If there’s anything Fortune Centre is known for, it’s the plethora of affordable Chinese-style vegetarian food available in the daytime. There’s a bustle of activity that dies down once it gets dark and most of these old school-eateries have closed for the day, turning the mall into a virtual ghost town.
But there are little pockets of activity when you look closely, with small Japanese eateries that stay open for dinner, drawing their own regulars and those adventurous enough to poke around.
One of them is Nobu-ya, a small Japanese-owned izakaya on the first floor where the rule is “if you don’t drink, don’t come”. And tucked away in a corner on the second floor is Kappou, a little sushi restaurant serving omakase menus by a local female chef who holds a certificate from the Japan Sushi Instructors Association in Tokyo.
At least three more Japanese eateries will open over the next few months as the owners of Kappou and Nobu-ya hope to create the same kind of cult buzz for Fortune Centre as Cuppage Plaza, known as mini Japan for its authentic eateries and atmosphere.
Kappou’s chef-owner Aeron Choo says: “Cuppage has its own special vibe. It’s different from the other clusters of Japanese restaurants in Singapore. It will take us some years to build up to that level, but we can see the potential here. Plus we have a good location.”
Kappou has been open for over a year, and her upcoming outlet – a concept bar named Gokoro, will likely open within the next two months. “At Kappou, my omakase menu changes every three days – I have regular customers who come every week and eat something different. But upstairs I want to serve them some signatures and dishes that they might miss from previous menus,” she says.
The plan is to have a menu of about 15 to 20 items that will rotate based on the seasons and availability. Some examples include a Hokkaido scallop wrapped with kataifi on potato milk (S$9.90) and a salted red bean daifuku ice cream with homemade matcha, cinnamon churros and dehydrated root vegetables (S$12.90). As a concept bar, Gokoro will also offer alcoholic beverages like cocktails made with Japanese vegetables, and sakes served by the glass.
Says the 24-year-old chef: “I have no backers, because I don’t want people to put money into my business until I have some success to show for it. But I’m also not just doing this to make money – that would be meaningless. I want my bar to have educational value and spread the word about Japanese culture.”
That’s why once the bar has built a stable customer base, she hopes to invite F&B practitioners from her network in Japan to do collaborations or one-off events that will expose them to Singapore while at the same time teach local diners more about Japanese culture. This network includes her “teachers” and friends from Japan, as well as female icons in the F&B industry.
She says: “Right now in Japan there are very few females in the F&B industry. So I want to support and promote female sake makers, kaiseki chefs, and sommeliers. My bar will give me the space to do that.”
Besides Gokoro, another new opening is Motsu-ya – a small casual restaurant on the second floor that will specialise in Fukuoka-style hotpots featuring chicken and beef offal. Its Japanese owners, who prefer to stay out of the limelight, also run Nobu-ya on the first floor.
While offal isn’t commonly seen on restaurant menus here in Singapore, Motsu-ya’s manager Kelvin Swee explains: “The Japanese here would already know what we are offering, so we are hoping to create more exposure to Japanese food culture among local customers, especially because this dish has recently become more popular among ladies in Japan because of the high collagen content.”
Motsu-ya opened in June, and the expected spending per pax is under S$50 including drinks. The signature dish is the beef offal hotpot called Motsu Nabe (S$30 for two pax), but there are also small plates like sauteed beef offal with spicy sauce or Horumon (S$8) and grilled chicken heart with teriyaki sauce known as Hatsu (S$6).
A third outlet is now on its way as well, adds Mr Swee. He shares: “The food will be completely different from the existing two stores. It’ll still be Japanese food but another region’s speciality that is not popular in Singapore yet compared to things like donburi and ramen. It’ll be a fresh concept that we also want to introduce to Singaporeans.”
With the opening of the third outlet, Mr Swee says the ultimate goal is to breathe new life to Fortune Centre and turn it into a cosy haven for Japanese food.
He says: “There are a lot of family-friendly Japanese restaurants like those Japanese food towns, but we aim to serve a more specific type of food in a specific dining environment. We want a place that people can come after a long day at work and chill out with good authentic food, and where we know our regulars by name or even by their special drink.”
Gokoro Concept Bar by Kappou,
Opens end Sept
Open Mon to Sat, 11.30am – 2pm, 5.30pm – 9.30pm,
Closed on Sun
This article was originally published in The Business Times.