There are some restaurants that one goes to regularly, places you head to after a long day of work when the last thing you want to do is cook. There are other places as well. Some might be places you go to begrudgingly, because your friend or family-member really likes it — while you never have. Then there are places you have to be in a specific mood for — the dimly lit romantic restaurant that requires appropriate companionship or the noisy, crazy always bustling bistro that, if you’re not ready for, would otherwise give you a headache. Lastly, there are the places you save up for, places that for a pretty penny deliver amazing culinary experiences that you tell your friends about, savour the memories of, and can’t wait to experience again, despite the high price tag.
GOTO, one of Singapore’s newest Japanese restaurants, is one such place. S and I first discovered GOTO by accident a couple of weeks ago. We had planned on having a quick, late night dinner at Wacha, a cute cafe that I’d first written about in February last year. We figured the smart thing was to walk over before a meeting we had in the area and make a reservation. But when we got there, we were shocked to discover that Wacha had closed down, and had been replaced by GOTO. Almost as surprising was that the sign on the door announced that the restaurant was “reservations only”. Since I was there, and since the sign had GOTO’s phone number on it, I did what any hungry foodie would have done and called them. A very sweet Japanese lady answered the phone and said that yes, I could have a table that night. Then she told me that they offered just two menus, one priced at S$180 and the other at S$280, and asked me which one I would like. Because S and I weren’t in the mood for a long, gastronomic affair, I sheepishly apologized and said that we’d book a meal another time.
Over the next week, I asked several friends about GOTO. None of them had heard of it, let alone had a meal there. One friend, a foodie that I respect enormously, decided he’d be the first to try it. The day after his visit I received a super-positive SMS raving about it. He said that this small Kaiseki stunner was as good as some of the best restaurants in Kyoto and very, very much worth supporting. He liked it so much that he and his wife returned just a few days later. During that week, I also discovered that the owner and chef, Mr Goto Hisao, was, just before opening his eponymous restaurant, chef to the last Japanese Ambassador to Singapore.
S and I, with two other greedy gourmets, decided we had to check out GOTO for ourselves. We booked the S$280 menus — figuring that we might as well go all-out on our first visit. The meal, I have to say, was one of the very best I have had in Singapore and worth every penny.
We had a beautiful 11 course Kaiseki dinner. Each course was perfectly executed. The produce was fresh and exquisite. And the service was friendly, delicate and effortless. We started with a small portion of crabmeat tofu topped with uni and lightly flavoured with yuzu. Next was a platter of delicacies: the freshest, lightest ankimo (monkfish liver) I have ever had; marinated baby sea eel; bamboo shoots with mugwort tofu and goma tofu; two kinds of seasonal octopus; and some gorgeously fresh, raw giant clam. After this was a delicate soup with goma tofu and steamed Green Ling cod flavoured with just a hint of ume paste. Then we had a bowl of sashimi. We were given o-toro, salmon belly, two delicious kinds of clam that I didn’t recognize, and some lovely yellowtail. All were amazingly fresh. This was followed by a really savory and rich miso eggplant with abalone and shrimp. Next was usui bean with baby eels topped with a sakura blossom. At this point, I had turned to S, wishing audibly for some fried food. Almost on cue, we were served a tempura plate consisting of a small pregnant fish, broadbean, garlic shoot and angelica leaf. Our second to last main course was gorgeous, some savoury, seared wagyu beef rolled around asparagus and served with mustard. To round off the meal, we had a small portion of rice with toasted sesame seeds and fresh greens with some miso soup. We then had two desserts. The first was a portion of black sesame pudding sauced with homemade caramel, served with some coconut ice cream, and musk melon and strawberries. Our final course was a small portion of a sweet jelly served with a freshly whisked bowl of really high-quality green tea.
At first glance, GOTO isn’t a fancy restaurant. It has a sparse, bright interior. There are just a few tables. The food, though, is what you’ll go for. And it is exquisite, complex, and ridiculously good. The price, of course, might put off many potential punters. But a meal this good is worth saving up for. And splurging on. For me, it’s the closest I can get to Japan without getting on the plane. And that’s reason enough to go as often as I can afford to.
14 Ann Siang Road #01-01
Tel: +65 6438 1553