By Grace Ma
Nov 3, 2022
SOMETIMES, FRUSTRATION can be a good thing. Just ask Japanese chef Hirofumi Imamura. Upset with cold bentos and “going crazy” with the inability to cook while in quarantine last year, he experimented with all sorts of ways to heat up his food—and found that an iron could actually be used to cook beef.
He went scouring for one among antique shops the moment he could get out, and an ancient kimono iron filled with hot binchotan is now used to prepare his restaurant’s Kagoshima wagyu. The meat is first marinated with a sprinkling of sukiyaki powder mixed with milk salt before being placed on a porcelain slab that has been warmed to 60 degrees Celsius. It is then sprayed with sancho pepper water and covered with a cloth before being “ironed” to perfect medium-rare doneness. We wanted to spare you the “iron chef” reference, but it’s just too tempting… much like a meal at Imamura.
You see, this unusual preparation is one of the many examples of Imamura’s precise and thoughtful philosophy towards Japanese cuisine at his eponymous restaurant, which opened early 2022 in a former chapel near the Amara Sanctuary Resort on Singapore’s Sentosa island.
Japanese omotenashi elements aside—Imamura is pernickety to the last detail, from the height and pitch of the 13 seats around the marble counter to the ikebana arrangement at the entrance, which he personally creates at every change of the season—it is his respectful handling of ingredients that draws admiration. His rise to the top of his craft, which includes helming restaurants in New York (Sakagura), Hong Kong (Kazuo Okada) and Manila (Kappou Imamura) along the way, is not just hard work, it’s out-of-the-box creativity. He even once tasted leftover sauces in pots to secretly learn from the best.
“You must speak good words to the ingredients so that they turn out well. I handle my ingredients gently and I tell them how much I love them and how wonderful they are,” he said earnestly, before adding that he expects the same from his suppliers too. After having the privilege of tasting both the eight-course Signature menu and the new Seasonal menu, I believe him.
Condiments are specifically matched and even made to complement the ingredients. There are more than 50 different kinds of Japanese salt, including the homemade milk salt used to marinate the Kagoshima wagyu, which is from a family-owned farm that feeds its 1,000 cattle high-quality roasted soya beans mixed with recycled proteins collected from local food factories and the farm’s koji (rice malt). Rice-based vinegar, sugar and soy sauce are used in the sujiko (salmon roe) and maguro sushi.
Don’t be surprised to find yourself falling in love with vegetables after dining here. More than 50 kinds of Japanese vegetables from crisp watermelon heart radishes to creamy taro and chewy gingko nuts bring a shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) moment to every clam, abalone, kinmedai and beef dish in delightful ways. The desserts go down gently, too, be it a white mont blanc with a tart cassis mochi center or a Japanese cheese ice cream that trickles down your throat like a honey-milk stream.
Imamura doesn’t mince his words about what Japanese cuisine should be. “I don’t like my desserts too sweet, when you eat it all your memories (of previous dishes) are gone!” he declared, looking aghast at the thought. And don’t get him started on restaurants that blow-torch their food. “Your ingredients become gas flavored, there is no taste left, where is the love for them?” By now, you’d have guessed that this isn’t the place to go if you’re expecting the usual ikura-uni-caviar drenched offerings. But if you want to leave with joy in your tummy and a smile on your face, step right through.
imamurasg.com; Signature and Seasonal dinner menus from S$480++ per guest
All photos courtesy of Imamura.