Step through a tiny, paved passageway in a Mohamed Sultan shophouse and past a light-bathed Zen garden, and you’ll find a counter with 12 seats, each place set with a mini karesansui garden for you to rake your own way to Zen-ness, and a welcome in the form of a poem printed on a tiny piece of paper.
You’re at Sushi Takahashi, the first outpost of the Tokyo restaurant by young culinary talent Jun Takahashi.
It’s not him, however, you’ll see presiding over the counter here, but his protege of eight years, chef Rinto Sasagawa. The head chef is just 24 years old but is already a master of sushi and kappo-style kaiseki. One imagines him moulding nigiri in his hands while still in diapers. The energy he brings is befitting: A meal here is traditional in form and executed with the utmost care, but with unexpected twists of subtle flair.
Then there’s the scallop chawanmushi, which, when its vessel’s cover is lifted, immediately indicates that it’s not as boring a dish as it sounds. When the spoon hits, the steamed egg’s pale, silky surface blooms into floaty flowers, like very fine tau huay. On the palate, it’s strongly black pepper-forward without being weighed down, the floral notes of the pepper a welcome surprise.
In addition to the requisite trio of tuna cuts, the nigiri lineup includes less commonly served fish like menuke, a deep sea rock fish from Hokkaido with a rich fattiness, gently seared by applying hot binchotan charcoal to each slice. The amaebi or sweet shrimp also hits a home run with a whisper of moshio salt and a topping of Oscietra caviar. But the classic saba sushi, finished with ginger and spring onion, is Sasagawa’s personal favourite, with its oceanic flavour.
While unobtrusive in the tradition of sushi masters, Sasagawa possesses a buoyant sense of humour that’s limited only by his proficiency in English. At the same time, his youth belies long years of discipline and training. His hands have progressed from being covered in cuts when he first started as an apprentice, to very supple from constantly perfecting the art of sushi.
Hailing from Shizuoka prefecture, Sasagawa’s father designed traditional tea rooms, shrines and temples; and his grandmother is a renowned tea master. He walks in their footsteps every time he performs the matcha ceremony at the meal’s end. The earnest solemnity of the ceremony is also about cherishing those who have been brought together in the moment, he said.
To allow himself room for expression while carrying traditional skills on into the future, Sasagawa is interested in the link between cooking and chemistry. His aim is to understand the concept of “delicious” from a scientific perspective, starting with the fundamentals and building on knowledge, he said.
So, a meal at Takahashi exposes you to the bonito fish aged for three years that is shaved down to make the dashi for an asari clam soup, but also drizzles caramel sauce on top of the tamago served towards the meal’s end with a picture-worthy flourish.
Tradition might be unchanging, but deliciousness is not.
Takahashi is at 4 Mohamed Sultan Road.