Kaiseki at Kuriya Shaw Centre (A Review)

[This is a review done for yum.sg in September 2006. This blog was reimbursed for the meal.]

collageKaiseki is one of the most expensive ways in the world to eat. It is the ultimate representation of a Chef’s abilities as each dish features the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients available, utilizing every skill the Chef has at his command to create a harmonious meal.

In short, it is Japanese cuisine at its highest level of refinement.

The story behind Kaiseki is that Zen Buddhist Monks would put hot stones (Seki) into their kimono pockets (Kai) to make fasting and prayers more bearable. Slowly, people found out that the best way to make fasting more bearable is the judicious application of food.

In fact, it was discovered that serving Kaiseki along with the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony made the tea taste better. Mainly because, and I am speculating here, people tend survive the ceremony when fortified with food.

It was with this mindset that I made reservations for two with a very chirpy person at Kuriya Japanese Restaurant at Shaw Centre. After all, dinner is always best with company.

Kuriya, which means Kitchen in Japanese, is operated and owned by RE&S Pte Ltd, the same operators of Kuriya Dining, Ichiban Boshi, Kuishin-Bo, Ichiban Sushi, Fiesta Japanese Restaurant and Kuriya Fish Market.

Having recently renovated, the interior can come as quite a shock because of the stark whiteness of Shaw Centre. Warm, subdued lighting with comfortable seats. Kuriya’s concept is like a French Brasserie, i.e. serving good hearty fare at reasonable prices.

The only disconcerting thing that draws your eyes away from the food, decor and even your dining companion are the jars of Cognac with plums floating in them like wrinkled nuts. I guess submersion does that to everything.

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Moving along, the menus (yes, there are two) are hefty and can be quite intimidating because of the wide variety of choices. Every style of Japanese cooking from steaming, grilling to hotpots, Sushi and Sashimi is available. Hence the Kaiseki ($78) so as to sample everything, like a degustation menu at a French Restaurant.

After hearing so much about Kuriya and Kaiseki, my expectation of harmonious perfection was heightened considerably. And the meal started quickly with Zensai Santen Mori (Boiled Prawn with egg yolk, shredded yam with Salmon Roe, Soused mushrooms and French Bean with sesame sauce), and flowed on with the Otsukuri (Seared bonito with ponzu sauce, seared Swordfish, Squid with soft-boiled egg), Yakimono (Half-grilled fresh Saury fish with salt), Agemono (Deep-fried prawn with shredded potato), Aizakana (Spinach, grilled eggplant and scallop with sesame-ponzu sauce), Oshokuji (Chirashi sushi with mushroom and grilled Salmon in a lacquer box), Suimono (Matsutake mushroom in clear soup) and finally Dessert (Home-made green tea and red bean mousse with Chestnut sauce).

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The standout course of the Kaiseki meal for me was the Otsukuri. The expertly seared Swordfish enhanced the flavour greatly. The seared Bonito (Tuna) was also great unfortunately, the ponzu sauce and raw Garlic overwhelmed the subtlety of the taste. The crunchy seared squid tasted strange but wonderful with the soft-boiled egg.

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At the end, while I was fed, I did not feel harmonious. The pace of the courses was fast and undignified as the waiteress almost wanted to stack our half-finished dishes to make way for the new ones. In the end, we had to send back some dishes and ask for a more leisurely pace. This was not a good thing as the Oshokuji came back out cold and lifeless. So much for the aroma of grilled Salmon intermingling with the (not) steaming rice. The ponzu sauce overwhelmed everything from the Aizakana to Otsukuri. The dessert, while pleasant to look at, had that frozen-from-last-night taste. There was no integration or harmony of the tastes.

I was introduced to Kaiseki at Keyaki over at Raffles City Pan Pacific Hotel that was similarly priced, so I cannot quite bring myself give Kuriya credit for something that lacked the harmony of flavours and the pacing. You can’t help but feel everyone wants to close up and go home.

Fortunately my dining companion, sensing my disappointment quickly suggested the Yakitori menu as our last orders. And what a dramatic difference it made! The Grilled Buta Kakuni (Braised Pork Belly, $7) simply slipped off the skewers and literally melted in my mouth. It was to die for. The Gyu Tan (Beef Tongue, $13) was tender, sweet and crunchy. This was the saving grace. It was outstanding.

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Service at Kuriya was good but inconsistent. We received excellent service but the table next to us was treated so roughly that we were shocked. And while all the staff were helpful, some were clearly out of their depth with the subtleties of the menu, for example, no one could explain why the September Kaiseki menu featured a majority of cold courses.

Kuriya Japanese Restaurant is your upper middle-range restaurant. It serves good hearty meals at reasonable prices. Just don’t expect haute cuisine.

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Posted on 29th Mar 2007 in Food and Drink, Japanese

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There Are 8 Comments

 

lol commented on March 29, 2007 at 7:02 pm


Hey bro, Keyaki is at Pan Pacific, not Raffles City!


 

Ivan commented on March 29, 2007 at 11:33 pm


Thanks! Inagiku, Keyaki, Hard Wooden Furniture, Dim Lighting. After a while they all look alike.


 

haha commented on March 7, 2008 at 5:24 pm


hey man havent you eaten chirashi sushi before? its meant to be cold!


 

ivan commented on March 7, 2008 at 5:45 pm


@haha: More than you I suspect. The rice is supposed to be served at room temperature and not cold. It lacked the vibrancy of flavors and hence was lifeless. Think of the difference between a Ceviche and cold fish cubes.


 

haha commented on March 17, 2008 at 6:18 pm


if it were at room temperature how can it be steaming?!


 

Ivan commented on March 17, 2008 at 7:12 pm


@haha: So you now agree that it should be at room temperature and not cold?


 

haha commented on April 1, 2008 at 10:05 pm


the fish should be cold but the rice should be room temperature


 

Ivan commented on April 2, 2008 at 12:42 am


@haha: That’s great.


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