Our team goes undercover to suss out the latest and most talked about restaurants in town
On paper, Chō Omakase sounds foolproof. Set along a quiet stretch of Boat Quay, the 30-seater restaurant boasts a twice-weekly supply of fresh fish air-flown from Japan, and a chef hailing from a highly acclaimed Japanese restaurant overseas. Starting from $50++ for an omakase set, the prices here rival that of Teppei’s. Plus, there’s no four-month wait. In fact, seats were readily available even at 8pm on a Friday night, so reservations at the counter were effortlessly made on the same day.
With its clean décor and light wood furnishings, the interior of Chō Omakase isn’t unlike other Japanese joints. It was not crowded both times we visited, which allowed co-owner and head chef YK Chong to offer his undivided – and sometimes excessive – attention. While his casual natter is initially disarming, the garrulous chef does tend to speak out of turn. It wouldn’t be a stretch to liken his manner to that of a chatty cab driver.
Bearing the last name of 44-year-old Chong (Chō is the Japanese equivalent of ‘Chong’), the omakase-centric restaurant opened its doors about four months ago after the latter returned from a six-year stint at Bushido, a 1500-capacity multiple award-winning Japanese restaurant in Bahrain.
While it’s a given that the chef determines the menu at any omakase joint, things get a little iffy with Chō Omakase’s free-wheeling system that allows you to pay any amount – $50 and above – after which Chong and his team craft the menu on the spot based on what you’re willing to fork out. It sounded good in theory, but things turned awkward when Chong told us the $100 course would include six pieces of sushi and later recanted when we meekly highlighted that only five pieces had been served. “Depending on the ingredients used, sometimes you get five and sometimes you get six,” he uttered defensively when asked.
Omakase is a true test of a chef’s skill and creativity, and to that end, Chong delivers – more or less. Appetisers like pitan tofu with tobiko and sweet shiro ebi (white shrimp) were pleasant but not spectacular. We really enjoyed the sashimi platter (for the $100 course), which included beautiful cuts of hamachi (yellowtail), swordfish, and unctuous otoro (tuna belly), but the mackerel was a bit fishier than we would have liked. The sashimi’s freshness shone when combined with the mild piquancy and grassiness of freshly grated wasabi.
Some of the cooked dishes veer away from traditional Japanese, and for the most part, successfully so. The steamed cod dish doused in a sweet mirin and soy sauce and topped with a runny egg and crispy garlic was quite Chinese in execution and taste, while the grilled lamb chop had a European slant to it even if it was flavoured with a miso-based marinade. We liked the Chawanmushi bathed in a tasty dashi and bonito stock with a hint of yuzu – it’s one of the smoothest we’ve ever had. Dishes like the duck confit were mediocre, while the yellowtail fish head soup was shockingly vile – equal parts pungent and bland.
The sushi course taught us a valuable lesson: If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Instead of sticking to good ol’ shoyu and wasabi, Chong gets fancy with his own sauces and superfluous additions. A good slice of yellowtail was ruined by a sweet citrus mayo, while salmon was paired with a cloying sliver of sea kelp. Even his perfectly shaped beds of al dente vinegared rice couldn’t save the day.
There’s no doubt that Chong takes pride in his culinary creations, especially since we caught him hovering and scrutinising our expressions throughout the meal. Any unfinished portions were met with: “You didn’t like it?” It was unnerving to say the least, so while omakase is best enjoyed at the counter, we’d recommended slinking over to a regular table at this joint. 14 Lorong Telok. Tel: 6532 2098
Average dinner bill for two, with drinks: $280
Must-tries: the velvety chawan mushi with a yuzu-tinged dashi and bonito stock; and comforting steamed cod in a mirin and soy sauce broth. The menu changes at the chef’s discretion.
Book a table at Chō Omakase with Chope.