By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

I love Japanese food. But it was not love at first bite, more a slow cultivation, honing my taste buds to appreciate the subtle nuances, the pristine purity of fresh ingredients, tenderly and with great dedication, sliced, slivered, braised or grilled to perfection and presented on serving dishes that are in themselves works of art, not to mention the food itself.

This was in the early 1970s, and the love of ‘things Japanese’ that developed over the period of two years that I lived in Japan has endured and subsequently in the interim years when the rest of the world ‘discovered’ sushi and made it the ‘hottest’ (how ironic) export from the Land of the Rising Sun, I have grown to love the cuisine even more; especially in recent years when top Japanese chefs have begun imparting their exquisite culinary skills and given of their secrets to other shores.

The problem with the sudden popularity of Japanese cuisine and the proliferation of Japanese restaurants exploding across the globe, means that many ‘wannabes’ open restaurants claiming to be ‘Japanese’ and failing in the attempt.

Not so with the Shinjuku Japanese Cuisine at Kinta Riverfront Hotel. There Chef Cheong Kam Hon, an Ipoh boy who left home at 19, has come home to roost, ruling over his nest at this newly-opened restaurant and dishing up some of the most delectable Japanese ‘nouvelle’ cuisine that Ipohites have yet to encounter.

Chef Cheong trained under that inimitable master chef, Nobu Matsuhisa with his ‘new style’ Japanese cuisine, the trademark and foundation which won him the first Michelin Star in London and which has spawned a chain of Nobu restaurants around the globe, about which Madonna had this to say, “You can tell how much fun a city is going to be if Nobu has a restaurant in it.”

Well Ipoh can’t boast a Nobu restaurant but we have the next best thing in Chef Cheong who prior to returning to Ipoh, was trained in the Nobu tradition in Beijing for more than four years and before that in Tokyo in the Ginza district for 11 years. Earlier, Chef Cheong cut his Japanese teeth in London also working in Japanese restaurants for a total of nine years.

The Shinjuku Restaurant has been opened for four months and Chef Cheong is already garnering a coterie of fans with some of the signature dishes which he had picked up from the master Nobu himself. Do expect to dig deep into your pockets as topnotch Japanese cuisine does not come cheap.

For starters if you’re a seafood fan like myself, the best days to go is Tuesday and Friday evening as those are the days when they have fresh delivery of fish from Hokkaido, Japan.

Among the dishes made famous by Nobu is the new style of serving sashimi without wasabi. On the night when we had the International Wine and Food Society dinner, Chef Cheong was hovering around the tables, admonishing us to not use the wasabi which was on the table. The two dishes being served were the New Style Salmon Belly with yuzu sauce, which had hot oil poured on topped with sesame seeds and the Hamachi (Yellow Tail Tuna) Tataki (seared in the edges) with spicy tangy Ponzu sauce, both utterly delectable with the two fish yielding its different mouthfeel and complimented by their respective sauces. Salmon RM50 and Hamachi RM70.

On another occasion I had the pleasure of tasting the Chu Toro (best Tuna belly) Tataki served with a Miso sauce and topped with a smidgen of caviar. Utterly indulgent RM100. Topping off on the OTT (over the top) category, we had another dish of abalone slices topped with caviar and gold pearls (with real gold flakes) served with a miso sauce with hints of citrus, and finished with a sprig of young Shizo leaves – RM90.

I could go on about the fascinating variety of unusual preparations that Chef Cheong can prepare. Like all top Japanese chefs, the best way to have a superb Japanese meal is to have the Omakase (which translated means I’ll leave it up to you) which is the Chef’s choice based on the specials of the day. At the hands of Chef Cheong, you cannot go wrong. Do agree on the price beforehand though.

Shinjuku Japanese Cuisine
Kinta Riverfront Hotel
Jalan Lim Bo Seng, Ipoh.
05 245 8888 (Hunting Line)
Ken Wee Operations Manager 018 572 6307
Chef Cheong 016 450 1856