MALAYSIA — I struggle to write this review not because it's a forgettable experience but because I'm finding it hard to define what makes for an excellent Omakase experience. Over a hosted tasting last night with a party of respectable food writers and public relations contacts, I posed the exact question.
And while the responses run the gamut from the freshness of seasonal ingredients to the mise en scène, much of the criteria for a notable Omakase experience seems to be qualitative – a feelings-based yardstick that takes solely into account “the heart likes what the heart likes”.
I wonder, too, if the Omakase experience in Singapore has reached a saturation point. What once was regarded as an experience usually reserved for very special occasions, has now been regarded a place in listicles that span the apex of several Singapore food journals. Prices have steadily dropped too, as it is wont to do when food trends start catching up to fine Japanese establishments hungry for a slice of the diner's pie.
Its surging popularity makes me question: Is the Omakase experience less a symbol of exclusivity and more a response to our need to be paid attention to personally? In a world where reclusion is the norm, does the idea of an Omakase feed into our desire to communicate?
But if you were to ask me, I'd say an excellent Omakase experience is solely dependent on the chef to whom the responsibility of a curated meal selection lies. Sure, the freshness of the ingredients and inherent seasonality matter. Yet, what good are the finer aspects of a bespoke dining experience without a host that's good-natured, charming, and has a self-deprecating sense of humour that immediately feels like you're dining at his home?
Which makes the Omakase experience at Ebisu, Pavilion Hotel KL one that I would remember for a long time. At the centre of this praise is one Chef Kusuo Kamiishi – affectionately known as Chef Ricky – Chef de Cuisine at Ebisu. His is a storied career carved out of a global fine-dining tour de force in restaurants in Singapore, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur. With a glint in his eye and a quaint sense of humour, chef Ricky makes for the perfect host for an Omakase experience like no other.
The setting of Ebisu helps, too. Named after one of the Seven Gods of Fortune in Japan, Ebisu hides in plain sight its cavernous space that begins upon stepping through the door. The restaurant is dominated by a theme of light wood tones and chairs with rattan weave backs. Where there's pillows, fabrics, or throws, a softer pastel is employed which makes the space the epitome of comfort and hygge persuasions.
The meal starts with a quartet of fresh sashimi that hails from the market in Japan's third-largest island, Kyushu – Hamachi (Japanese Yellowtail) is luscious and buttery with a slight tang; Otoro is the fattiest part of the Tuna and falls apart beautifully in the mouth; cubes of Atami makes for a familiar sight having been commonly found in a typical sashimi plate; a curve of Salmon belly rounds up the classic selections of fish cuts to start the Omakase experience right.
Otoro makes a heroic return for the next selection, albeit in a much different form. Here, it is simmered and cooked in soy sauce such that the fish takes on its umami. It is then laid on top of a thick-cut potato that has been similarly treated. There's a small but feisty dollop of Yuzu pepper that can cut through the richness of the entire presentation. Combined, the whole bowl is hugely comforting and is something that I cannot recommend enough.
A plate of tempura follows closely behind with a selection of lightly battered and fried prawns, Japanese Maitake mushrooms, and sweet potato. Chef Ricky recommends a brief, almost fleeting dip into the clump of salt to enhance the eating experience. The adage is that salt makes all other flavours shine, and here, it rings true.
The Wagyu beef that comes next originates from the Ōmi district in Japan. It is gently grilled to medium-rare in the Teppanyaki style and doused in a fragrant garlic butter sauce. On the side is a saucer of green wasabi chilli paste which, although not intensely spicy, brings the entire dish together quite spiritedly.
Nearing the end, Chef Ricky presents a bowl of uni, Ikura, Tuna, prawn, and sushi rice that is meant to be the filling for sheets of seaweed served on the side. Essentially it is a playful take on a DIY California roll with a pervading sweetness throughout that's so delightful.
The finale of today's Omakase is three sushi presented in a row with pickled ginger served on the side. It starts with engawa sushi from the flounder fish, dipped in ponzu sauce and topped with a spicy grated radish. I was pleasantly surprised at the robust flavour of the engawa, especially when everything else thus far has a delicate flavour profile and light. It by far shines the brightest amongst the other two sushi on display – marinated Tuna in soya sauce and salmon sprinkled with garlic and salt – not that it is in any way inferior.
I opted out of a scoop of the house speciality Yuzu sorbet because I have been amply stuffed to the brim. But I doubt there's any need to try it either given that Yuzu makes for such a refreshing option for an icy sorbet. And under the able hands of Chef Ricky, much like the entire Omakase today, I'm confident it would have been a wonderful dessert with which to close a memorable bespoke dining experience.
Website | +603 2117 2823 | Pavilion Hotel Kuala Lumpur Managed by Banyan Tree, 170, Jalan Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur
Lunch 12:00pm–3:00pm, Dinner 6:00pm–11:00pm