Seasonal tastes of spring at Keyaki

It was 31.7 degrees Celsius and as my colleagues and I were deciding where to go for lunch on a typical weekday afternoon, I thought to myself - a kaiseki meal would be perfect right now.

You see, a few weeks ago my colleague and I got to try the most refreshing kaiseki spring presentation at Keyaki, the anchor Japanese restaurant establishment at Pan Pacific Singapore.

As March to May are typically the hottest months in Singapore, Keyaki is offering respite from the heat with its spring kaiseki omakase presentation, available for dinner until May 31, 2014.

Kaiseki is a traditional, multi-course dining experience served in ryokans in Japan. It started off as a vegetarian meal, serving the freshest seasonal produce that is only available in spring. However, as time evolved, kaiseki meals have come to include both meat and vegetable dishes.

At Keyaki, nine courses are served with premium seasonal ingredients imported from Japan such as Sakuradai (Sea Bream), Beinasu (Aubergine) and Ayu (Sweet Fish).

This year, Master Chef Hiroshi Ishii of Keyaki, who crafted the omakase experience, said: "Every season is characterised by its own unique flavour and this season, we have selected premium elements that best represent the fresh and pure spirit of spring.

"Seasonal ingredients that flourish best in the cooler months such as Takenoko (Bamboo Shoot) and Sakuradai are imported from Japan and woven into our new kaiseki menu which perfectly balances and showcases the refined natural flavours of these ingredients," Chef Ishii added.

Indeed, we tried some of these distinctive and unique seasonal flavours at our recent kaiseki tasting. For me, the kaiseki meal was a gentle roller coaster ride, full of surprises and exciting rushes that come from the delightful flavours of the spring ingredients. Allow me to share them with you.

First, we had Kobachi, a marinated deep-fried smelt fish. This was a cold dish served in a zesty vinegar sauce, the texture was buttery and the fish just melted in the mouth.

Secondly, we had Zensai (above), which was a platter of Tenmame (broad bean) deep fried in Uni, Ebi Sushi with Shiso powder, Tara Shirako (Grilled Cod Milt) and grilled chicken with root vegetables and simmered clams which was succulent and delicious. Sounds like a lot? Don't worry as each of these mini dishes came in petite portions.

Thirdly, we had Wan, a clear seaweed and bamboo shoot soup with crab cake and radish sprout. The soup had a slight yuzu taste to it - instantly invigorating!

A sashimi platter of Toro, Sakuradai (Sea Bream), Shima Aji (Striped Jack) and Ebi (Prawn) was served next. The sashimi was fresh, but my favourite has got to be the Toro, or tuna belly.

The fifth course was Yakimono (above): Wagyu beef served with grilled bamboo shoot and mountain vegetables. This was the prettiest dish of the lot; it was beautifully decorated with lily bulbs and a rice cracker shaped like a plant. Fun fact: In kaiseki dining, dishes are usually garnished with spring flowers.

Yakimono was the highlight of the entire meal, the beef was thinly sliced and paired with the ever-so heavenly Seaweed Miso Sauce. The Warabi, or mountain vegetables, was a nice addition which helped to balance out all the flavours of the dish.

Up next was Nimono (above), a foie gras dish served with simmered aubergine, which like Warabi, is seasonal vegetable imported from Japan. There were three generous pieces of foie gras, which I'm sure would be every gentleman's delight.

After six dishes, Keyaki served Tomezara (above), a salad dish which was a creative mix of Isaki (Threeline Grunt) fish, Warabi and Bacon, seasoned with Mandarin Sesame Sauce. It was recommended that we squeezed more lemon sauce for added zest and it was an excellent recommendation!

The final savoury item was cold Udon which calmed the senses.

For those who like Japanese melons (yes, the extraordinarily sweet ones), you're in for a treat because Musk Melon is served as dessert.

The nine course meal was filling, but we still felt refreshed enough to return to our desk jobs. The tranquil setting of Keyaki, designed to look traditionally Japanese, was hard to part with, but this gives us all the more reason to return.

Spring Kaiseki
Date: Now till May 31, 2014
Price: $170++ per adult
Venue: Keyaki (Level 4, Pan Pacific Singapore, 7 Raffles Boulevard, Singapore 039595).
Reservations: +65 6826 8240 / celebrate.sin@panpacific.com
Website: panpacific.com/singapore

Dishes may vary slightly depending on seasonality of ingredients. Do take note that since Spring Kaiseki is primarily a dinner promotion, it is only available for lunch upon request through advance booking.