By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
The DOZO sign has been up for almost six months and each time I drive past DeGarden I make myself a promise to check it out as I love Japanese food. After all, what else could a sign like Dozo signify?
It does not have a real meaning by itself, but it connotes both “please/go ahead” when you are offered food, or a gift, or when someone is holding the door for you, they will say ‘dozo’.
‘Go ahead’ is the advice I would give to all you fans of Japanese cuisine as this latest addition to the culinary scene is well worth exploring.
On initial entry, it’s very easy to just assume that this is yet another sushi bar springing up here, there and everywhere. Situated right in the front of DeGarden Mall and facing busy Tasek Road, the entrance is surprisingly user friendly: no steps, no drains to negotiate and no labyrinthian inside passages to traipse through to reach your destination, as is the case in many of the outlets in DeGarden Mall. They even have their own toilets inside the restaurant! Which for me is truly a blessing as my dear readers will know by now, how scathing I am of the usual ‘facilities’ in most of our local restaurants.
Not having a clue as to who was behind the restaurant nor who the Chef was, I had cajoled my hostess Kanna Jeyaratnam to try out the place as I’m always keen to check out new outlets.
Imagine my surprise when I entered and found myself face to face with Chef Cheong Kam Hon, who being the affable guy that he is, greeted me like a long lost friend. He immediately brought out his well thumbed copy of the 16 Nov 2015 issue of the Ipoh Echo where I had given him a rave review on his culinary wizardry when he was working at Shinjuku at the Kinta Riverfront Hotel.
Well today he has spread his wings and is now Head Chef and part owner of Dozo and I am about to give him yet another rave review on his culinary finesse.
As those of us who love Japanese food know, it is the freshness and quality of the produce and ingredients that matter the most; with deftness of the knife (as in sashimi) and culinary skills second. However, the freshest of ingredients coming together with divine saucing brings the dish to sublime heights.
That is what Chef Hon San, as he is fondly called, brings to the table. 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 Hon San, 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 Hon San cut his Japanese teeth in London also working in Japanese restaurants for a total of nine years.
So you can well imagine my delight at finding him now at Dozo, serving up his special cuisine using the freshest fish which is flown and delivered on Tuesdays and Fridays (so Wednesday and Saturday lunch and dinners are your freshest bets). And not only fish but he has added Iberico pork to his menu and under his skillful alchemy he transforms this naturally tasty Spanish black pig (fed on acorns) into the most delectable temptations.
As we all know, Japanese fare does not come cheap and as I proceed to describe the dishes we had, please bear in mind that it is possible to set an approximate price for your meal and allow Chef Hon San to perform his magic. This is called ‘Omakase’ (to entrust or I’ll leave it up to you) in Japanese where you are served whatever is fresh and on menu for that day. But do order minimum 24 hours in advance.
Of course there is also the usual revolving belt device where you can pick dishes off the belt and you know what you pay for as all the dishes are priced according to the plate colours ranging from RM2.30 to RM8.30 per plate depending on the ingredients.
So moving on to the dishes which I had, all of which were yummilicious:
The Guruma prawns (from Hokkaido, Japan) arrived in a most spectacular arrangement, an Ikebana piece of art, each prawn ocean fresh and firm. The second course was a mixed appetizer of Hamachi (yellow tail) belly, Otoro (the best part of the Tuna) which we’re encouraged not to dip into wasabi and is served with a special soya sauce and raw Botan prawns (again from Hokkaido). Delicate, fine morsels of the best in Japanese fare.
Next, the Japanese tacos were a delight, consisting of chopped raw salmon sashimi mixed with Hon San’s secret sauce, held in mini taco shells and garnished with crispy onion slivers. Creative fusion of crunch and velvet textures.
The Spare Ribs which followed were tender, well marinated, the coating sauce a complement to the succulent meat which literally fell off the bone without much effort.
The Grilled Cod was pleasing to both the palate and the eye, a work of plating art with one stem of young ginger draped jauntily, interspersed with five dollops of sauce. The cod was grilled to perfection and hardly needed the sauce for flavour.
Our last dish was the Iberico pork belly, thinly sliced and served with fresh Imeji and Shitake mushrooms, presented on a charcoal hibachi that kept the pork warm throughout our meal.
Our bill for all the dishes above came to slightly over RM500 which considering the quality of the food and the freshness of the specially-flown-in ingredients, and we were four of us, came to just over RM110 per person.DOZODGR-1 Ground Floor Zone D, De Garden#1 Persiaran Medan Ipoh, 31400 Ipoh.Tel: 05 543 0666Business Hours: Mon-Thurs 12pm-2.30pm; 6pm-10.30pmFri/Sat/Sun 11.30am-10.30pm