Fine dining kappo restaurants have the delicate job of marrying form and decorum with casual counter-seat dining. The Lo & Behold Group’s Esora manages to hold the two in fine balance.
Seated at the chef’s counter, we feel a bit like we’ve scored a backstage pass to a polished production. An ethereal interior design by Takenouchi Webb and impeccable service set the stage. As dinner tasting menus (from $198 for seven courses) unfold with optional tea, sake or wine pairings, front and back of house flit back and forth seamlessly.
The leading man in this production is chef-owner Shigeru Koizumi, previously of Odette, Singapore and Nihonryori RyuGin, Tokyo. Growing up in the mountainous town of Nasu, Tochigi prefecture, Koizumi spent his childhood watching the seasons change, noticing subtle differences in each harvest’s produce. With the same keen eye, he pays attention to detail in every part of this restaurant: from the way swirls of washi paper are affixed on the ceiling like fish scales, so that when sunlight streams in, there are cascades of patterned light; to the way premium hiba wood is used for the counter, its surface clean and so smooth you just want to run your fingers down it for no particular reason; or the way the staff notices you eat with your left hand and moves your chopstick rest unobtrusively.
If you are a teetotaller and even if you aren’t, worth a try is their tea-pairing option (from an additional $38), where Koizumi serves up personally hand-blended teas to go with the meal. At the start of each course, tea leaves are presented in glass vessels and introduced.
A trio of snacks kicked off our meal. The origami ‘rabbit’ potato chips among them were almost too pretty to eat. Next came a foie gras monaka starter. Instead of traditional red bean, this monaka was filled with foie gras, fig jam made from freshly picked figs from Southern France, a peanut praline and a dash of kaffir lime. A flute of cold sparkling Oriental Beauty tea blended with hibiscus flower and yomeishu amplified the sweet-savoury flavours.
The next course saw us looking into the eyes of a kuruma ebi from Mie, encased in a fried shell akin to the Turkish kataifi. A cold Tsuyuhikari green tea from Shizuoka, together with a sashimi trio of maguro and sujiara or blue-spotted grouper followed. In quick succession, a chawanmushi, elevated with Hokkaido kegani, matsutake mushrooms, rounded up the first act.
But it was really the next few courses that shone. There was kinmedai from Shizuoka, aged for a week in a high-humidity fridge, then grilled over binchotan and served with karasumi or dried mullet roe, Kyoto vegetables and dried gingko nuts. Served with a cold Gyokuro and yuzu tea, the aged fish was rich in flavour, its melt-in-the-mouth texture a foil for the crunchier elements on the plate.
Another highlight was the Omi wagyu from Shiga prefecture, served with burdock done two ways—fried and puréed—together with amanaga pepper and an aged akazu or red vinegar sauce. This went really well with the only hot tea served in the meal, a whisky-like smoky blend of iribancha, hojicha and a touch of cinnamon. A donabe or claypot of blackthroat sea perch with Yumepirika rice, topped with fresh ikura, made a satisfying end to the second act.
At dessert, we loved the wasanbon caramel ice cream with white Alba truffles. Heralding autumn, sweet potato smoked with bancha tea formed a pillowy bed. On top lay a silky-smooth ice cream of wasanbon or fine-grained sugar made from a type of sugarcane. So, a cheese-like ingredient made with milk skins, and generous shavings of seasonal white Alba truffles completed the dish. Smoky, sweet, savoury and earthy notes melded effortlessly in this construction. Paired with a simple roasted tea from Miyazawa, this perfect ending was only trumped by an even daintier serving of wagashi petit four starring sweets such as cotton candy and a melon mochi.
15 Mohamed Sultan Road. Tel: 6365 1266