Experience Japanese Fine Dining In Singapore At Masa Saito Innovative | CoolJapan

Open Kitchen of Maso Saito Innovative

Open Kitchen. (Photo from: Masa Saito)

It’s hard to resist an omakase dinner invite from Chef-owner Masanao Saito at his innovative namesake Japanese restaurant at OUE Downtown Gallery. Hailing from Saitama Prefecture in Japan, Chef Saito comes with a storied pedigree: chef to the Ambassador of Japan Embassy in Sweden before moving on to train at Rutabaga (one Michelin star) and Matbaren (two Michelin stars) in the same country. He’s no stranger to Singapore — the chef moved to Singapore in 2014 to work at a Japanese restaurant, then went on to helm the kitchens of a modern European restaurant, 999.99, and the Japanese-Italian restaurant Caffe B before embarking on this latest venture that reflects his passion to meld Japanese cuisine with European culinary techniques.

Chef-owner Masanao Saito.

Chef-owner Masanao Saito. (Photo from: Masa Saito)

Masa Saito Innovative is intimate, dressed in a minimalist decor with clean and simple designs that exude a sense of tranquillity and calmness through its understated elegance, anchored on a palette of neutral colours of white, grey, and beige — creating a soothing and visually spacious environment. The live 12-seat counter allows diners to enjoy the sight, smell — coming from the wood and charcoal grills — and sound of the chefs’ culinary creations as they buzz around the open kitchen. Adjoining this open space is an enclosed private dining room that seats eight guests.

Honouring Japanese fine dining, the food here is centred on seasonality. The current eight-course Likka (立夏) tasting menu heralds the transformation of spring into summer in Japan, welcoming radiant days filled with anticipation and vibrant energy as they grow longer and the temperature rises, and the air is gentle and warm, carrying the scent of blooming flowers and freshly cut grass.

Squid Tarlet and Ark Shell

Left - Squid Tarlet; Right- Ark Shell.

The Likka menu showcases a diverse selection of dishes that beautifully blend the freshest ingredients, artful presentation, and expert culinary craftsmanship that embraces the core principles of Japanese cuisine, such as an emphasis on seasonality, simplicity, and attention to detail while incorporating creative twists and unexpected flavour combinations from the chef’s European culinary background.

Sea Urchin, Russian Oscietra Caviar

Sea Urchin, Russian Oscietra Caviar.

One of the stars of the evening is the decadent umami bomb of Hokkaido Bafun Uni with Russian Oscietra caviar on a pillowy brioche; a seductive and stunning juxtaposition of flavours, textures, and aesthetics; the briny caviar balancing the creaminess of the sea urchin. I could easily pop a few more of this delicacy.

Ayu Sweet Fish

Ayu Sweet Fish.

The ayu is a crowd-pleaser too. This freshwater sweetfish captures the essence of summer in Japan —evoking fond memories of this dish I had at the legendary Kikunoi Honten in Kyoto some years ago —gently grilled over a charcoal fire till crispy and golden skin while keeping the flesh tender and juicy; its sweet flavour, combined with the smoky and savoury notes from grilling process is complemented by smartweed rice puree, bagna cauda sauce, cucumber, myoga, ohba leaf, and nasturtium.

Grilled River Eel

Grilled River Eel.

Eating unagi is a popular pastime during summer in Japan; it’s believed to provide stamina and help combat the intense heat and humidity during the season. There is even a special day dedicated to eating unagi called Doyo no Ushi no Hi, which typically falls on one of the hottest days in July or August. Chef Saito’s rendition reveals his European culinary side: tender charcoal-grilled river eel is set atop a bed of savoury sweet risotto of Japanese rice, barley and sweet corn, served with bamboo shoot and kinome.

Masa Saito Innovative is a worthy entrant into Singapore’s viciously unforgiving and inflationary fine dining scene — its inventive menu embodies the artistry and precision of Japanese traditions, while subtly embracing the nuances of European culinary cultures and techniques that together celebrate the harmonious balance of flavours, textures, visual presentation, and innovation to create a truly exquisite dining experience that doesn’t break the bank.

The tasting dinner is priced at SGD250++ and comes with a carafe of a light, clean and bold sake from Nakamura Sake Brewery (located on the west side of Tokyo), famed for using crystal-clear groundwater from the nearby Aki River, the biggest tributary of the Tama River. Head down soon before summer in Japan ebbs.

Masa Saito Innovative

Address: 6A Shenton Way, OUE Building, Downtown Gallery #01-04, Singapore 068815