Chef Taiga Kanekuni’s offerings, compared to the artfully-designed interiors of his new sushi-ya, feels somewhat austere. Finding the place can be a tad disorienting; the doorway to his namesake establishment is concealed as part of a mounted sculpture of a greyscale mountain landscape, which leads to a dark curved entryway where you’ll turn right to get to the dining area.
Inside, the 11-seater counter translates Kochi Prefecture’s (where Taiga is from) mountainscape as seen on the outside, into a rough split-face U-shaped raised counter. Even the hinoki wood counter we dine on retains its natural curvature, and rustic stone slabs function as the plate for which sushi will be presented on. There are three omakase menus to choose from: Ino Shika Cho, Ka Cho Huu Getsu and the most premium, Hi To To See.
After spending 20 years refining his skills at Edomae sushi, his personal style of sushi-making diverges from the traditional. Some marination, a characteristic of the Edomae-style, takes place in the appetisers rather than the sushi courses. There’s his signature Fatty Tuna Pickled in Soy Sauce that melts in the mouth. Each slice of otoro is to be eaten with a single piece of arugula and Ibaraki shallots dressed in Japanese mustard.
He also enlists the help of the black truffle, an homage to his liking of European fare. Tablespoon-sized shavings of the fungi cover a small mound of shiroebi (white shrimp from Toyama Bay) and truffle paste. The sweet white shrimps are devoid of seasoning save for the truffle paste, each mouthful a combination of sweet and umami.
Apart from the grouper, which he leaves in shio for a few minutes before serving, the rest of the sushi are quite minimally marinated. Paired with either red or white shari, depending on the fat content of the neta, Taiga’s hand-pressed nigiri are intended to showcase the raw seafood’s natural, subtle taste. He’s even got separate containers of soy sauce with their own brushes to avoid cross contaminating lean and fatty.
And for the most part, the freshness of the seafood speaks for itself, a testament to Taiga’s sourcing capabilities. The slice of sardine (iwashi) is gently cut midway down the middle to reveal the reddish flesh underneath its silver skin, bringing to mind hot lava under rock. Surprisingly, it doesn’t taste fishy but has a pleasant fattiness and complexity to it. While later portions of surf clam and botan ebi look distinctly larger than what we’ve encountered elsewhere.
Then there’s the Sea Urchin Roll – three grades of uni (Bafun, Tachibana and Hadate) on rice, gently held with two sheets of crispy grade A nori. The luscious tongues of sea urchin, still cold from refrigeration, are lightly brushed with soy sauce. There’s nothing novel about uni rolls; in recent years, they’ve become a staple at omakase restaurants. But in this presentation, unmarred by any other ingredient, we’re able to tell apart the delicate differences between each grade.
It’s worlds apart from the Tuna and Bonito Flake roll that comes after, negitoro with pickles over sushi rice then covered with bonito flakes wrapped in the same grade A nori sheets. Taiga’s version is wonderfully smoky and crunchy but, unfortunately, overpowers the final anago sushi at the end. Still, he’s proven there are merits to his minimal interventionist sushi-making, especially when the ingredients procured are one of the finest.
Taiga Dining is located at #01-03/04 Regent Singapore, 1 Cuscaden Road, Singapore 249715. Tel: +65 8031 4306
Photos provided by Taiga Dining.