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Mar 1, 2012 09:52 AM

Kunio Tokuoka [Singapore] - Kyoto style kaiseki

Kunio Tokuoka is arguably one of the most respected chefs in Japan, in particular in the field of traditional kaiseki. This should be no wonder as he’s the 3rd generation chef of a legendary Kyoto kaiseki restaurant called Kitcho. When he decided to open his first ever restaurant outside Japan a couple years ago, it created a stir among many Japanese food lovers in Singapore. It went both ways: it’s exciting to know that a legendary chef opening gastronomy place in this small island. On the contrary, it makes many people frown upon knowing the price tag of SGD 750++ for 7-course (about JPY 45-50K) - almost the equivalent of chef Tokuoka’s flagship restaurant in Kyoto. Deep breath …

Food (and wine) - 92/100

Well, the review has been mixed, but slanted towards more negative reviews. With such astronomical price, of course I would not go. Several months passed by, the restaurant’s business happened to be not that good … until to the point they reduced the price by 40+%. At that point, there was still a little doubt, but I was not sure when I would fly to Japan. Anyway, I went here – the reservation is easy by the way, no CC guarantee whatsoever.

After adjusting a couple dishes, I went for a kaiseki course. Here some of my dishes:
The dishes that I love are,
- Wagyu beef served on lava stone - The tender Kagoshima beef was prepared 2 ways: left one was with teriyaki sauce (deliciously burst in my mouth) while the right one was seasoned with salt & pepper - marbled and oily. The side dishes were shiitake, pumpkin and pepper. Be careful not too overcook the beef - simple yet excellent, hard to go wrong with any A5 wagyu
- Green bean rice topped with Abalone, sea urchin and caviar - The best part was the sliced of succulent abalone in perfect texture with its delicious liver sauce. The Hokkaido uni (again) easily matched the briny caviar. However, the rice grains were surprisingly terrible - sticky and tasteless, I always thought that Japanese rice is the best. But the abalone managed to compensate it
- Matcha shaved ice - The pyramid-like shaved ice was carefully prepared and it generates excellent taste and texture. I love the rich and bitter green tea on soft ice ... there's also red pearl with sweet bean jam - very good, deserved to be one of Kunio’s signature desserts. And this makes any shaved ice in Singapore paled in comparison
3 great dishes in 7 courses can be considered very well already

The rests of the dishes were not bad, but perhaps I expected more – to be wowed perhaps. The chawanmushi was smooth and silky with generous portion of uni; the sashimi served several portions of excellent toro (the salmon was ordinary, thus unnecessary). There’s an ‘innovative’ dish for my appetizer - Lightly blackened Ise lobster served with wasabi-soy sauce flavor with grated yam - The premium lobster (the portion was too small) was charcoal-seared to give a slight 'burnt' taste and flavor - good. The 'porridge' was like a thick rice grain, light in taste and had no smell. Interesting, but not really like it

To accompany my meal, I ordered a small portion of sake served in tokkuri – Hokusetsu (located in Sado and is known for its harsh winters) Daiginjo YK35. The (cold) sake was a bit sweet and wonderfully smooth, even enjoyable to consume it on its own. The food quality was high, but not yet worth a trip to Singapore for the sole purpose of dining here. The kitchen created and executed dishes based on a mixture of traditional and innovative technique. Some worked great, but a few not so. The chefs need to be more consistent. I gave my kaiseki meal here - 92/100 (low 2 ¼* by Michelin standard). Does it worth the price tag? I would rather spend this amount at Waku Ghin …

Service (and ambiance) - 93/100

Red and black dominated the color of the zen-like dining room. The décor is modern minimalist, a bit dark with generous spaces between tables. The restaurant was quiet on the day I ate there – about 5 of us if not mistaken. The manager, Suzuki-san, rendered the service well; he’s kind, knowledgeable and always tried to accommodate the diners’ needs. He used to work at Nobu NY before going through about 6 months apprenticeship at Kitcho Kyoto. It’s unfortunate that the restaurant was closed at the 3rd quarter of 2011 – they claimed to undergo renovation. I believe it’s due to poor business. I was surprised to know that it did not belong to the casino. I think currently the RWS would take over and support this place … I’m not sure when they will re-open

For the dishes’ pictures:

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  1. Closed permanently more likely. It has been shuttered since last May. Sorry, Bu Pun Su, I think you need to post more up-to-date reviews on Chowhound. Please refer to the Chowhound Posting Etiquette:

    which states that "Chowhound's goal is to help people find great chow right now. Gossip about rumored restaurants is off topic for our site, as is "do you remember?..." nostalgia discussion. Neither lead to better eating, and Chowhound works best when we focus on that narrow mission."

    By the way, I don't think Kunio's ever re-opening again. He's a tenant, same as Joel Robuchon, although I think it was rent-free for the first year.

    4 Replies
    1. re: M_Gomez

      Thanks for the Etiquette reminder M_Gomez
      I am often busy with works and especially if I ate at multiple restaurants in Europe - but not happening recently - it's just not easy to squeeze time and write decent and 'meaningful' reviews
      Any time limits between my meal and posting? Say how many months? Could not find the info in the link

      1. re: M_Gomez

        i think the problem with kunio tokuoka (the restaurant, not the man) is that you don't get the full experience of a kaiseki meal like in kyoto to justify the price tag.

        in arashiyama in kyoto, you eat in a old building, surrounded by nature, with views of the mountains and the sounds of flowing water, and exquisite food served on cutlery that may be centuries old.

        here in singapore, you eat in a casino...

        1. re: akated

          Well said, akated.

          I do agree that S$750++ for a kaiseki verged on the obscene in Singapore. I once had a wonderful kaiseki meal for S$200++ in high-rent Ginza, Tokyo.
          But these days, it can be more expensive to eat well in Singapore, compared to London or New York.

          1. re: akated

            I'm also sure that the food in Kyoto will be much better
            The overall experience is indeed important and it lacked the things you mentioned in Singapore - unless they "replace them" and push the dining room into something like Parisian's palace or Robuchon's Singapore/the new one in Macau