KAIHOMARU is all about treasures from the deep. Tan Bee Hong is hard put to find a slice of meat in the pages of a menu filled with fish, fish and more fish.
If you have a craving for shabu-shabu, don´t go to Kaihomaru. If you love teriyaki chicken, don´t go to Kaihomaru.
But, for fish so fresh that you can still smell the ocean, make your way quick to this newly opened Japanese restaurant at street level of Federal Hotel KL.
What if a customer insists on meat, I ask. The owner, Sadasa Tsuguo, laughs and says: "Well, we do have one meat dish, fried chicken. But only if the customer insists!"
Tsuguo-san is an expert on fish. After all, the restaurateur had his beginnings in a shop offering fresh fish and a supermarket before he opened the first Kaihomaru 30 years ago.
This is not his first restaurant. He has a few outlets in Japan´s Ciba district and two in Jakarta, Indonesia. Malaysians who had been to Kaihomaru in Jakarta kept asking him to open an outlet in Kuala Lumpur so that they too could have a taste of the superb sushi and sashimi here. As he is a seafood supplier, he can ensure that his restaurants get the pick of the freshest.
I peer into the menu and am a little peeved. It´s all Greek, or in this case, Japanese, to me. No translations included. Some colourful pictures help though. Tsuguo´s wife, Irene, quickly assures me that the staff members are more than happy to explain the menu to the customers.
The restaurant is divided lengthwise by a wall and a sushi counter with the seafood kept chilled in glass boxes. You can sit at tables or at the counter to watch the chefs at work, deftly slicing fish or shaping rice to make sushi.
SUSHI & SASHIMI
As mentioned earlier, sushi and sashimi are the highlights in Kaihomaru. In fact, these are what customers come in for.
You can order individual portions of two pieces a plate or in sets (from RM59).
The Tokusen Kaihomaru sushi set has a few pieces each of various types of fish, prawn and other shellfish such as scallops and a creamy uni (sea urchin) roll as well as tamago (omelette). I am surprised that there are no mounds of wasabi on the side, only pickled ginger. Instead, the wasabi is dotted on top of each piece of sushi.
"We use only freshly grated wasabi," says Tsuguo-san. Fresh wasabi is so much more fragrant than the dry, powdered version.
There are three choices of maguro (tuna), from akami (lean tuna) to chutoro (medium-fat belly) and the prized otoro (fattiest belly).
Sashimi sets start from RM45 to RM270. The Kaihomaru mori sashimi set is a huge serving. These are placed on shiso (perilla) leaves on a curly sliced daikon. No bed of crushed ice. This is how confident Tsuguo is about the freshness of his fish.
Indeed, the slices of fish are so fresh they almost sparkle with a glistening hue. There is also sanma (Pacific saury) and hirame (flounder).
The hotate (scallops) and ama-ebi (sweet shrimp) look invitingly translucent and taste even better. A small box of uni resembles little gold nuggets.
I´ve never liked tako (octopus) but surprisingly, the slices of octopus tentacles at Kaihomaru are tender, not rubbery.
RARE & KINKI
Oh, by the way, you won´t find salmon in its sushi and sashimi menu. According to Tsuguo, the Japanese aren´t too fond of raw salmon, preferring tuna instead.
For those who prefer their fish cooked, Kaihomaru´s chef recommends it grilled or steamed. We opt for the latter. Karei (flatfish) and kinki.
Tsuguo tells me that the restaurant offers rare fish that is not found in any other Japanese restaurant in KL. And the delectable kinki is one. This rockfish (which I think is called red dragon fish in Chinese) with a faint resemblance to the red snapper, has huge, soulful eyes and a rather big, bony head. A bit like the scorpion fish.
Tsuguo says the kinki is quite rare these days, which accounts for its price. It´s expensive. Very. Ours cost RM245 and it´s about enough for one person. The delicate white flesh of this seasonal fish (at its tastiest from Sept to Oct) is exceptionally sweet and scrumptious.
I like it much better than the karei. Both fish are steamed with a light soya sauce and topped with fresh julienned ginger.
It´s not all just fish. You can have nabe (hot pot), salads and side dishes like chawanmushi and edamame.
Our orders of cold soba zaru (RM18) and kitsune udon (RM23) are equally hearty and satisfying, especially the fresh udon with its resilient texture and fried tofu skin in hot soup.
Kaihomaru offers a daily set lunch priced at RM22-RM28. The menu changes daily but always includes sushi, sashimi and tempura sets.