Kikubari is a Japanese concept which, if explained in English, would encompass concepts like empathy, selflessness, good manners and community-mindedness. Literally, the word is an amalgamation of “kubari” (to spread around) and “ki” (life force, energy, or attention).
It’s about paying attention to the needs of others; translated into an understanding of service, means a constant focus on detail, on humility, on providing what the other needs before they even ask.
Kikubari is also a very new and very exciting restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, intimate and cosy, but with sharp styling: plush navy upholstery playing against wood, stone and glass, and an elevated glass floor over a stylised, dramatically-lit Zen garden for a new age.
Presiding over the impressive cellar is general manager and chief sommelier Yuhei Teraoka – one of KL’s most established and recognisable sommeliers – as well as manager and sommelier Danny Tai. The cellar holds 50 types of sake, from the lighter, sharper kind, which Teraoka would pair with starters, to the full-bodied kind he would suggest with a main.
The sakes are differentiated by region, which determines the kind of rice and water used – and if you see a number after a sake’s name, know that the lower the number, the more the rice grain is polished and the sweeter, fruitier and more premium it is.
Not in a sake kind of mood? The cellar also holds over 400 different wines; the focus is heavily European, with a distinct leaning towards French and Italian labels. You can opt to match a tasting menu with a wine or sake pairing as well, for an additional charge.
Kikubari should appeal to bon vivants who appreciate meals curated like a show at the Louvre – small plates which are heavily-detailed and carefully-crafted, and which unfurl in a worlds-within-worlds sort of way.
These plates are built around a heart of Japanese produce, transformed by French technique, and an eye for detail which draws you down a fantastic culinary rabbit-hole of nuanced elements.
Expect a tartare reborn with wagyu beef, the richness of roasted bone marrow amplified by gremolata spiked with yuzu.
Five-course tasting menus change every two weeks; they’re priced at RM288 per person. Ten-course tasting menus (RM488) change every week or so; booking one of these will see you perched at the eight-seater chef’s table, the long bartop that fronts the open kitchen where you’ll see chef de cuisine Jun Wong and her team in action.
Wong has spent time in the kitchen of Cilantro, KL’s most enduring bastion of fine dining, as well as kitchens illuminated by the glow of Michelin stars – the three-starred Robuchon au Dome in Macau and two-starred Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan. And in Australia, the two-hatted Sixpenny.
She then helmed rustic French restaurant Le Petit Flot in Sydney, the development of the restaurant overseen by her mentor and Cilantro’s top chef, the inimitable Takashi Kimura.
Off the tasting menu, a dish like the in-season Kochi tomato capellini with briny-sweet botan ebi and intense, translucent tarabagani jelly (from the oft-changing tasting menu) evokes that connection between mentor and mentee.
A plate of tarabagani (red king crab) with macadamia petals and ohba oil (RM48) is an absolutely breath-taking order. It’s pleasing in all sorts of ways, a creation delicately armoured in fine petals of shaved macadamia, so carefully placed that it seems a waste to pick even one off. But do force yourself: you’ll find a wealth of the juicy, freshly-picked tarabagani, its flesh both sweet and intensely oceanic.
The tofu misozuke with house-made tsukemono and Japanese Meiji crackers (RM25) is deceptively simple, but the creamy, spreadable tofu is actually a delicacy of the Fukuoka prefecture – unusual elsewhere – and the result of a rather involved preparation process. The tofu is marinated with white miso, acquiring that soft creaminess and a strong umami nature. The pickles (tsukemono) are worth a mention too – tangy and crisp but not overly acidic, they complement the rich tofu perfectly.
Wagyu beef in the hands of a talented, thoughtful chef, is a versatile delight. Kikubari serves it up in several ways, each as enjoyable as the next.
A dish of wagyu tartare is served with a runny-centred onsen egg to be mixed in, with thin slices of crisp yuzukoshou toast (RM105 for 90g) adding crunch.
The visibly marbled cubes of A3 wagyu present a remarkable balancing act on the palate, meaty and rich and smooth and delicate, all at once. The meat is gently seasoned with a whisper of shoyu and shiso, for a wonderfully complex ebb and flow of flavour and texture.
A hunk of A5 wagyu, chuck blade (120g for RM280; ask the server if you want a differently-sized portion) is a particularly venerable piece of meat, and the highly-marbled cut needs nothing beyond a light grilling, leaving a fragrant char on the surface and its juicy insides intact.
Finally, a roasted wagyu bone marrow is given distinctive flavour and character with a crumbed topping of yuzu gremolata and yuzukoshou (RM46). The fragrant character of the Japanese citrus freshens the uber-rich marrow, while the chilli peppers lend a hint of clean bitterness.
Finish your meal with the miso ice cream parfait (RM18), rich umami and sweet notes mingling perfectly in the smooth, cold confection. Again, the interplay of many elements – salty-sweet caramel, roasted candied peanuts, chocolate tuile and warm slices of banana – make each mouthful a study in a myriad flavours and textures.
Kikubari is definitely one to watch on the KL dining scene, and a haven for the thinking diner with a sophisticated palate, who appreciates each dish built like a multi-layered poem, with respect paid to both produce and diner.
L3-01A Jalan Damanlela
Damansara City Mall
Tel: 03-2011 8200
Open Mondays to Saturdays, noon to 2.30pm and 6.30pm to 10.30pm (the bar is open till midnight)