When it comes to Japanese omakase, local foodies aren’t short on options. Recent years have seen an influx of omakase restaurants popping up all around the city — pandemic be damned — as well as existing venues reinventing themselves to cater to the insatiable demand. Among the latter is Kiyose, a kappo kaiseki joint which opened in mid-2022 after a rebranding.
Formerly named Yoshi (after the chef who headed it for nearly a decade), the restaurant now boasts refreshed interiors and an all-new repertoire. It’s helmed by chef Shimpei Taniguchi, who hails from Hiroshima, and serves up lunch and dinner omakase menus that — save for a few signature items — are constantly evolving depending on the seasonal ingredients available.
Its locale isn’t exactly the most inspiring one — Kiyose is situated at Forum Shopping Mall, a place more popularly known for children’s enrichment centres and toy stores. During its past life as Yoshi, it was accessible via a speakeasy-style entrance from its sister restaurant Nozomi upstairs. Guests had to duck past a curtain and descend a flight of stairs that took them to the now-defunct Horse’s Mouth (now revamped as Nomi Dining Bar), sitting just beside the restaurant. Covid-19 and its ensuing restrictions, however led the eateries’ operator to close that “secret” pathway a couple years ago. The only ways to enter Kiyose now are through its entrance sequestered away in a corner of the mall, or via nondescript doors from outside — one floor down from the main Orchard Road shopping belt.
Not that it matters, though. Stepping inside the restaurant’s sleek, dark venue instantly plunges one into a quieter, calmer world from the one outside. A black wooden table occupies most of the space, accented by lights beaming down through a reddish-orange ceiling installation above it. Behind the counter, chef Shimpei and an assistant work silently and methodically, preparing the various ingredients for our dinner.
Our first course of edamame tofu is ready after a short wait. Lightly roasted on a shichirin grill, the tofu is warm and toasty. It’s topped with edamame beans and sprinkled with dried bonito innards mixed with egg yolk. This delightful prelude is swiftly followed by an appetiser of ayu (sweetfish) ensconced in a teacup filled with onions, nagaimo (Japanese mountain yam), Okinawa seaweed and ikura . It’s a creative juxtaposition of textures, but the vinegary notes in the mix are a tad overpowering. The cup comes capped with a leaf, which we are quickly informed is purely decorative — perhaps an actual edible plant would have made for a better, more purposeful garnish. A glass of Tenko 50 Junmai Daiginjo — a light, fruity libation excellently recommended by Kiyose’s in-house sake sommelier Jack Lau — is the perfect foil to tone down this dish’s citrusy tang.
We much prefer the next course of lightly breaded anago (saltwater eel), a simple but tasty morsel ensconced in just the right amount of batter. It’s served with a smattering of salt on top, and a small squeeze of lime instantly perks up the meat’s natural sweetness. Another likeable concoction is the tiger prawn chawanmushi, a rich and umami-packed broth made from a blend of prawn heads, shells, sake, tomato and butter.
The sashimi platter — a staple in any omakase meal — makes its entrance in two separate dishes. The first is a pretty, colourful mix of golden eye snapper (rolled into a little parcel containing shiso and uni), akami (lean tuna), silky hotate scallop and melt-in-the-mouth otoro (fatty tuna belly). The other is a little basket laden with slabs of seared grunt fish and shima aji (striped mackerel) — sweet, juicy and imbued with a smokiness from the shichirin grill.
For sushi, Shimpei-san doles out his signature item: sakura ebi wrapped in red vinegar rice and —unexpectedly — deep fried till golden brown. Think of it as a Rice Krispie on steroids. It’s piping hot, gloriously crunchy and folded within a sheet of grilled seaweed. We polish it off in one bite. It’s followed by a more conventional roll of chopped maguro (tuna), shiso leaf and enoki mushrooms crowned with decadent lobes of bafun uni.
We would have enjoyed more sushi, but the cooked dishes that arrive after are equally satisfying and quickly fill us up. Silky, soft slices of Kagoshima beef come soaked in a broth of bonito and sansho pepper and tossed together with chunks of okra, beancurd skin and eggplant. Next up is crisp greenling fish, which is paired with chewy pumpkin mochi and nestled in a thick radish broth.
Particularly remarkable is the claypot rice, generously layered with sweet, flaky pieces of rockfish atop fluffy rice, Japanese zucchini and baby corn. A dash of sansho pepper infuses the dish with refreshing citrus notes. The rice is accompanied with miso soup mixed with Kagoshima pork strips, which are deliciously tender and impart a sweetness to the broth.
Leave some room for dessert — a quirky giant lollipop of tempura-battered pumpkin pancake stuffed with fillings such as cream cheese and red bean. Shimpei-san sources the pancakes from a friend who imports them from his native Hiroshima, and describes them as one of his favourite snacks. It’s a fun and unusual way to end the omakase feast, considering how most restaurants often serve seasonal fruit. We do get some Japanese musk melon at Kiyose, but in the form of a pre-dessert palate cleanser.
With prices ranging from $128 (for lunch) to the most luxurious $288++ dinner set, Kiyose is one of the more accessible omakase restaurants we’ve visited in recent months. And we’re glad that very dish is masterfully executed without scaling back on quality or flavour. Don’t forget to enjoy your food with some sake — the restaurant’s gregarious sommelier Jack Lau offers spot-on recommendations suited to your preferences. Among the tipples we tried was the Fusion Raifuku x Fermier “Vanilla Beans”, produced by ageing junmai ginjo in red wine barrels. The result is a delicate, slightly sweet and almost white wine-like sake that pairs beautifully with fried fare like Kiyose’s battered anago.
Kiyose, 583 Orchard Road, Forum The Shopping Mall, #B1-39, Singapore 23884, +65 8188 0900
(Main and featured images: John Heng/ Kiyose)