Restaurant Review: Oden to order at Kappo Yorito

This story was first published in The Straits Times on  Feb 2, 2014.

Oden, the Japanese version of yong towfoo, is not seen as an expensive food here. Like its Chinese counterpart, it is found more as a cook-at-home item in supermarkets than in restaurants.

Which makes Kappo Yorito a pioneer of sorts. The 11/2-month-old restaurant in Robertson Quay is not ostensibly an oden eatery since it also includes sushi, sashimi and grilled dishes in its omakase meals. But oden is a highlight and makes up almost half the meal.

However, it is not your supermarket-variety oden where most of the items are made from surimi, heavily flavoured factory-produced fish paste.

At Kappo Yorito, everything is handmade, mainly from fresh, quality ingredients. And with menus priced at $198 and $258 a person, they should be.

Kappo refers to Japanese cooking methods that include cutting, frying, stewing and boiling, and the menus reflect that. The two menus read the same, with courses listed simply as appetiser, sashimi, stew, grill, fried, oden, and finishing with a choice of claypot rice or handmade soba. The difference is that you get more premium items such as otoro with the more expensive menu.

My $258 dinner starts off with a trio of cold appetisers comprising unagi omelette, ikura sushi and a fried ball of mashed pumpkin with pieces of anago and edamame. All three are good, especially the pumpkin ball, with its unusual and pleasing combination of flavours.

What follows, however, is sort of middling. From the kimedai, shima and otoro sashimi to the simmered tai with lotus root and burdock to the grilled barracuda to the grilled Kagoshima wagyu, it is all rather decent. But it is not exceptional and you can get somewhat similar food at many other decent restaurants.

It is a different story, however, when the oden course starts. There are eight varieties of oden to choose from and you can have as many as you can eat. The server takes your order, after which the chef starts putting some of the items into a huge copper pot containing a duck consomme that has been simmering for two days.

It's really too much to eat all eight but I order a piece of everything anyway. And I regret nothing. The daikon topped with beef cheek stands out for the natural sweetness of the well-cooked radish, a perfect foil for the tasty beef which has been simmered till the flavours of the sauce are fully absorbed into the tender meat.

Then there is the tofu cake, a blob that looks like fried gluten but is filled with smooth mashed tofu that is so light it simply dissipates in the mouth.

There are vegetables too - a luscious tomato and a piece of crunchy lotus root cooked with no extra seasoning or garnishing, so that all you taste are their natural flavours blended with the stock.

Then there is an odd item which the server tells us is dried bread that has no flavour on its own but soaks up the stock like a sponge. The chefs cuts a tube of it - it is dried and crispy - into chunks and puts the pieces in the pot where it goes limp and soft. It also takes on the delicate sweetness of the oil-free stock.

And then there is my favourite, a simple boiled egg that is cooked just enough to have the white barely set, when it is at its smoothest.

The homemade soba that rounds off the meal is worth mentioning for its al dente texture, quite different from the soft store-bought variety.

Dessert is a nashi pear followed by a surprising salt ice cream with red bean, a combination of salty-sweet flavours that is intriguing and pleasant.

If you are scared off by the high prices of the omakase menus, drop by after 10pm when the restaurant offers an a la carte menu. You can have a supper of just oden, which is the best part of the meal there.

SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

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