Jeff Ramsey has had three major culinary milestones in KL until 2022 – the fun and inventive Babe, its contemporary offspring Sushi Babe, and the modern Japo-Spanish izakaya-cum-tapas bar Japas. While sporting its signature feel, each of his ventures always had that Ramsey vibe. Which is to say is fine dining mixed in with a whole lot of fun.
After stewing in Bangkok for some time, the chef has finally brought Kintsugi to Malaysia, taking up residency at The Table at Isetan The Gardens. Unlike its sister restaurant in the Thai capital, which focuses on kaiseki, Kintsugi KL features a split focus on kappo and sushi.
As part of a media preview, I got to try a special menu that featured signatures from both the Kappo and Sushi menus. The whole experience featured thoughtfully executed dishes, an assortment of Japanese classics that pleased the palate, and contemporary touches that kept each course fresh throughout the meal.
Moreover, the menu will receive a monthly refresh to allow repeat diners to try new dishes and modern interpretations of Japanese favourites.
Lunch is reasonably priced, with the kappo menus coming in at RM238 for six courses and RM328 for eight, the sushi menus being RM288 for six courses, and RM398 for eight.
Dinner understandably is more pricey – RM504 and RM704 for the eight and 10-course kappo and sushi menu. Check out Kintsugi’s complete offerings here.
Let’s get right to it.
“What’s Hassun?”, I hear you thinking to yourself. Fun fact: Hassun or Hachisun is a term used in kaiseki cuisine to describe an appetiser dish that’s typically served on an eight-sided square tray usually made of wood. It’s also a course to showcase the season’s bounties in small portions, usually made to accompany sake.
I and the other diners were served a glass of homemade doboroku at the start of the meal to enjoy with the hassun course. For those unfamiliar, doboroku is an unrefined sake that’s slightly cloudy and usually contains lower alcohol than other typical sake.
To pair alongside this alcoholic rice milk treat, Ramsey served kinmedai nanbanzuke, a classic Japanese fish dish that features fried fish in a sauce made of vinegar, sugar, and any other ingredients the chef desires. The inclusion of two types of peppers – black and red – gave the dish a gentle heat. Although the kinmedai was chilled, it still had a lovely slight crunch from the frying, which also retained sealed in all that wonderful fatty-oily flavour.
The foie gras of the sea – ankimo (monk fish liver) – arrived next. The ankimo was braised in soy sauce and served with salmon and pickled plum jelly. What a treat this was! The liver was completely buttery in the mouth with a heavy umami punch softened by the reduction jelly and the meaty salmon. A sip of the doboroku helped introduce a slight fruitiness and a gentle, rich flavour to freshen the palate. Simply superb.
As we entered the sashimi course, so did the next sake – Kuheiji Sauvage – an elegant junmai daiginjo I’ve enjoyed once during a special sake pairing dinner menu at DC. And I’m not hesitant to say such a sake will elevate food. Another nice touch is that guests can choose their ochoko (small sake cups) from Jeff’s beautiful collection that he’s handpicked and amassed throughout his time in Japan.
There was a fine selection of chutoro, kue (long tooth grouper) and shimaebi (grey prawn) that all went down exceptionally well with the fine sake, but it was the next dish that truly took me by surprise.
I know shirako may be a Japanese delicacy, but I've never enjoyed its taste or texture. Despite having foods that I dislike (I'm only human), I still do give it the old college try whenever I'm doing a review or a tasting, and I see something on the menu that I don't particularly appreciate because I'm open to the possibility that the restaurant may surprise me. This was one of those times.
Enter Kintsugi's fugu shirako agedashi. Think agedashi tofu minus the tofu and swapped with fugu sperm; you've got it. I'm led to believe that shirako is usually sourced from cod, but Jeff lets me in that fugu Shiraz o is of higher quality, taste, and creamier with higher fat content. And so it was.
The shirako had a creamy consistency (no points as to why). Still, instead of tasting slightly like ammonia, as most of my past experiences have revealed, Kintsugi's rendition pleasantly tasted of dashi. Because of this, I could very much enjoy this prized seafood in a new light, especially when everything was similarly delicious. Kudos to Jeff and his team!
Big plate. Big flavour. For the main, I enjoyed roasted Miyazaki A5 tenderloin served with asparagus, shaved truffles, fried gobo (burdock root), narazuke (pickled vegetable from Nara) and sukiyaki sauce on the side. Each ingredient stood out – the beef bringing that exceptional beefy oomph, the truffle a touch of earthy lightness, the gobo a bitter twang, the asparagus a green counterbalance, the narazuke an alcoholic zip, and the sauce an enveloping umami bomb to tie everything together.
Sushi kicked off the rice part of the meal. For the Sushi Babe fans out there, Jeff’s sushi retains the same signature style, light and highly focused on minimal manipulation of the fish’s natural qualities. I learn from Jeff that Kintsugi uses a blend of sasahikari and koshihikari rice for their shari and that Kintsugi‘s sushi chef, Yuko Suzuki, comes from Hokkaido.
I enjoyed three pieces of seasonal (winter) sushi that night – buri (yellowtail), akamutsu (blackthroat seaperch) and bafun uni. Each had its own merits. I especially enjoy it when Jeff serves sushi with incense created from fallen branches of 1000 year old yakusagi trees native to Yakushima Island. It always gives the senses a nice smoky treat to complement the sushi.
I got to taste two rice courses thanks to the unusual mash-up of sushi and kaiseki. The first was matsuba crab donabe, featuring in-season snow crabs cooked in a clay pot with rice and served with three kinds of pickles and nameko misoshiru on the side.
One blemish in this beautifully laid-out scenario? The rice retained too much water and was a tad soggy. The positives? Everything went harmoniously together, the gentle sweetness of the snow crab, the delicate bitter green notes of the mitsuba inside. Sips of the misoshiru complete and complement the donabe with a robust umami from a mix of nameko mushrooms and a secret ingredient – leftover shimaebi heads from the sashimi course.
To end the meal, there was a match and yuzu entremet. Two classic Japanese flavours make it hard not to enjoy this bitter, sour dessert cake that ends the meal on a satisfying note. Numerous textures of sponge, cream and solid chocolate-like pieces come together in the mouth for a delightful ending to a good meal.
Kintsugi is an excellent addition to the local Japanese fine dining landscape and The Gardens dining portfolio. It’s also reasonably priced, serves quality food and is good value for money. For those looking for that next Japanese date night spot, bookmark Kintsugi.