Restaurant Review: Koma Singapore Rewrites The Playbook For High-End Japanese Dining
High-end Japanese restaurants are often associated with spaces that are minimalist almost to a fault; gastronomic temples with a Zen-like calm, where conversations are hushed, and words of appreciation are translated to sighs and nods. Koma, which opened its doors in August, tears up the formulaic recipe altogether. The new concept is the brainchild of Marina Bay Sands and Tao Group Hospitality, and it is a stage designed for an indulgence of the senses.
There is the dramatic interior design: the walkway that takes its inspiration from the seemingly infinite row of torii gates of Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine; the imposing 2.5m-tall bronze bell at the entrance; and the voluptuous, oversized lanterns. Yet, there are also the subtle: perched on a vermillion lattice of wooden beams high above the bar are snow-white figurines of owls—a symbol of good fortune in Japanese culture; behind the wooden panelling on the walls, clever illumination creates the contours of mountains afar.
The aim is clear. Every detail of this lofty double‑volume space is designed for maximum visual impact. Indeed, the work of American design firm Rockwell Group can be perceived to be more exotic than authentic, but there is something very appealing about its unabashed seductiveness. The flattering, atmospheric lighting, the beautiful crowd (that includes the likes of speed king Lewis Hamilton and singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes), and the pulsating house music all add to the allure of this cavernous space converted from a part of the Sands Theatre, now deliberately laid-out as a stage for hedonistic gastronomic pleasures.
Here, you will drink lustily from its extensive sake collection, and eat heartily from a menu spanning humble snacks of expertly grilled chicken livers to big-ticket items such as the A5 snow-aged Niigata Wagyu rib-eye. You can laugh, chat and be convivial. There is no need to keep your volume down—the servers even sound a cowbell at your table if you order one of the prized Wagyu items.
A quick browse through the expansive menu will present classic options such as chawanmushi and tempura items. But look closer and you will find that your tempura moriawase might come with an unexpected piece of avocado, and in your chawanmushi, you wouldn’t find the usual nuggets of chicken and fish cake slices; instead, king crab, uni and foie gras nestle within the silky egg custard. Executive chef Kunihiro Moroi, who was previously chef de cuisine of two Michelin‑starred Mizumi at Wynn Palace in Macau, presents a modern Japanese spread, and there are surprises on the menu of generously‑portioned offerings meant for communal dining.
A signature starter of salmon pillows comes in the form of delicate pastry shells topped with slivers of salmon sashimi and a thin round of charred jalapeno peppers. Bite into each and you will be pleasantly surprised by an explosion of guacamole filling, creating a medley of textures spanning crisp and crunchy to smooth and creamy. But if it is a more traditional Japanese taste profile you seek, the meltingly tender Wagyu beef tataki, lightly smoked over specially imported straw and dressed in ponzu alongside finely julienned sweet Japanese leek with just a hint of wasabi, will hit the right spot.
Moroi has perfected the art of giving comfort foods a luxe touch, evidenced by the aforementioned chawanmushi, and the addicting main course of scallion fried rice. The nondescript-sounding dish is anything but. Presented in a screaming hot stone bowl, it is completed with a tableside pouring of a thick broth chock-full of succulent chunks of pork, chicken, shrimp and scallop, which proceeds to bubble deliciously in the bowl. With each chewy grain, given a silky coating from the broth, the rice dish is a steaming bowl of goodness, each mouthful an umami bomb laced with a hint of smokiness.
The theatrics aren’t limited to tableside showmanship either. The dessert of “bonsai” surprises with the chef’s edible rendition of a potted plant: chunks of matcha sponge cake mimic the foliage, chocolate-coated biscuit sticks its branches, and crunchy praline the soil, while terracotta‑hued chocolate is moulded into the shape of a pot.
It is a theatre alright, and you are part of the act. So, slip into a sexy outfit, take yourself out to town, and have a night out at Koma like a celebrity.