November 21, 2019

We’re drowning in omakase and chef’s tasting menus here, from elaborate 11-course tableside action entailing fire and billowing smoke to lengthy meals where 9 hand-crafted nigiri sushi appear in succession before you. I’ve spent too much time at these tables. You could measure my life in Michelin stars and the number of exotic birds devoured—spatchcock, guinea fowl, pheasant, woodcock, dove, quail, goose, pigeon. Of course, if you strip away all things meat, most of us struggle to justify a premium price tag. However, Rizu’s 7-course plant-based menu is here to change your perception with much aplomb—highlighting and transforming vegetables into visually stunning and tasty art forms.

Leading the kitchen of this modern fine dining establishment is newly appointed head chef Hiroshi Watanabe from Hokkaido, who has cut his teeth working in restaurants in Japan and the US. At one point, he even had his own operation Le Berkley in Shirogane, Tokyo, but decided to pursue life on a farm to study the benefits of biological farming.

Armed with a conventional mindset that’s most recently been swayed by various discussions with chefs spearheading the #gogreen movement, my interest piqued when I heard that chef Hiroshi had removed the typical luxuries like otoro from the omakase menu. While I’m no stranger to plant-based dining, it definitely feels a little odd with Japanese nuances.

The first course starts with tofu. What’s that? I hear you scream “meh”? Well, chef Hiroshi is quick to put the obvious on the plate first, starting with soft tofu topped with sea asparagus and glazed over with yuzu olive oil. It throws punches of tanginess in waves and cajoles a more willing victim to the next course. Here, a fairly innocuous-looking shoot of green asparagus lying on a black tile turns out to be remarkable, cloaked with an almost invisible sheath of konbudashi jelly and tiny mounds of caviar. The draw is in the doneness of the asparagus, crisp-tender, with a crunch to bite into.

Perusing the menu, you get the sense that you’re in fine dining territory because the dishes are listed simply as the main ingredient followed by its scientific species name. It leaves little to the imagination and on hindsight, a canvas for which Chef Hiroshi paints so brazenly in magnificent verdurous shades. This is expressed again in the next dish, corn, which is plated up to look exactly like grilled corn except that it has been painstakingly aligned in a deliberate arch, and filled with pine nut cream. Coriander leaves pack a subtle punch and linger with a slight citrus note.

Eggplant may be a tough legume to navigate even for serious veggie lovers, but Rizu fashions it in peculiar white lighting that your curiosity is piqued till the very last bite. Was it poached, blanched or steamed? This question hangs overhead as you dig into the custardy outside leading into a firm core. A sprinkle of cumin seeds over the ‘albino’ fruit provides a source of heat, while green appearances of mountain mint and a sunshine orange sauce prove more than just supporting actors, exciting the flavour palate.

The real surprise comes in the next dish. ‘Onion’ is an ode to Chef Hiroshi’s penchant for French cuisine. The classic onion and fig tart is elevated with a buttered puff slab stuffed with figs and walnut paste, the shatteringly gorgeous pastry serving as a stage for an ensemble of roasted onions and gooseberry to put on a show. It is textbook with a bit of creative flair stemming from the accompanying pool of coconut foam. Aside from the slight tension in the pastry (too many folds cast in the wrong direction, I suspect), you will easily wipe out the dish.

This is the time of the meal when you are expecting that exotic bird (which we talked about earlier) to make a grand entrance, or a marbled slab of A5 chateaubriand wagyu to perform the closing act. Instead, a claypot lid is lifted to reveal a hefty slab of artichoke beneath drifting clouds of hay smoke. It returns to the kitchen after the theatrics, boosted with zucchini, Asian parmesan and a shimmering jus. One bite in and I immediately understand the chef’s intentions. It’s not meant to replace wagyu, but its ‘meaty’ texture combined with umami notes from hacho miso will round out the meal and quell hankerings. This is creativity at work.

The dessert gets a nod of approval from the partner, a native French man who grew up on rice pudding. Tapioca cooked in milk sits below-quartered strawberries, quivering white wine jelly and a mad dash of balsamic vinegar. It would look perfect at home, in a Muji wooden bowl accompanied with a large spoon, evoking comfort and familiarity despite its tantalising appearance. Chef Hiroshi could have taken the easy way out by serving musk melon and fruit sorbet, but he didn’t. His ethos to create delightfully delicious plant-based cuisine follows through from start to finish, and he knocks it out of the park.

Rizu has raised the bar in the plant-based dining scene in Singapore, and I’m sure it is a sign of things to come. Bonus: non-veggie lovers can also experience chef Hiroshi’s culinary prowess by choosing either a 5- or 7-course menu.

39 Duxton Hill, Singapore 089617, 6904 8880