Walking up the narrow, wooden stairs to Kokuu, you will hear the faint noise of soft jazz music. Kokuu Japanese restaurant, named after the Japanese word for “void”, is nothing like its moniker and is instead filled with noise and light that will flatter your senses.
The small clatters of the ceramic dishes handcrafted by the Kokuu staff themselves harmonise with the chatter of the other customers in the humble and intimate space.
As you enter Kokuu, you are greeted by the lovely staff and guided to your seat. The long counter table overlooks the chef’s area, where you can watch your meal being prepared throughout the night. The walls of the restaurant are covered with art including framed Japanese calligraphy around the seating areas. Above the chef’s workplace, images and Japanese-influenced artwork are projected onto the walls.
With monthly changes to the menu marked by every full moon, there is no doubt that Kokuu offers a wide variety of mouth-watering, innovative Japanese cuisine. Kokuu’s menu is “omakase”; each plate is selected by the chef, beginning with some light fare and proceeding towards heavier dishes.
“Omakase” also means that the chef is close by to engage in conversation and create an intimate environment, emphasised in the selection of food that is served. All of the dishes that are selected replicate the flavours and warmth of home-cooked food, such as the eel donburi, which is a homey dish commonly shared amongst family members in Japanese culture.
Each plate placed in front of you has a variety of flavours and brings something new for your palate to try. Kokuu’s menu allows for traditional Japanese flavours to merge with experimental new ideas that pleasantly surprise you. The tempura is coated by a light batter that melts in your mouth. Inside, a beef ham adds a western twist to the traditional dish that is served without any “tentsuyu”.
The shiso leaf and mackerel tempura, on the other hand, explores further the concept of contrasting flavours and combines different elements of staple Japanese food. The minty flavour of the shiso leaf works together with the soft mackerel for a simplistic yet rich taste.
Chef Abe, the head chef at Kokuu, works in front of you while you eat, taking proper care of the fresh produce and showing off his expert knife skills with his perfectly sliced sashimi or flower garnish. Every few minutes, he stops by to check in on your meal despite his limited language skills and offers a kind smile.
With 32 years of experience and influences from France, Italy, and Japan, Chef Abe’s love for innovative flavours and dishes are prevalent in the meals provided. His specialty, experimental sauces, add a burst of flavour to subtle, traditional Japanese tastes. One of his amazing sauces is a light, black sesame sauce that’s wonderfully rich and can be paired with anything. Another would be his purée sauce that was presented as part of the “yakimono”.
Kokuu is a new experience for anyone, even those who are familiar with Japanese cuisine. The dishes pair traditional and experimental flavours from both Western and Japanese influences to create new and interesting tastes.
There are only 19 seats available, making Kokuu a reservation-only restaurant that’s open from Monday to Saturday, 6pm through to 9pm. As the restaurant is located in Face Kitchen in Senopati, the traffic is something to consider when making your reservations. With most customers coming in from word of mouth, it is a very intimate Japanese restaurant that is comfortable and perfect for relaxing after a long day at work, or for a peaceful date night.