Part of the Lo & Behold Group, Esora is housed within a heritage shophouse on 15 Mohamed Sultan Road in Singapore’s River Valley neighbourhood. The intimate 26-seater kappo-style establishment is the brainchild of chef-owner Shigeru Koizumi. He spearheads the restaurant’s “one-degree” approach to Japanese kappo cuisine, along with a unique tea pairing programme that is one of the first of its kind in Singapore.
Growing up in the mountainside town of Nasu in the Tochigi prefecture of Japan, Koizumi’s respect for nature was inspired by the grand landscape surrounding him. This affinity with nature nurtured an acute sensitivity to the integrity of the ingredients that he works with, driving his passion for incorporating micro-seasonal ingredients at their peak at Esora.
His experiences at Tokyo’s acclaimed three-Michelin starred Nihonryori RyuGin and Singapore’s three- Michelin starred Odette has also lent him proficiency in modern cooking techniques. Koizumi merges his deep respect and knowledge of traditional Japanese cuisine together with new-found cooking techniques such as pacojets and liquid nitrogen to tease the best possible flavours out of each ingredient. The usage of modern techniques is applied in a way that ties back to the Japanese culinary principle of maintaining the integrity of an ingredient.
The “one-degree” philosophy shines through the most in his fanatical attention to detail when it comes to food. Koizumi believes that every preparation of a dish with its tweaks and refining is a process, not an end; that even the slightest change of just one degree in temperature can affect the outcome of the dish. This is best embodied in his approach to preparing his favourite dish – the humble dashi.
One of the most fundamental building blocks in Japanese cuisine, dashi is often overlooked by many for its simplicity. It is this simplicity, however, that draws Koizumi in. Treating the dish with reverence, he takes pride in building the rich savoury broth in layers with katsuobushi, kombu and a light dusting of yuzu zest, creating a perfect harmony of flavours.
Crafting a multi-course meal which will take diners through micro-seasonal ingredients that are given a fresh, modern Japanese take, each meal begins with a selection of snacks followed by Koizumi’s signature dashi. Served next is the amuse-bouche, where Koizumi offers his own modern interpretation on the monaka, which is traditionally served as a sweet dessert. Using Maison Mitteault foie gras torchon as the base for the filling, he creates intricate layers of flavours by adding myoga, roasted nuts, kaffir lime zest and seasonal fruit.
The rest of the meal is an orchestra of dishes reflecting Koizumi’s passion for uncovering the best of every ingredient prepared with an extreme level of attention to detail. One of the main standouts is the Omi Wagyu, served with a seasonal garnish, fresh wasabi and aged akazu. The highly desirable beef is sourced from the Okaki farm in the Shiga prefecture, an area known for producing one of Japan’s most respected brands of beef. It is perhaps the wagashi, or traditional Japanese confections served to round off the evening, that Koizumi’s playful touch comes through the most with nostalgic confections that are inspired by his favourite childhood snacks.
Koizumi’s respect for nature extends further into his very own unique tea pairing programme. One of the first of its kind in Singapore, the programme is thoughtfully curated by Koizumi, who is a passionate tea connoisseur. Sourced directly through dedicated suppliers who have personal relationships with tea plantation owners and farmers globally, this non-commercial sourcing method allows Koizumi to ensure an exceptional quality of tea from farm to cup.
As with the food, behind each tea blend is an interesting story worth telling. Personally hand blended by Koizumi and complemented with each dish to embody a balance of precision and emotion, these tea pairings are served both cold and warm. Presented in modern glassware vessels, each pairing is accompanied by a bell jar of its raw tea blend for diners to immerse themselves in the aromas, elevating the tea-imbibing experience.
For instance, the first brew, the Sparkling Oriental Beauty (东方美人), is served in a champagne flute, because the effervescent tea is meant to be Koizumi’s playful take on the champagne component of a usual alcoholic pairing. The extremely delicate brew is infused with hibiscus petals and an ume reduction to impart a deep rosy hue and a subtly floral acidity. Another notable blend is the marriage of Iribancha, Hojicha and a touch of cinnamon. The result is an inimitable smoky blend that calls to mind the peaty undertones of whisky for some, and the comforting scent of a bonfire for others. This particular brew pairs wonderfully with the unctuous Omi Wagyu.
Similar to traditional kappo restaurants, a counter is all that separates guest from chef at Esora, allowing the servers and chefs alike to eagerly share stories behind each dish or ingredient. Yet, Esora eschews all the rigid norms expected of a traditional Japanese fine dining establishment.
Designed by Takenouchi Webb, the nature-forward space is reflective of the cuisine served at Esora. Natural Japanese materials that are muted and texturally interesting such as timber, copper and marble are used to create a space that is welcoming and the chef-guest relationship is always at the forefront.
The space epitomises Chef Koizumi’s affinity with nature and attention to details, to create a heartfelt dining experience that resonates beyond the dining table. The main counter sits below a skylight dressed in Japanese washi paper – a feature that is a tribute to Koizumi’s love for the sky. Like everything else, he sees the sky in shades, an ever-changing permutation of cloud patterns and shades of cerulean – once in a while a hue reminding him of home. It is also a reference to the restaurant’s name, where Esora translates to ‘painting in the sky’ in Japanese.
Ushering in a fresh perspective on Japanese culinary culture, every aspect of Esora’s dining experience is thoroughly considered and personally curated by Koizumi himself, from the food right down to the specially-sourced serveware from Japan. This “one-degree” approach to kappo cuisine – a term coined by Koizumi – reflects the extreme level of attention to detail adopted throughout Esora, from kitchen to front-of-house.
What is your greatest inspiration and how do you incorporate this into your cooking?
My childhood memories and nature are my greatest inspiration. Growing up in the mountainside town of Nasu in Japan, I’ve always had an immense love and respect for nature. This affinity has instilled my sensitivity and curiosity to uncover the best of every ingredient. My passion for the best produce drives me to seek out nature’s best during the micro-seasons, and these ingredients are reflected on the menu at Esora. When I cook for my guests, I want them to experience my childhood memories and delight in everything I did as a child.
If you could take a plane to any restaurant in the world, where would you go?
Somni by chef José Andrés would be the restaurant I would want to go. It’s now closed but their presentation is incredibly beautiful and unique. It inspired me and drove my passion in plating and presenting food in a way that I can bring happiness to all my guests.
What was the most memorable dish you’ve ever eaten and why?
The most memorable meal I’ve ever had was my meal at RyuGin in Tokyo. That meal changed my life. I was already working in the kitchen but my view of food was very narrow then. After dining at RyuGin, it widened my scope to see the different possibilities of food, cuisines and cooking. I would not be where I am today if I had never dined at RyuGin.
- 1 Michelin Star
15 Mohamed Sultan Rd
Images courtesy Esora