New & Noted: Ochobo

What: 23 bite-sized tastes of Japan

Where: 2/F, 20 Donghu Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu. Tel: 5404 7866

Why: You love Sushi Oyama & Kappo Yu

As soon as you walk into Ochobo, it’s obvious that the restaurant is cut from the same cloth as Sushi Oyama and Kappo Yu. Blond wood accents surround a central open kitchen, where the head chef and his team prep, cook and serve diners seated at the bar. All three are owned by Naoya Hirano, who prefers to play the silent partner to his limelighted chefs, and serve a kaiseki menu that evolves with the seasons and suppliers. But despite the similarities, Ochobo seems slightly more casual than its sister restaurants, with a noticeable drop in the attention to detail and sheer celebration of the raw ingredients that makes eating at a Hirano restaurant such a rewarding experience.

Where Sushi Oyama focuses on raw fish,
Ochobo’s menu runs the gamut of Japanese cuisine, serving up a sprawling 23 course menu (RMB 580) of small bites - from sashimi to tempura to yakimono (grilled and pan-fried dishes). Chef Sun Jianguo shines brightest when serving raw fish, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Chinese chef has spent a decade working in  Japanese restaurants, and almost half of that time was under Takeo Oyam and Yohei Terada (of Kappo Yu), with whom he shares an enviable supplier list. 

The sashimi dishes come at the start of the meal and set a standard that the remainder of the menu can’t quite live up to. The first dish wows with its delicate presentation of brightorange uni sashimi balanced atop a silken slice of white tofu swimming in a pool of sweet cabbage soup. Creamy wild shrimp sashimi is like eating dense clouds, and the bite of fatty chutoro is so good it will send tingles down your spine.

But the menu started to take a turn with a salad of baby arugula and mullet roe cooked into dense salty slabs. Flavors became less nuanced with bolder strokes, like funky fermented shark’s cartilage. Plums dropped in a red wine sauce were unexpectedly over salted. Tempura dishes were hit (a nearly translucent scallop that received the briefest of baptisms in the hot oil bath) and miss (ebi deep-fried then doused in a seaweed powder that overwhelmed its sweet sea flavors). Grilled dishes were mostly forgettable, except for a duo of conger eel, which came served sizzling on a scorched-to-order iron plate.

Ochobo’s menu will change monthly, and we’d be interested to see how they improve upon their first attempt. A seat at the bar earns you dinner and a show, as you watch rare steak being torched to order, tempura plunged into a wok of rumbling
oil and sashimi elegantly sliced, but there is still room for improvement to turn all 23 courses into a meal worthy of the Naoya Hirano mantle. 


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