Chef Taisei Iwao already wears quite a few hats, and now he has added another. The chef of Hanazen in Chijmes, as some might have known, is also the Executive Chef of the 1-Michelin-starred Lumiere and chef-owner of Osaka’s highly-lauded Karato. Now, Toko Yakitori, a new hotspot where you can unwind over skewers, sashimi and sake, is the newest baby of Chef Iwao.
Chicken is the star at Toko Yakitori. Here you will find not only chicken meat but also innards, complemented by a wide variety of vegetables and a long drinks list for an all-encompassing yakitori experience. After all, the word ‘yakitori’ can be simply translated to ‘grilled bird’ in English. From the humble chicken breast and wing to heart, skin, coccyx, liver and cartilage, the restaurant will open your eyes to embracing the humble chicken in a way never done before.
If with a guest whose comfort levels of nose-to-tail (or might we say breast to coccyx in this case) are uncertain, there are relatively safe options. For starters, the Tomato Kimchi with Chicken Breast (S$9) and the Yellowtail Carpaccio with Yuzu Pepper (S$18) are refreshing as palate openers. The Hamachi Radish Salad (S$18) and the Whole Fruit Tomato Salad (S$9) would achieve the same. The fresh tomatoes from Kochi prefecture are very red and sweet and smaller than regular ones.
The binchotan-fired grill is placed in front of us and this signals that the yakitori are next. They arrive cooked, but are placed on the grill so they continue to keep warm at just the right temperature and never get too burnt. We tried the chicken breast (S$4.50) and wing (S$5). The chicken was juicy and savoury already from being basted with salt, but the use of sour citrusy flavours, such as the yuzu paste, brings out the flavours even better while helping to temper the fat from having a series of meats and innards at one go. The plump chicken wing gyozas (S$9) are stuffed with minced chicken, chopped leek and oba (green perilla) leaf for a herbal fragrance.
The chicken tsukune (meatballs) are also a must-order at any yakitori outlet as each would have its own style. The ones at Toko Yakitori were juicy and tender enough to bite through easily, and must be dipped in the accompanying egg yolk.
While we were there for yakitori, the carbs were surprisingly outstanding. In fact, the ramen and curry were my favourites. Note that these are a small portion to complement your meal and not full-sized like you would expect from a standalone ramen outlet. The Iwao Chef Curry(S$8) looked like a nondescript dark brown gravy on short grain rice, but it had more depth than any Japanese curry I ever had before. The umami from a single mouthful of this slow-cooked, tender braised beef curry is full of the sweetness of carrots, apples, mangoes and papaya that forms Chef Iwao’s signature recipe. I found myself craving more rice to go with it as I scraped the base of the bowl.
The chicken ramen was absolutely delicious, albeit a tad pricey for a small portion (S$12) featuring half a ramen egg and a slice of pork shoulder chashu. I would nonetheless recommend it be tried at least once as the soup is flavourful and the taste is unlike any ramen soup I have tried in Singapore. Once again, there was a citrusy note to it, with some ingredient that may have been yuzu or ponzu-based, although I could not put my finger on it. I was heartened to note that there is also a clear standalone chicken soup (S$3) that can be ordered – definitely a good one for the soul.
Portions can be rather small. As we were still hungry, we decided to end off the meal with an Oyako Don (S$6), which rounded up the meal perfectly in its mini portion. The dish, with its chicken and egg blanket on top of rice, is always comfort food and in this case, the velvety eggs are sourced from Okinawa, Japan. Looking at the ‘bowl and soup’ section of the menu, I would say go for it and try all the carbs.
Other than the vegetable skewers including the likes of asparagus, zucchini, and mushrooms, there are also sides such as edamame, octopus wasabi, squid mentaiko and stingray fin to go with the meats. The menu also features a good selection of quality drinks including premium sake, wine, plum wine, cocktails, sours and beer.
Now is a great time to check out Toko Yakitori, for it is celebrating its grand opening with hefty discounts off yakitori items–50% off from 9 to 17 December, 40% off from 18 to 24 December and 30% off from 25 to 31 December 2023. Do visit this month to enjoy these launch deals.
9 Penang Rd, #01-02
Tel: +65 8289 0772
Opening hours: 11.30am to 2.30pm and 6.00pm to 10.00pm