In the book Negotiating the Nonnegotiable, Harvard negotiation expert Daniel Shapiro describes vertigo as “a warped state of consciousness in which a relationship consumes your emotional energies.”
“In the course of vertigo, the initial threat of conflict slows down your sense of time, and you become highly attentive to the other side’s every word, action and feeling. But as you adjust to vertigo, your sense of time speeds up so that hours feels like minutes.”
Shapiro is talking about disputes. But, in a way, “vertigo” applies to Sushi Kou, too. Time seems to disappear in this newly-opened eight-seat restaurant. Maybe it’s the fact that it has no windows. Or maybe it’s the pristine emptiness of the space that is neither modern nor traditional. Either way, its austere minimalism causes you to pay attention to your surroundings that you might not do otherwise. Once seated, you notice the soothing, slightly fuzzy texture of the unvarnished hinoki wood counter; the grooves of the ceramic teacup; the bright, beautiful blooms at the back of the room; the hushed, gentle flow of service in the restaurant; and the soft ambiance sounds of acclaimed Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi, known for his award-winning overtures for Studio Ghibli films.
Inside Sushi Kou, chef Yoshio Sakuta is the timekeeper. The passing of time is no longer measured in minutes or hours, but in the presentation and consumption of his precisely sculpted Edo-style (old Tokyo) masterpieces. There are two omakase menus: ‘Aya’ with 10 pieces of sushi and three dishes, and ‘Kou’ with two additional dishes. Our ‘Kou’ journey begins with a series of subliminal and provocative appetisers; dainty small plates of perfection that will leave you quite enchanted. Sakuta makes the arguably the silkiest chawanmushi uplifted with slivers of hairy crab. That followed with two meaty slices of lightly poached kinki (Hokkaido’s best and fattiest fish) in tangy ponzu sauce, and wild ocean eel, which is sweeter and more succulent than your average unagi. Then came a small bowl of steamed abalone chunks drenched with abalone liver sauce, which is at first sight unappealing — it’s murky green, for crying out loud — but is out of this world with its slightly grainy mouthfeel and a buttery richness reminiscent of pate. I would’ve licked the bowl if I didn’t care about looking obscene. The same goes for the water shield with vinegar sauce, a rather heady concoction with a myriad of flavours and textures. It’s all of the ocean in a tiny vessel: umami from the dollop of uni, a delicate sweetness from honch bits, a floral scent from shiso flowers, sliminess from the water shield (an aquatic plant), and tartness from vinegar.
It was only when I caught Sakuto meticulously hand-molding a small clump of hot vinegared rice that I realised that I had completely forgotten what I was there for: sushi. What more can you say about raw fish on rice? Quite a bit, actually, when it comes to Sushi Kou. You will likely encounter obscure tastes with the varieties of fish served here, which are seasonal, mostly sustainable, sourced by Sakuto’s trusted suppliers from Toyusu Fish Market. A magical blend of various types of salt and vinegar give a subtle punch to the shari rice, which is never too big or too packed together. From the thick and slick baby sea bream to the supremely moist sea eel, every single piece — served a la minute and dedicatedly seasoned to bring out its natural flavours — are stupendously fresh and gaspingly good. In the ten-course sushi procession, standouts are the fatty marbled flounder with a touch of lime, the massive and beautifully simple tiger prawn, and the outrageously juicy black throat seaperch, perfectly grilled and served atop rice in a bowl because it’s just too good for only a mouthful.
As we approach the end of our lunch, oblivious to the hours gone by, it becomes apparent that Sakuto is obsessed with simplicity, and is thoroughly respectful of the ingredients he’s handling. The last two dishes, like the ones that came before, were nothing ostentatious: a steaming bowl of traditional miso soup with a sweet, giant clam and a handful of those marvellously plump Japanese grapes capped our meal. But the sum of Sushi Kou’s subtle pleasures are tremendous, casting a powerful spell on anyone that walks in. Go alone, or with someone you can sit in peaceful silence with, so you can revel in its seductive tranquility.
Sushi Kou, #01-13/14 Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre, 11 Cavenagh Road, Singapore 229618, +65 85911933.