased with the Wagyu Tenderloin from Iwate-ken. At medium doneness, the steak is well cooked, browned and charred outside, pink on the inside. We can also tell the steak is good when it doesn’t need the sauce that it comes for any added flavours. The Lamb Rack was also another fulfilment of our gustatory dreams, with a special marinade that worked wonders in diminishing its otherwise unmistakeable strong gamey odour, and we found ourselves quickly devouring this lamb dish. AND using premium birds imported from Aichi-ken, coupled with the skill of the chef, we’re not surprised that the Duck was smoked really well and was surprisingly tender.
The chewy pieces of grilled octopus gave texture to our fragrant Tako balls, while the much-prized Sazae (sea snail) which was cooked in the shell and served hot, tasted surprisingly smooth and refreshing with the accompanying shimeiji mushroom and greens – not what we would expect from this peculiar mollusc. We also had the Dobin mushi, which was seafood consomme served in a teapot. The clear soup was very light, and a good palate cleanser and every bite of the Chawanmushi released spurts of salty premium Salmon Roe goodness into our mouth.
Like all in-trend food, Kisho also imports Fresh Unagi LIVE from Japan every week, and the eels are grilled-to-order. We loved that the unagi here felt fatter and plumper, and there were hardly any soft bones to be felt with the sweet basting sauce coming through more than its smokiness. We guess it’s probably due to its particular dashi stock which gave it a more umami complex, making the charred taste more pronounced than when consumed on its own. Overall, It was extremely flavourful and satisfying!
The significance of rice in Japanese culture cannot be overstated. It is the daily staple, a source of cultural identity and a fundamental element of Japanese cuisine. At Kisho, the chef uses locally grown short grain cultivars of Fusakogane rice that’s so good that it’s even fit for the royalty!
It’s also not unusual for Japanese restaurants to offer teishoku set options on their menu or some kind of daily special. Just as in Western culture, there is an etiquette for where each item in the set meal is placed. Generally, the more important item is placed on the left in Japan, which is where the rice is positioned, soup on our right side, and the main dish positioned to the back.
At Kisho, we love the fact that we get to enjoy dining at a leisurely pace because here, only four groups each are accommodated for dinner (6pm to 1.30pm) and requires reservations at least a day in advance with minimum spending of RM120 per person. However, Kisho also offers set menus for lunch, giving us the chance to try some of the kaiseki dishes at a more affordable price between 12 noon to 2.30pm daily.
As there is often no menu to choose from when it comes to omakase, be sure to notify Kisho at the time of reservation of any allergies or dietary needs we might have before arriving. Kaiseki usually doesn’t have pork, but it’s available upon request. Thrill-seekers and foodies who crave for the distinctive, subtle flavour and unique chewy texture of Fugu can also ask for the luxurious Japanese pufferfish all the way from Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi prefecture, the largest fugu handling area in Japan.
Kisho is one of those places people call a “hidden gem”. This gem is hidden in Taman Pelangi. Priced reasonably, the service at Kisho is efficient and the place to go if we are looking to unwind and have an unhurried meal in town, with a revamped menu starting from July!
Gochisousama deshita! Thank you for the delicious meal, and an unforgettable evening of traditional Kaiseki Kyoto dining in Johor Bahru!
Kisho Japanese Restaurant 料亭吉祥