I rarely go to Japanese restaurants in Ipoh as I find them generally lacking in quality and I am always dubious about the freshness of the seafood served in sushi and sashimi which I have often found to be frozen and thawed.
Therefore when I finally asked a Japanese resident here which Japanese restaurant he frequented and can recommend to me, he said without hesitation, “Hokkaido”. I filed that away in the recesses of my food memory bank and when the International Wine and Food Society, Ipoh (IWFS) sent a notice of a dinner being held there, I immediately signed up to attend.
Hokkaido certainly lived up to its reputation that evening as young co-owner and manager extraordinaire, Loke Mun Kit, excelled himself in putting together a most memorable menu, worthy of some of the best I’ve tasted when I lived in Japan many many moons ago.
Working with his partner and food consultant for the Hokkaido restaurant, Chef Nobukawa Yoshiyuki, currently the head chef of Mikuni Restaurant in the Fairmont Hotel in Singapore, Kit, as he is called, combined typical Hokkaido cuisine with its artisanal touches, combining it with Fusion elements and produced a meal of sheer epicurean indulgence.
Beginning with homemade pumpkin bean curd, we moved forward with a platter of beautifully presented appetizers some traditional like the melt-in-mouth Kobe beef roll and others like the crab roe with cheese on biscuit, and the mini Hokkaido Pannni; pure fusion and all delectable morsels.
The next course of sashimi (raw fish slices) which included my favourite and rarely available Toro or Tuna belly tasting fresh caught, was flown in the night before. Dipped in soya sauce and wasabi (the green Japanese hot radish) freshly grated from root (a rare find today where they usually settle for the powdered or tube variety), I found myself revelling in Japanese food heaven, a sensation I have lost track of since I left Japan those many years ago.
All in all, the 11-course dinner left all of us members sated but promising to come back for more as I found myself doing so two weeks later and again recently. This last time though I had the guidance of Kit himself and not only did I enjoy a superlative meal, but I managed to learn a few tips about Japanese cuisine.
For example, Hokkaido only serves bluefin tuna, being the preferred kind that Japanese order. In the eyes of the Japanese, when a restaurant serves good tuna, the rest of the food is bound to be good. To this I can vouch for. In Hokkaido, all the fish for sushi is freshly flown in and never frozen, which is a sign of good quality.
On the day of my Japanese food ‘education’ I was first presented with a dish of Potato Cheese Gratin. I was truly surprised, expecting to find this more on the tables of Germany or Scandinavia but Kit explained that this was typical traditional Okinawa fare. The taste was hearty and would certainly appeal to those who are averse to raw fish. I being one of those who like my raw fish, was looking forward to other delectables.
This arrived in the form of an impressive Sapporo Sashimi Moriawase, a towering platter of three types of sashimi which included tuna belly, red tuna or Maguro, and Mekajiki Toro or swordfish belly, a white fish that was equally melt-in-mouth as the tuna belly, both with a buttery mouth feel leaving me craving for more; a generous bowl of Ikura, salted salmon roe that pop in the mouth, oozing its sweet gel on the tongue; small clusters of mixed seaweed called Kaisou (which Kit was proud to point out is the only restaurant to serve this where others only serve single types) dot the platter and provide various nuances in textures and tastes; and standing proud in the middle was the Hokkaido crab, and although pre-cooked and shipped frozen, the meat was still sweet and succulent – RM238 for the platter.
More Fusion dishes came in the form of a Mexican Roll, rice with fresh bluefin tuna and tempura crisps topped by slices of more tuna, the Mexican name coming from the salsa sauce that is served with it – RM18. The German Roll was even more unusual, a sushi roll with sausage, tempura crisps and topped with cheese. Not quite my cup of tea but may appeal to some palates – RM18.
The Foil Yaki or Kajiki Toro was much more to my taste: swordfish belly which Kit claims to be the only restaurant in Ipoh to serve this, cooked in a broth in a foil casing, with Shimeiji mushrooms and leeks; buttery fish, umami broth (no MSG), just heavenly – RM40. The next hot dish was equally delicate: Hotate Katsuki or scallop cooked in its shell, subtly flavoured and served on a miniature hibachi – RM40.
The creme de la creme for me was the last dish to be presented. Unni or sea urchin roe is now so exorbitant that most sushi restaurants don’t even serve it. Those that do, buy them in boxes and most are frozen and thawed. My experience of Unni in Malaysia has always been disappointing. Not at Hokkaido however! Here one has a choice of the boxed variety either as sashimi or sushi or the absolutely-straight-from-the-sea-variety with its hard spines trimmed, the whole shell perched on a bed of ice laced with a lettuce garland, the roe sitting on a Shiso leaf and looking more like a piece of art than edible food. Putting a piece of the roe in my mouth, I was transported back to my days in Japan, when sea urchin was affordable and fresh and I could indulge myself. Today the fresh urchin costs RM40 each and as for its quality, this one is well worth paying for.
I have to admit that it is costly to dine delectably on Japanese cuisine, especially if one has a hankering for all the well known delicacies but as an occasional treat, Hokkaido is the place to go to for the freshest goodies. They do however have reasonably priced dishes on their very extensive menu and also affordable set lunches (30 varieties) which are very popular with the local office crowd – RM18-RM60.
Kit taught me a Japanese style of ordering where you say to them that you want the Omakase menu at a preset price per person which you decide. The Chef then figures out what he can afford to give you at the price you set. Of course a Kaiseki (a meal with many small tastings like the western Degustation) menu similar to the one described earlier for the IWFS, is also available but this needs to be ordered well in advance.
Hokkaido Japanese Cuisine
7 & 9 Medan Ipoh 1D, Medan Ipoh Bistari
Tel: 05 545 9076; Loke Mun Kit: 012 503 5203 or Sabrina Soong: 012 503 5213.