ESORA Singapore is not even a year old, but it has gained a reputation for imaginative cuisine that pushes the envelope, perhaps unsurprising for a chef who has honed his craft at renowned restaurants like Nihonryori RyuGin in Tokyo and Odette in the Lion City.
This four-hands kappo-style Japanese experience was a collaboration between ESORA’s executive chef, Shigeru Koizumi, and Den Tokyo’s Zaiyu Hasegawa. The chefs are good friends and previously spent time working together at Den.
Chef Hasegawa’s whimsical nature was the highlight of Asia’s 50 Best Talks in Macau earlier this year, with the chef delivering one of the most dynamic talks by role-playing a joyful exchange with his team member Joyeta Ng in how to create customer happiness by starting with something as simple as taking a reservation phone call.
We were wowed the minute we walked into ESORA’s refined interiors juxtaposed with upbeat music and exceptionally friendly and dynamic chefs in the open kitchen, excitedly showing off their skills.
The playfulness and technical expertise from the pair of chefs was exhibited right from the start. The opener came packaged like a pillow sweet but was revealed to be far from it. A crisp foie gras wafer marinated in white miso encased a unique combo of lychee and narazuke pickle – think of it as a gourmet ice-cream sandwich. And the devilish combination went together like milk and cookies. Paired with Larmandier-Bernier bubbly by ESORA’s sommerlier, Alvin Neo, this was a star of a dish to begin.
What’s inside the box? The chicken was buried like treasure along with all the ingredients for added flair.
The staff brought the next dish, presented in a takeaway box, and joked that they were running late in the kitchen, so they decided to order in. They explained that their twisted take on the traditional shokuji course of kaiseki (a rice course to line the stomach in order to overcome hunger) was designed to make this course more appealing and fun. They stuffed the rice inside chilli crab chicken and then packaged all the ingredients together inside the box. This dish was paired with an extra-dry sake to complement the heavy fried chicken.
Chef Hasegawa told us that he and his team love to travel, and collaborations are a great way to get inspired by the ingredients of other countries. In a sweet twist, the chef printed all of his past and future collaborations on the back of the takeaway box, emblazoned with his images with friends such as Virgilio Martínez of Central in Peru, this year’s World’s 50 Best One to Watch winner Lido 84 in Italy and The World’s Best Female Chef 2019, Daniela Soto-Innes of Cosme in New York. We’re betting the chef will soon have some bon-vivant fans travelling around with him to get a taste of these cool collabs.
Then the garden arrived, pruned carefully and assembled in front of our eyes. The squid, cut so delicately thinly, presented a pleasant texture. The uni was combined to spectacular effect with a junsai aquatic plant that gave the richness of sea urchin a refreshing edge and made it into a light soup from the natural jelly provided by the lake algae. The giant grouper had a gently seared skin and a hint of homemade ponzu, topped with bonito garlic chips and chive. Then there was a pickled cherry to round it all off.
This soup was made from “Treasure of Kyoto” eel. Fully grown, these eels can grow to two metres in length, making deboning a challenge. The Japanese invented a technique for breaking the bones with a special knife, so you can’t even feel the bones as you eat them. A clam broth was added to the snow-white eel meat, and this dish was paired with a round and fresh Chablis.
This fish is referred to as kinmedai (or splendid alfonsino). It was charred on top, with sugar snap peas for pops of sweetness and olive oil giving an aromatic edge to the fatty fish.
This sweet, satirical salad may look simple, but every vegetable was cooked in a different style, and each carrot was specially carved for each customer for a cute individual touch. It featured pickled beetroot, grilled courgette, tomato marinated in sweet rice vinegar and vanilla and fresh salad leaves and was topped with blue pea and cucumber flowers, making the most of each ingredient and leading wonderfully into the next course.
For this showstopper, Chef Koizumi proudly brought the pot round to reveal the smoking bird within. He revealed that they had cooked the leg yakitori style, while the breast was cooked to focus more on the texture. They smoked it all with chilli to give it an ever-so-slight spice.
Presented simply but with pride, Chef Hasegawa bought over this special hairy crab rice, made with kegani crab from Hokkaido. It was served in a traditional pot with a traditional texture and subtle flavour.
To transition to sweet, there were two types of grape, peach, passion fruit and mango with a rum liquor jelly. The powerful rum liquor was a sweet and potent mix with the fruit, with enjoyable pops and crunch provided by the passion fruit.
Recognise the mermaid?
The finale came in the form of an espresso cup with a mock Starbucks logo, with Chef Hasegawa taking the place of the mermaid. Smoked sweet potato ice cream and green tea with truffle on top came together for a pretty spectacular ending.
If you’re in Singapore, plan ahead and book to get into ESORA. If you’re in Tokyo, try your best to get into Den (it’s tiny and as sought after as you can imagine). These two chefs will blow your mind and taste buds, and you’ll have fun and friendly fine-dining experiences at both spots . We can only hope that these two culinary wonders unite again!
ESORA Singapore:15 Mohamed Sultan Road, Singapore 238964, +63 6365 1266, book online
Den Tokyo: 2-3-18 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3 6455 5433
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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