Kampachi — Let the chef decide

At Kampachi Restaurant, the omakase menu highlights both cooked and raw dishes

By SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH / Pic By RAZAK GHAZALI

JAPANESE cuisine can be enjoyed in many different ways. There is the kaiseki — the combination of compact yet intricate dishes; izakaya — the sequences of small dishes to complement the after-hour drinks; or if you are looking for an experience, omakase is the way to go.

Omakase, interpreted as “I trust you”, is a sequence of dishes that lets the chef decides their customer’s menu.

In a good Japanese restaurant, being hesitant about what to order also means that the chefs could flaunt their skills and creativity, making omakase one of the exclusive orders.

At Kampachi Restaurant — located on the ground floor of the refurbished EQ Hotel, the omakase menu highlights both cooked and raw dishes.

After the restaurant was renovated to complement EQ’s seven-year refurbishment, Chef Yong Kah Poh (picture) was brought in to take charge in bringing the element of surprise to Japanese food enthusiasts.

Chef Yong has been with Kampachi’s chain of restaurants since 2011. He earned his place behind sushi counter after being an apprentice of the restaurant’s previous sushi masters, Chef Norikazu Shibata and Chef Koji Tamaru.

Now, Chef Yong caters to one or two sushi omakase sets every day, having enticed his own regular customers. At Kampachi EQ, omakase customers have the option to be seated in front of Chef Yong at the sushi counter.

Omakase is a sequence of dishes that lets the chef decides their customer’s menu

One of the features at the refurbished Kampachi is the hinoki wood — a type of cypress that only grows in Japan — as the sushi counter. The hinoki wood is considered sacred as it usually used in temples and shrines structures.

The 200-year-old cypress was personally handpicked by the founder, Donald Lim, in Yamaguchi prefecture, costing RM250,000.

Having omakase at Kampachi’s newest branch will definitely satisfy your Japanese cravings.

The set would cost between RM400 and RM500, depending on the customers’ requests. Chef Yong said his omakase menus are adjustable according to how accustomed his customers’ palate are to raw fish and sea creatures.

“Omakase sets will not be made the same twice,” Chef Yong said as he would vary and craft the menu selection to balance each dish and not let them overwhelm each other.

Chef Yong believes the best way to enjoy omakase is through building up the palate; starting with mild flavours.

The meal will start with subtle-taste appetisers to ease your palate which will carry you through a more complex and gradually stronger flavours like eel or abalone.

During the flow, Chef Yong will recommend the customers to eat some pickled ginger to freshen the mouth after each course.

He would begin with the slow-cooked tuna belly and white radish, topped with bonito flakes. You will taste the sweet natural flavour of the tuna infused into the white radish as they break apart and melts in your mouth.

The appetiser continues with slices of skinned Amera tomatoes — a high-sugar premium tomato that grows only in Shizuoka prefecture. The chef then balances the sweetness with charcoal salt. The marriage between the two gives the perfect warmth to get your palate going.

The next menu served is sea urchin soaked in saltwater to replicate the taste of the ocean. The method, called “ensui uni” is the best way to treat sea urchin as it will keep the sea creature at the optimum state.

Sea urchin or “uni” is being treated as a premium menu in Japanese restaurants and is highly praised by the chefs.

Despite its tongue-like shape, uni’s flavour is far different from its appearance. Its sweet savoury and buttery texture, along with the taste of seawater, gives the rich taste as it dissolves and touches your tastebuds.

In any Japanese restaurant, staple sashimi such as the alfonsino and amberjack is a must especially if they are in season.

Next, Chef Yong serves the white-flesh alfonsino marinated overnight with seaweed to inject the umami flavour and presents the sashimi with a knob of wasabi on the side, along with the must-have homemade soy sauce.

The next course in the omakase list is the “yakimono”, which means grilled or cooked dish. Chef Yong chooses to grill the yellowtail fish, which is smeared in teriyaki sauce.

The chef torches the high- fat seaperch to enhance its sweetness

He pairs the mild-taste and firm-chew of yellowtail with a side of Japanese chillies grilled in soy sauce and sprinkles of bonito flakes.

For the star of the show, Chef Yong often decides to challenge his customers’ palate with abalone sushi dipped in the mollusc’s liver sauce. The chef balances the dish, which is undoubtedly an acquired taste among other dishes, with grated lime zest and soy sauce.

The shrimp sushi dipped in roe sauce taken from its head along with soy sauce definitely makes the cut as the speciality of the chef.

Chef Yong also includes other popular fish and seafood in Japanese cuisine, such as black throat seaperch, the most desirable part of tuna belly — the “otoro” and the conger eel.

He torches the high-fat seaperch to enhance its sweetness while the otoro is given a quick slice on the surface to allow for a softer bite into the fish. According to Chef Yong, fattier fish requires more wasabi as it will counter the greasy texture.

The conger eel is probably the only item in the omakase menu that is being exposed to the heat for a longer period of time as it cannot be served raw.

Maintaining the simplicity concept, Chef Yong grills the eel with a squirt of lime juice and a pinch of charcoal salt.

As sea urchin is rare and difficult to be enjoyed in Malaysia, Chef Yong decides to serve the sea creature for the second time as sushi. The uni is served raw on top of the firmly packed rice.

The omakase would often end with soups before the dessert. For this set of menu, Chef Yong prepares a soup boiled with alfonsino bones. The oiliness from the fish seeps through and enriches the flavour of the soup.

For the finale, Chef Yong decides to end the omakase set with a sweet note of peach fruits from Yamanashi prefecture, which has been dubbed as the “Kingdom of Fruits”.