After 61/2 years of running boutique kaiseki restaurant Goto in Ann Siang Road, its chef-owner Hisao Goto and his wife Saori will be overhauling the shophouse space and turning it into a casual restaurant in November.
The couple cite reasons such as rising rental, wanting to appeal to a wider dining audience and wanting to have more time for family as reasons for their decision to change their high-end restaurant into a more mass-market one.
Still, chef Goto, 45, is adamant that while the revamped restaurant will be casual, the quality food that he has come to be well known for remains a priority. Goto's last day as a full-fledged traditional kaiseki restaurant will be Oct 25.
The 20-seat restaurant will close for minor renovations, which include constructing banquette seating along one of its walls and removing its current working counter on the ground level. It reopens with some 40 seats, which includes alfresco dining, on Nov 11.
Called G-One, the new restaurant will serve an a la carte menu, with items that include tempura, fried chicken and simmered vegetables, as well as some seasonal items. For lunch, it will have five to six set meal choices.
Prices will hover at about $20 to $40 a person for lunch, and from about $80 to $100 a person for dinner. Goto's kaiseki meals are priced at $68 for lunch and $180 or $280 for dinner.
While the focus of G-One will be on more mainstream, a la carte items, chef Goto says he may still offer kaiseki for a few days each season, but has not finalised details yet.
Diners can also expect some seasonal items from time to time. These could include pufferfish in winter and less traditional Japanese dishes.
The chef, who is from Gifu Prefecture and has worked in kaiseki restaurants from Nagoya to Kanazawa for almost 20 years, says: "Being less focused on traditional kaiseki also gives us more room to serve other items such as cheese, if we think it is good and in season."
The couple moved to Singapore about 10 years ago and Mr Goto was chef to the Japanese ambassador to Singapore.
The couple struck out on their own in January 2008 and have garnered a loyal following.
Goto, when it opened, was the first stand-alone kaiseki restaurant in Singapore.
Before that, other known restaurants that served traditional kaiseki included ones in hotels such Nadaman at The Shangri-la Hotel, Singapore, and Keyaki at Pan Pacific Singapore. Both restaurants have been in operation since the mid-1980s.
Over the years, since the opening of Goto, more stand-alone kaiseki restaurants have opened. These include Kyoto Kitcho's Michelin-starred chef Kunio Tokuoka's eponymous restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa which opened in 2010 and closed the year after; Kumo Japanese Kaiseki Restaurant at Icon Village in 2010; and Kaiseki Yoshiyuki at Forum The Shopping Mall two years ago.
For Dr David Eu, 63, a medical practitioner, who has been dining at Goto since it opened in 2008, the restaurant is somewhat sentimental. He and his family have celebrated birthdays and other occasions there.
He says: "For the level of cooking, the ingredients that the chef uses and the time spent on his preparation, what he offers is value for money. I admire his love and passion for kaiseki.
"I'm sad to see it go but I do realise that it is realistic that he may need to do this to survive. Hopefully, he will still apply the same standards and quality in his cooking."
Mr Aun Koh, 41, a partner of the Ate Group, an integrated media consultancy, says he can see why it may be "difficult for Goto maintain a formula" due to the popularity and changing scene of the Club Street and Ann Siang Road areas. He also cites the entrance of more competitors serving equally high-end kaiseki cuisine in more design-focused restaurants as another reason why it may be necessary for Goto to change its concept.
He adds: "I really enjoyed Goto, especially when I dined there when it first opened, because it was one of the first few restaurants in Singapore to serve authentic kaiseki in a fun and comfortable environment. The meals there were never rushed or pretentious, and the restaurant was a place where you could feel at home.
"I look forward to see what chef Goto can produce. I hope that it will be unique and something that will showcase his strengths and get new customers through the door."
Chef Goto says he is excited because he has always wanted to open a casual restaurant but had gone into kaiseki cuisine at a young age on the advice of his father, who had told him that it would be wise to learn higher level techniques first before deciding on whether to go into casual dining.
He and his wife, who are both Singapore permanent residents, say that they have also been hard hit by the manpower issue here.
Currently, they have two culinary staff in the kitchen - the second one was hired in July this year - and a dishwasher who helps chef Goto in the kitchen, and one waitstaff in addition to Mrs Goto, 42, who works the floor.
He says: "It is not that we did not want to hire people. But with kaiseki, it is important to hire people with the right attitude and character. Skills can be taught, but only to those who really want to learn."
Rentals at the Ann Siang Road shophouse have also increased by almost three times since Goto opened. Menu prices, however, have not changed.
Mrs Goto says: "We are a small restaurant. If we increase our prices, customers may not come back if they do not think it is worth it. For us, what is most important is the quality of our food."
Becoming a more casual restaurant with more seats will mean that while each bill may be smaller, they will be able to turn more tables and serve more customers.
Also, where Goto might have been thought of as a special occasion restaurant, G-One, with its more affordable pricing, will appeal to more customers.
Going casual will also mean that the couple will be able to spend more time with their four-year-old daughter, because menus will no longer change from week to week.
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KAISEKI: WHERE TO GO
GOTO JAPANESE RESTAURANT
What: The kaiseki menu at this 20-seat restaurant changes every week. Lunch is priced at $68 for six courses, while dinner is priced at $180 for nine courses, or $280 for 19 courses. It is serving kaiseki meals until Oct 25, and will reopen as G-One, a casual restaurant, on Nov 11.
Where: 14 Ann Siang Road, 01-01
Open: Noon to 3pm, 7 to 10pm (Tuesday to Saturday), closed on Sunday and Monday
Info: Call 6438-1553 or e-mail email@example.com
What: Open for both lunch and dinner, Kaiseki Yoshiyuki, which opened two years ago, can seat a maximum of 22 diners. A four- to five-course lunch is priced at $88 or $128 a person, while an eight- to nine-course dinner is priced at $228 or $288 a person. The seasonal menu changes every two to three weeks.
Where: Forum The Shopping Mall, 583 Orchard Road, B1-39
Open: Noon to 1.30pm, 7 to 9.30pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday
What: Nadaman opened in 1830 in Osaka and the one here opened in 1984. Kaiseki is available for lunch ($65 a person) and dinner ($165 a person). Omakase kaiseki menus are available. This month, expect dishes such as grilled shiitake mushroom, autumn mackerel, chestnut and ear of rice for lunch; and grilled wagyu beef and Kamo eggplant with onion miso sauce, shiitake mushroom, sweet chilli, spring onion and red chilli for dinner.
Where: The Shangri-la Hotel, Singapore, 22 Orange Grove Road
Open: Noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm, daily
Info: Call 6213-4571 or go to www.shangri-la.com/singapore/shangrila/dining/restaurants/nadaman/
KEYAKI JAPANESE RESTAURANT
What: The restaurant has been serving a traditional kaiseki menu since it opened at the Pan Pacific hotel in 1986. Its omakase kaiseki menu comprises nine courses and is priced at $170 a person. Dishes currently include fresh fig with sesame vinegar sauce, radish sprout, uni and lily bulb; and clear bonito broth with prawn cake, seaweed, fish noodles shimeiji mushrooms and onion sprouts.
Where: Pan Pacific Singapore, 7 Raffles Boulevard, Level 4
Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6826-8240 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.panpacific.com/en/hotels-resorts/singapore/marina/stay/dining/keyaki.html
KUMO JAPANESE KAISEKI RESTAURANT
What: For lunch, expect a bento for $38 or a set lunch priced at $78. Kaiseki dinners, which have six to eight courses, are priced at $98, $138 and $168 a person.
Where: Icon Village, 12 Gopeng Street, 01-58
Open: Noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday
Info: Call 6225-8433 or e-mail email@example.com
Kaiseki refers to a seasonal multicourse Japanese set meal. It has a strong focus on quality, meticulous preparation and the aesthetic beauty of food.
The meal has a formal structure and, in its most basic form, includes an appetiser, Hassun, a platter that showcases the ingredients of the season; and other dishes that may include a grilled and a simmered dish. It will usually also include rice and dessert.
At times, chefs may improvise and add or omit courses to showcase seasonal produce. Varying sets of crockery and earthenware are also used to differentiate the seasons.
It usually takes about two to 21/2 hours to enjoy a kaiseki meal, depending on the number of courses.
Here are some common courses and terms in a kaiseki menu:
Sakizuke - A small appetiser. It is to kaiseki what an amuse bouche is to French cuisine.
Zensai - An appetiser that is more substantial than sakizuke. Usually vegetarian.
Hassun - A seasonal-themed course that sets the tone for the rest of the meal.
Suimono - A soup course.
Tsukuri - Slices of seasonal sashimi.
Yakimono - A grilled item which is usually fish. Served in earthenware.
Aemono - A usually cold but cooked item of chopped fish, shellfish or vegetables, where the dressing is the focus of the dish.
Sunomono - A vinegared dish.
Nimono - A simmered dish.
Takiawase - Cooked food which can consist of meat, fish or vegetables and so forth. Each ingredient is cooked separately but served on one plate.
Mushimono - A steamed dish.
Shokuji - A course eaten with gohan (rice).
Mizugashi - Seasonal dessert which may range from fruit to other Japanese confections such as jelly and mochi, and which may include matcha.