Fishing for your food and the intricacies of tempura at Kissajin and Ippoh

Japanese dining options continue to balloon here that the cuisine should be codified into Singapore’s heritage. Two of the latest offerings come in the form of Kissajin and Ippoh Tempura Bar.

From the Les Amis Group, Kissajin is their new concept they are calling “contemporary” and “convivial.” Establishments seem to love calling themselves convivial nowadays (just google “convivial restaurant Singapore”), and Kissajin distinguishes itself by co-opting the cheerfulness of Japanese festivals backed by a playlist of ’80s J-pop tunes.

Like its sister restaurant Jinhonten, Kissajin only serves omakase sets during lunch and dinner. But instead of three figures, dinner is capped at S$98++. While this means less sashimi and other big-ticket items, head chef Ryo Yamaguchi and executive chef Makoto Saito make up for it with their joyful renditions of Japanese comfort food.

Wagyu udon (Image credit: Kissajin)
Wagyu udon (Image credit: Kissajin)

First, you have to work for your meal. At the start, a server appears with a bowl full of balloons that you hook out using plastic fishing rods, similar to a festival game called yoyo tsuri. It is not as easy as it looks – my dining companions spent minutes trawling around until they finally snagged something. I got lucky and pulled three out at once. On a plate, the balloon splits open to reveal an egg-shaped sesame tofu, which has a creamy, burrata-like consistency.

Certain courses are served using an okamochi, a bulky food delivery box I want to see Loh Kean Yew lug around in Grab’s publicity stunt. Out of it appears Zensai, or an appetiser that includes lightly smoked scallops, juicy charcoal-battered chicken karaage, and mochi dressed as an adorable little persimmon. Pork katsu sando zinged with wasabi mayonnaise, and crunchy lotus root brought contrast to a custardy mushroom chawanmushi. Instead of soy sauce, clear bonito jelly was a novel way to perk up sashimi.

A highlight was the wagyu udon. Rather than the thicker, more common sanuki style found here, Kissajin chose to serve thin inaniwa noodles from Akita Prefecture, which were a joy to slurp on with the buttery beef and yuzu-accented broth. For dessert, the restaurant eschews the usual seasonal fruits for anmitsu, a refreshing jelly with sweet azuki bean paste, mandarin orange slices, and whipped cream with brown sugar syrup.

Yuki set (Image credit: Ippoh Tempura Bar)
Yuki set (Image credit: Ippoh Tempura Bar)

Not new, but back with a new menu is Ippoh Tempura Bar. The Como Group’s Japanese restaurant at Dempsey Hill has launched a refreshed menu at lunch and dinner showcasing its deft hand with tempura. Sashimi has also been added because Singapore diners expect that, a server revealed.

If you need raw fish, opt for the Yuki dinner set (S$230++), which includes a sashimi course of Japanese flounder (hirame), bluefin tuna (hon maguro), and sweet Japanese scallops. They are fresh and perfectly acceptable, but do not leave as lasting of an impression as compared to the bright appetisers of vinegary deep fried hirame, slippery Okinawa seaweed with ginger flower, silky sesame tofu with uni, and an intensely sweet tomato.

Ippoh is run by Masaru Seki, a fifth-generation tempura chef whose family founded and still runs the original location in Osaka. He has a serious demeanour, briskly introducing the 11 tempura pieces of the evening, but breaks out in delight when you exchange name cards with him.

Shrimp Toast (Image credit: Ippoh Tempura Bar)
Shrimp Toast (Image credit: Ippoh Tempura Bar)

Over an elaborate tray of lemon, roasted sea salt, grated radish, dipping sauce, and a saucer for discarding prawn tails, Seki serves a rotation of seafood and greens with suggestions for the right condiments. “I change between fish and vegetables to refresh the taste,” he said. Prawn, sweet and delicately crunchy, is galvanised by citrus and salt. Radish brings relief to a punchy green pepper. Shrimp toast shatters like a sweet rice cracker. Impossibly thin seaweed tempura is crowned with buttery uni and the brine of black caviar.

The most luxurious dish was soft boiled egg tempura rice with shaved truffle, which Seki executes with the precision of a space flight. The egg is steeped in water at exactly 100 degrees celsius for six-and-a-half minutes, enveloped in tempura batter, and fried briefly. It is laid on top of rice among chunks of tempura prawns, then topped with Italian black truffles. Stir in a trio of garnish, one that tasted like lemony ikan bilis, and contemplate why people still need sashimi with tempura this good.

Kissajin is located at 1 Scotts Rd, #01-11 Shaw Centre, Singapore 228208. Book here.

Ippoh Tempura Bar is located at 17B Dempsey Rd, Singapore 249676. Book here.

(Hero and featured image credits: Kissajin; Ippoh Tempura Bar)

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