Get your fresh seafood fix at Yamaguchi Fish Market in KL

Never mind the confused waiters or chaos that is the dining room. At the Yamaguchi Fish Market, friends and families come to get their fix - of the aquatic kind.

Seemingly oblivious to the surrounding hubbub, some of these diners sat in meditative silence, exercising the strength of their jaws as they crack, peel and yank into fresh oysters, shrimps and crabs.

Broken shells of these crustaceans litter the tables, while their live counterparts swam and floated languidly in shallow tanks nearby.

Welcome to Yamaguchi Fish Market, a sprawling new shrine to seafood located in a scrappy corner of downtown KL.

The brainchild of dynamic siblings-cum-restaurateurs Chris and June Chang, who brought us exciting F&B concepts like Eight Gourmets Gala and Black Market, Yamaguchi is a lively eatery and a small supply store rolled into one.

But whether you're dining in, taking out or preparing at home - the latter at wholesale prices - comfort is virtually guaranteed despite the lengthy wait-times that customers have to endure whenever the restaurant fills up.

Not content with his half a dozen eateries scattered around the Klang Valley, elder brother Chris had always wanted a restaurant that "reimagined the seafood marketplace" - an idea gleaned off the duo's trips to Japan.

From the long sushi counter at the front of Yamaguchi comes the day's best and freshest 'catch'. 

Impressed with the ambience and the spirit of Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo and Karato Market in Yamaguchi, he decided to recreate a mini version in Malaysia - minus the cramped, slippery alleyways and fishy smells.

Tucked away behind the duo's first ever culinary joint, Caffeinees, the capacious Yamaguchi aims for something a little more upmarket, hence the contemporary interior complete with fancy light fixtures and metal accents.

As the name suggests, the food here has a Japanese leaning, with lots of sashimi, sushi, seafood hotpot (nabe) and generally, fresh seafood on ice. Hakka-style dishes also have a special place on the menu. They also have a mean selection of sake and a wine cellar.

Live brown crab from France, Tourteaux, retails at RM78 (S$26.50) apiece at the Yamaguchi Fish Market in Kuala Lumpur, but do call to check before your visit as they are not always available, especially out of season.

But as extensive as Yamaguchi's food and drinks list are, much of the wow factor comes from its Top 10 dishes, in which the bounties of the sea both raw and prepared are lusciously laid out on platters, inviting hungry glances from passers-by. The siren red, spiny Alaskan king crab is a surefire head turner.

From the long, blond sushi counter at the front of the restaurant come the day's best and freshest catch, like the Signature Sashimi Seafood Platter (RM198 or S$67.40) and its sweet, firm-fleshed clams, abalone, oysters and crab as well as generously-cut slices of salmon and tuna topped with a wedge of lime.

The Grilled Seafood Platter features the best of seasonal ingredients, and so differs every time.

Equally drool-worthy is the Grilled Seafood Platter (RM116), a seasonal melange of seafood that might include a handful of flame-licked scallops, the gangly legs of an Alaskan king crab or a hunk of sea bream so stunningly fresh that all it needs is a lick of flame and nothing else.

The sheer beauty of it all dimmed somewhat with the dozen or so Live Shrimps (RM46), simply poached to be eaten with a dab of sweet soy sauce. As lovely as they look with their scarlet-red shells, sweeter, juicier shrimps could be found elsewhere…

A few cooked dishes are also worth trying. There's the Yamaguchi Eel Rice (RM38), in which several pieces of tender, unctuous unagi lacquered in a char siew-like sauce sits atop a mound of steaming Japanese rice.

Sauce-glazed eel atop egg-wrapped rice is prepared from scratch, the way the Changs like it.

Chris, apparently, prepares his eel from scratch - a "tedious process" which involves "grilling it atop some charcoal, steaming it with sake and then grilling it again with a specially-concocted sweet soy sauce for maximum flavour" - unlike most restaurants in town. You'll know why he goes through all the trouble once you take a bite.

The Salt Baked Tai Fish (RM48), meanwhile, is a revelation in its clarity of flavour. A whole fish is wrapped in salt and edible kelp before being thrusted into an oven. It is then taken out to be enjoyed as it is sans seasoning or sauce.

The Cigar-smoked Chicken is named for the dramatic smoke that rises from its body as it is served.

One of the few non-seafood dishes served at the restaurant is the Cigar-smoked Chicken - so named because it is literally smoking when it comes cruising to the table - which also turned out to be a highlight.

For this dish, a whole kampung chicken, picked specifically for its size, is smoked atop apple wood and then roasted, imbuing it with enough char to make its skin crispy and bring out the best in its delicately flavoured meat.

Ginger, coriander, basil, spring onion, rice liquor and soy sauce may be typical flavourings of the Stir Fried Hakka Crab - a recipe of the Changs' paternal grandmother and, not surprisingly, one of Yamaguchi's supposed "must-haves" - but all one could taste was salt and oyster sauce.

The Stir-Fried Hakka Crabs, a family recipe and one of the restaurants signature dishes.

A redeeming feature, however, was the crab itself - the mud crab had supple, white meat and an abundance of mustard-toned eggs, which oozed out like hot lava. This dish could've been glorious, if only someone in the kitchen hadn't mucked up.

Other dishes also failed to impress, like the stir-fried vegetables and Seafood Fried Hor Fun (RM28). One is mired in oil; the other is meagre and workmanlike.

Still, fresh fish fanatics will no doubt be overjoyed at the arrival of such a seafood restaurant. Just be sure to load up on some patience before passing through Yamaguchi's great big glass doors.

Photos: Muhamad Shahril Rosli

Yamaguchi Fish Market

16, Jalan Kampung Pandan

Kelab Golf di Raja Selangor

Kuala Lumpur

Tel: 012-2682 816

Open: Noon-3.30pm (lunch) and 6-10.30pm (dinner)