One degree. That’s all it takes to make a difference in a dish. At least that’s how the chef-owner of Esora, Shigeru Koizumi, expresses his acute attention to detail in the cuisine he serves. In the short year since it opened in a restored shophouse along Mohamed Sultan Road, the uniquely contemporary Japanese restaurant has attracted a slew of regulars, plenty of rave reviews and speculation about it sliding into starred territory.
At its heart, Esora is a kappo restaurant, a word-of-mouth spot that traditionally presents a general overview of Japanese cuisine, with dishes that are grilled, fried, simmered, steamed and assembled—think marinated seafood and cold dishes. Suffice it to say that Esora is so much more. Here, Koizumi has set out to parse his taste memories of growing up in the mountainside town of Nasu (in Japan’s Tochigi prefecture) into exquisite dishes that nudge at the edges of Japanese culinary confines.
One of his foremost concerns at the outset was the fact that his restaurant doesn’t serve sushi, which Singaporeans adore (and happily fork out for). “People here always look for sushi,” he says, sipping water from a beautifully cut glass in his brushed timber-appointed restaurant. “I felt this was going to be my biggest challenge because I worried that if there was no sushi, people wouldn’t splurge on a meal.”
Storytelling, then, became Esora’s greatest asset, with every dish harbouring an imprint of his childhood. Memories of picnicking in the mountains, munching on steamed chestnuts that his father prepared, are parlayed into dishes such as an airy chestnut soufflé or steamed chestnut paste with white truffle ice cream. Assorted sashimi is served as an alluring assemblage of dishes set on rocks and garnished with leaves and flowers, in a nod to time spent playing along the rocky riverbanks lined with cherry blossom, ginkgo and maple trees.