Gotta Go To GOTO

Posted on April 4, 2008 by Aun

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 But when we got there, we were shocked to discover that Wacha had closed down, and had been replaced by GOTO.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.

GOTO
14 Ann Siang Road #01-01
Singapore
Tel: +65 6438 1553

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. Venny April 5, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Thanks for the review! I’ve wanted to visit Japan for the real deal but it may not come soon enough. Since I go home through Singapore all the time, I might just try this.

  2. Kirstin April 6, 2008 at 11:19 am

    Your first paragraph perfectly sums up why restaurants are so special. Thank you for sharing this spot.

  3. helen April 6, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    That meal looks exquisite. That is the kind of meal I can only dream of so thank you for that little sample of it.

  4. ice April 7, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Hi,
    Any idea if *gotta-go-to!* Goto operate for lunch? How much would it cost for the kaiseki then?
    Thanks. *need-to-go* Goto soon…

  5. Chubby Hubby April 7, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Ice: Yes, they do serve lunch. Like dinner, it is reservation only. It is S$68 for 6 courses.

  6. M April 7, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Sounds lovely although with that price tag, it’s not a fix you get every week! My personal favourite – Tokkuri at the Icon, which has a great value for money omakase set which should be between $70 – 90 (depending on whether it is lunch or dinner).

  7. lotsofcravings April 7, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    dont mean to sound stupid..s$280 for 1 person??? thats a crazy rm700pls meal! aiks..i think even the omakase at shangri la borders rm350..

    but i guess the pictures says it all..

  8. vanessa April 7, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    That’s a yummy meal! S…I dropped you a email :)

  9. clarisse April 8, 2008 at 1:16 am

    that looks beautiful, but i can’t help feeling a little wistful that wacha has closed down…

  10. Chuck April 9, 2008 at 3:08 am

    My daughter would do anything to visit Japan. Your a very luck person. I love your photo’s … just beautiful!

  11. Peech April 9, 2008 at 8:55 am

    The pics look awesome and you description makes me drool. Definitely need to try on my next trip.

    However I always wonder about the viability of these places in a city like Singapore. I have been to restaurants opened by former chefs to ambassadors (including France), and remember that we were the only table for dinner during the weekend. As someone’s comments indicated, Singaporeans simply won’t pay this kind of money for food! How can they hope to survive without the subsidy and the customer flow that a 5-star hotel can provide?

  12. Chubby Hubby April 9, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Peech: I agree that it is going to be really tough for restaurants like GOTO to survive. Only a small handful of the population can really afford to go more than once every few months. But I think every great city needs a few of these gastronomic temples — if for nothing else then to push the boundaries of the local culinary scene. One of the reasons I decided to write about GOTO is in hopes that people will try it and that the restaurant is able to stay afloat. It would be a huge shame if we lost a restaurant this good only because our customers aren’t willing to pay for the exeperience.

  13. Wheeler April 10, 2008 at 2:17 am

    It’s a shame GOTO is so expensive, because that food sure looks delicious!

  14. Zephyr April 11, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Actually i think they’ve got a workable business model going.

    Conservatively, say they receive 8 lunch customers and 6 for dinner daily.
    That works out to around $2k per day (8*68)+ (6*220-avge of both menus)
    For such a place I reckon that their costs (not including renumerations) doesnt go too much beyind 50%. So that still leaves them with a tidy $30k at the end of each month (though the Goto couple probably get a bigger cut).

    I tried the 180 menu , thought it was worth every penny. The ingredients might not have been that expensive by themselves, but resulting products were pure artistry.

    Hope they’ll be around for the long haul.

  15. The Culinary Chase April 11, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Beautiful, mouth watering looking food! I’ll be in S’pore next month so may have a chance to look this place up! Cheers!

  16. michelle @ TNS April 14, 2008 at 8:56 am

    those photos are beyond beautiful…i am completely unworthy of that meal.

  17. Weylin April 14, 2008 at 9:49 am

    Yeah, I had heard from the lady running the place that Wacha had closed down some time ago and they were going to put up a Kaiseki only place. I thought the prices were a bit steep though.

  18. veron April 26, 2008 at 6:08 am

    Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my keyboard. I’ve been on a Japanese kick lately but then I’m always game for this cuisine. Everything looks so tantalizingly yummy!!

  19. Peech September 27, 2008 at 1:07 am

    I had the $180 set tonight and thought it was fabulous. I finally found a decent kaiseki place outside of Japan. Will definitely try the $280 set next time.

    blogpost: http://chi-he-wan-le.blogspot.com/2008/09/great-start-to-trip.html

  20. kenneth wong June 6, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    I think everyone ought to try this place & give it the support it deserves. I had lunch there today & the food was exquisite!! I already have plans to return for dinner & yes it isn’t an everyday affair but it will be the best money you will ever spend without having to visit Japan. Like Aun says we need restaurants like this & should give it our support even if we can’t afford to eat there every day. Everything I had tasted like sheer perfection & it’s hard to put a price tag on such bliss.

  21. jsager September 30, 2010 at 4:11 am

    For anyone that has done any amount of Chinese home cooking, making siu yuk should not be a daunting task, and i would even say, its a breeze… after 2 or 3 tries. The reasons why making siu yuk at home is not as popular as it could be, i guess, are:
    1. if you live in SE Asia (or anywhere with easy access to cantonese cuisine), its so easily available and relatively cheap that there is not much incentive to cook it at home? or perhaps you have not heard of many others doing it at home, and therefore it must be something that only a professional chef can do.
    2. For those wanting to make it at home, and especially for those that go on the internet to look for recipes and tips, then, …. as you and several commentators have already said, its a plethora of contradictory and sometimes misleading or useless (and i am trying to be polite here) information. Its no wonder that some just throw up their arms and give up, and i dont blame them. However, if you persevere as CH has done, it will be rewarding, and this has been my experience, even before i stumble on this CH blog today.

    My theory of why there are so many contradictory recipes, even from usually reliable food blogs or sources, is the different definitions of what is siu yuk and especially what is that ‘crispy’ skin that you are after?. Its something like searching for a definitive chicken curry recipe (is it malaysian, singaporean, penang, nonya, thai, indonesian, north indian? …ad nauseam)

    So, are you aiming for cantonese restaurant style siu yuk? or some regional or country variation, or some family hand-me-down recipe that has been in some family for ‘hundreds of years’ ? or some siu yuk recipe that some bloggers have tuned/adapted to what they think is an improvement over all other siu yuk recipes in the world? There is nothing wrong with any of the variations of siu yuk or roast pork in general, if that is what you are after. Its about knowing what you are trying to achieve, and if you follow bloggers, not all bloggers know what they are trying to achieve, or are honest enough to say if they have ever tried their own recipes (and i dont always believe the pics they post as being the result of their own cooking).

    Call me a bigot if you wish, but i think that Siu Yuk should only refer to the Cantonese restaurant style of siu yuk (as served in singapore, malaysia, HK, southern China, and parts of the world where cantonese chefs have emmigrated to, eg Toronto, Vancouver, NY, London, etc). I have had good cantonese restaurant style siu yuk in all those cities/countries, and they are surprisingly consistent, almost like Big Macs. BTW, i am not a cantonese or restuarant owner. Perhaps the ‘brand name’ Siu Yuk should be patented, much like champagne is? Anyways, if what i call ‘Cantonese restaurent style siu yuk’ is what you are after, then read on, otherwise, there must be many other things that you can do at this moment in time :-))

    What is the definition of a ‘ crispy’ siu yuk skin? Lets start by what it is not… Its nothing like the crackling that most ‘western’ recipes/chefs produce when they do roast pork, or when they roast a whole pig. There are many western style (portuguese, spanish, greek, english, russian, etc) roast pork, and while they are excellent in their own way, their ‘crispy’ skin is nothing like that in siu yuk. So, i am wary of ‘western’ chefs or ‘western-based’ recipes for siu yuk. They can result in a great tasting product, but it would not be what a good siu yuk can offer.

    The texture of the ‘crispy’ skin (i have to find better and more meaningful words than just ‘crispy’ skin) of siu yuk can perhaps be described as resembling those of keropok: light, crumbling, not too oily. It has the appearance of a honeycomb structure, and is quite salty. Anyway, you will know it once you have had it.

    CH’s recipe has all the basics for a siu yuk that is as good as any that a good cantonese restaurant can come up with (actually a lot of restaurants get their siu yuk from a central ‘kitchen’ or supplier of siu yuk). For more information on how to cook your own siu yuk, you may wish to check out the egullet.org forum on ‘siu yook’. In that topic on siu yook, several posters describe their experiences using various techniques to achieve crispiness, cooking temperatures, and even whether to use frozen or fresh pork belly, etc. A very good discussion if you want to avoid disappointing attempts following recipes from other bloggers, or having to ‘try and frankenstein together a recipe’. What i find most interesting and informative is that they give the reasons of why you have to do what – check it out and you will know what i mean.
    My attempts at making siu yook had, at best, been spotty and usually discouraging, until i got on that egullet.org forum topic. Now i can get siu yuk to be as good as any cantonese restaurant, or so my guests would say. What i have found significant are that you need to:
    1. denature the skin – ie blanching the skin, and later on, using rice wine vinegar; or vodka as a poster on egullet.org had found to be very effective. Basically anything to change the pH will help to denature the skin and therefore improve crispiness.
    2. Prick the skin as much as you can, and then more. When i started making my own siu yuk, i used what one of your earlier posters described as “roast pork poker, essentially a miniature bed of nails (12-15 very sharp 1-inch nails)”. They cost only a few dollars, euros, whatever, and work very well. So, why improvise with forks, or whatever that some bloggers suggest?, and those improvisations will never be effective anyway. After reading the egullet.org forum, i now use a jaccard meat tenderiser (google for jaccard.com), and this ‘gadget’ costs a lot more than the roast pork poker, but its a lot faster to achieve the same effect, ie lots more of little pricks into the skin (and i use it also for a lot of other recipes, like steaks).
    Pricking the skin helps to dry to skin, helps in denaturing the skin as you blanch or brush on vodka or whatever, and allows the fat to ‘bubble’ away when it is being broiled.
    3. dry the skin as much as you can, ie pricking the skin helps, especially when you add coarse salt on top of the skin to draw out the moisture, and this also adds saltiness to the skin. I actually scrap off the salt when they get soggy, and add on new dry salt, and scrap that off before putting into the fridge. The most effective method to dry the skin is to put it into your fridge, uncovered overnite (and it helps if you have an auto defrost fridge, unless you like to manually defrost your fridge). Some bloggers have suggested using a fan, or a hair dryer on cool, as shortcuts to dry the skin – i have not tried them. But get it as dry as you can.
    4. as for the meat marinade, this is where you can express your individuality. However, CH’s recipe of including fermented bean curd is kind of standard for cantonese siu yuk as i know it. It gives it that extra kick, and saltiness.
    5. When you put the pork belly into the oven, make sure that it is shaped such that the top is like a dome, ie any bubbling fat will run off easily, and NOT form a concave spot or lake on the top of your pork belly. In the egullet.org forum, one poster suggested using a stent-like structure to prevent this, and i guess that poster is a doctor. Anyway, you can achieve the same by using a metal or porcelain, spoon or fork underneath your piece of meat such that the top is somewhat like a dome, or will not form concave spots. If a concave lake of fat still forms, you can try and mop up the fat with kitchen towels. Otherwise, the skin in and around the ‘lake’ will be very, very chewy – as different from being ‘crispy’.
    And yes, add water to a pan underneath the grill or whatever that is holding up the pork belly. The pan of water will catch all the fat and prevent burnt fat vapor from stinking up your kitchen/apartment/house. And yes, add water, hot water that is, as necessary. And no, it does not prevent or hinder crispiness of the skin.
    6. there are 2 steps in cooking siu yuk. The first is to cook the meat right thru, or to the internal temperature that you consider safe for pork, or whataever. For home cooking, this is usually sticking it into the oven at about 200 C. At this stage, dont worry about making the skin crispy, and in fact, the skin will look like anything other than crispy.
    After you are convinced that the meat is cooked thru and safe to eat, then its time to make the skin crispy. This is when you crank up your oven to whatever temperature it claims to achieve. And this is when you need to keep an eye on what is happening inside the oven, otherwise, you might end up with a piece of charcoal, depending on your oven. You want the skin to char somewhat, and for me, to char more than what is shown in the pics of CH.
    Once the surface of the skin is chared to the way you want it, its time to take it out of the oven and let it rest. When it is cool enough to touch, then scrape off the burnt bits, as described by CH. Once you scraped off the burnt bits, you should be able to see the honeycomb like structure of the skin.
    The siu yuk skin is crispy only when it is cool, ie if you try to eat the skin straight out of the oven or while still hot, it will be chewy and not “crispy”.
    when you chop up your siu yuk, chop it skin side up, with a heavy cleaver and chop, ie raise the cleaver and bring it down heavily, and not try to cut or saw it, because that will only fragment the skin, ok if that’s what you want.
    sorry for the very very long post – but i hope it will encourage others to try this.

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