Wonderful Japanese fare by a Michelin-starred chef

By Abirami Durai, The Star, Sunday, 09 Apr 2023

Kintsugi Wagyu
The wagyu is superlative and offers incredibly tender meat buoyed by a slight outer crust.

It may be hard to believe but hidden on the third floor of department store Isetan in The Gardens Mall in Mid Valley, Kuala Lumpur may quite possibly be one of the city’s best fine-dining Japanese kaiseki experiences.

To get to the restaurant, you’ll literally have to walk through the department store. It’s an odd juxtaposition, but the meal that awaits is more than worth this slight anomaly.

The restaurant – named Kintsugi – after the Japanese art of restoring broken ceramics with gold lacquer – is a progressive kaiseki and sushi kaiseki restaurant.

The brainchild of the Clearwater Group, the eatery is helmed by none other than chef Jeff Okada Ramsey, who first earned a Michelin star as the executive chef of the Tapas Molecular Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo.

Ramsey also has some serious culinary pedigree, having trained under chef Masayoshi Kazato, the official sushi ambassador of Japan as well as the revered Spanish chef Jose Andres. His Malaysian eateries include Japas by Jeff Ramsey, which has been hugely popular since its inception.

“Kintsugi is a culmination of my experiences, innovated with the utmost respect to the fundamentals of Japanese cuisine and sushi. This is my passion project,” says Ramsey.

Ramsey leads the charge at Kintsugi, where his focus on bringing out the best flavour in Japanese ingredients, shines bright.

The restaurant is stylish and cosmopolitan and has 12 seats at the kaiseki counter and 18 seats in the dining hall, giving it an extremely exclusive feel. Produce is sourced from western Japan, where Ramsey’s maternal family and his wife hail from.

The menu starts at RM228 for lunch and goes up to RM698 for dinner. For something in between, you might want to look at trying the Kappo Ito dinner menu (RM498) which offers eight different courses, divided into sakizuke (appetiser), hassun (second course), mukozuke (a sliced dish of seasonal sashimi), agemono (deep-fried dishes), yakimono (flame-grilled food), ozara (meat course), gohanmono (a rice dish) and mizumono (seasonal dessert).

So what is kaiseki? Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner, which bears some resemblance to the Western degustation dinner. The focus of the meal is on using the freshest ingredients and bringing out the best flavours, with taste, texture and appearance of the food also forming the bedrock of this meal.

At Kintsugi, the meal starts off with an appetiser in the form of doburoku, which is essentially an unrefined sake made with koji rice.

“This is actually very old style sake. The first sake invented by monks in Tokyo was 850 years ago and we use their method. It is very close to the method used to make the premium sake, and utilises water, rice, koji and yeast,” explains Ramsey.

The result is a beverage that has traces of rice-rich flavours in each sip, with an alcoholic quality that is pleasant but not overwhelming – basically the perfect opener to the meal.

Other highlights on the menu include sliced sashimi dishes, in this instance Japanese grouper, chutoro (medium fatty tuna) from Nagasaki and shima ebi (prawn) from Hokkaido. The grouper is a velvet wonder that is soft, fresh and like satin on the palate while the prawn has a natural sweetness and is very, very fresh. The tuna meanwhile is sensational – the fat melts like butter in the mouth and tastes like an opulent indulgence fit for royalty.

fugu shirako agedashi
The fugu shirako agedashi features rich, creamy puffer fish sperm milt. — KINTSUGI

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The deep-fried item on offer is the fugu shirako agedashi. The fugu is of course the notorious pufferfish, which can be extremely poisonous for humans and requires special preparation. In this instance, the particular part of the fugu that has been used is the shirako (essentially the male fish genitalia containing sperm), which is particularly prized for its creaminess.

Here, the deep-fried shirako boasts a perfectly crispy carapace which yields to silken smooth fish sperm inside. It’s a textural odyssey similar to that of tofu but with far more creamy qualities bolstering its addictive value.

The ozara or meat course is a carnivorous triumph that features roast A5 Miyazaki wagyu tenderloin cooked medium rare with black truffles on top, fried burdock chips, seasonal asparagus, watermelon squash marinated in leftover sake lees for six months and finally, a bowl of egg yolk cooked with truffle oil, which is meant to be a rich, gummy sauce to accompany the beef.

The kaiseki seating is chic and understated and offers a bird's eye view of Ramsey at work in the kitchen. — KINTSUGI

The beef is truly sublime. Each slice reveals a slight outer crust which yields to meat that is perfectly pink, succulent and so melt-in-the-mouth tender, it is the gastronomic equivalent of chewing on spun silk. And the egg sauce is a true revelation – thick, gooey and the perfect counterpart to the meat.

The rice course is comfort at its best and serves up adult male Matsuba snow crab (which apparently has sweeter flesh) cooked with rice in an earthenware pot. This is served with a red miso soup, fashioned out of shima ebi (prawn) shells and honey cap mushrooms. The dish is incredibly flavourful and is packed with sweet tufts of crab meat that enhance each mouthful with a sublime aquatic quality.

For dessert, the matcha and yuzu entremets hit all the right spots. While matcha is often a love-it-or-hate-it ingredient, in this iteration the bitterness of the matcha pairs beautifully with the tangy, acerbic qualities of the yuzu in what proves to be a sweet treat that offers nothing but pure joy.

Under Ramsey’s capable stewardship, a meal at Kintsugi offers surprises, unexpected twists and turns and the sheer pleasure of eating morsels of food that continue to remain entrenched in your memory long after the meal is over. In other words, this is a restaurant to remember.

yin-yang balance of sour and bitter elements
This yin-yang balance of sour and bitter elements colludes in the delicious form of the matcha and yuzu entremet.