“Gue bisa ngomong bahasa Indonesia,” says Chef Masami Okamoto during his introduction as the new Japanese Executive Chef for Hilton Kuala Lumpur’s award-winning Japanese restaurant, Iketeru. Hearing a Japanese native speak fluent Malay feels surreal but it adds charm to the chef’s affable demeanour.
Masami began his career in Hokkaido and continued his journey in Singapore, Germany, the United Kingdom and Indonesia. His new appointment in Kuala Lumpur comes with 25 years of experience specialising in traditional and contemporary Japanese cuisine.
Masami insists on preparing dishes with the best ingredients flown directly from various prefectures in Japan. Everything from marinades, sauces and even the mochi are handmade. He debuts his first exclusive 8-course set menu that orchestrates his passion for the art of Japanese cooking.
Traditional Japanese cuisine in a modern approach
The menu starts with a sakidzuke dish, a classic Japanese appetiser comprising chilled Kyoto tofu cradled in shiso leaf, garnished with tsubugai (whelk), seaweed and warishoyu (gourmet shoyu sauce). The umami from the sauce enhances the subtle flavours of tofu with a sweet aftertaste from the whelk slices. Masami continues with a sashimi number – a must-have in any Japanese cuisine – consisting of salmon, tuna and shima aji (Japanese striped mackerel).
The main course comes in three separate dishes, each prepared in a unique style. The first dish is the torizakana — Wakasa grilled sea bream served with udo (bamboo shoot marinated with miso), Japanese spikenard, fava beans, shrimp, shishito peppers, takowasabi (octopus sashimi in a wasabi concoction), corn and fried fishcake. There’s no proper sequence to eat this elaborate dish but Masami recommends pairing it with sake. We recommend the honjozo-shu, which is the perfect candidate for warm sake and is lighter in taste with lower alcohol content — you want to slowly enjoy the rest of the meal.
He proceeds with the next main course: “Here’s the braised wagyu beef dish served with julienned daikon, grated mustard and thinly sliced Japanese green onions. And the little flower is actually a rice cake. This is a very traditional dish cooked in a clay pot (donabe), usually prepared during cold seasons.” The meat melts in the mouth with a beautiful savoury finish. The third dish is a humble oyster tempura (agemono) with a lemony sauce. Wash the lingering fatty taste on your palate with junmai-shu sake, which is a pure rice sake that has slightly more acidity to cut the fat.
However, the piece de resistance in the menu would be the nokke sushi, two huge sections of a maki roll – one wrapped in raw salmon and the other covered with tuna tartare – topped with fresh ikura and crispy beancurd skin. Wash everything down with a serving of Asari clams in a red miso soup.
For desserts, Masami presents the warabimochi. The dish looks simple but is not something you’d be able to master overnight. “The mochi is handmade by me because you need a certain technique to ensure its QQ texture. The mocha is hand-cut and coated in a sweeten soybean powder, served with black honey and blackberries,” he explains. Pair this with a ginjo-shu sake that carries a delicate taste on the palate but fruit and floral at the end.
Masami brings a breath of fresh air to the iconic Iketeru restaurant with a more traditional approach to his kaiseki-style cuisine. Diners should celebrate the freshness and simplicity of the dishes that are curated with finesse and a traditional philosophy. Masami hints that there he will be introducing an extensive sake menu for special pairings to enhance the dining experience at Iketeru.