An intriguing new spot under the same auspices as Botanica + Co and its sister Botanica Deli, Bocosan Izakaya is a space for the appreciation of artful aesthetics as much as it is for the enjoyment of Japanese modern classics.
In Japan, an izakaya is a sort of bar where customers dine (often on shared dishes, tapas-style, unusual for the Japanese cuisine lexicon) and drink sake, shochu, wine, whisky or beer.
Bocosan takes the usually-casual concept up a few notches – it’s still a relaxed space, but with sophisticated styling, clean lines, and blond wood that takes advantage of the ample natural light supply to glow softly in the daytime.
It’s currently open only for lunch, but denizens of the night will be able to enjoy dinner and drinks on the terrace outside when it opens in early November.
This is when a more extensive range of sake and Japanese-inspired cocktails will make its debut.
Inside, a communal dining table and a dining bar (where omakase meals will eventually be served) front the open kitchen, presided over by executive chef Mitsugu Iwashiro.
The Hiroshima native has his kitchen roots firmly planted in the izakaya scene back home – where simplicity and tradition rule – but spent 15 years travelling worldwide to get fresh perspectives on technique.
The result is a menu that is unmistakably authentic, but fresh and contemporary at the same time. And because it’s made to pair with drinks, the food here seems to boast more robust flavours, with a more savoury note than usual in some of the dishes.
At a recent media review, we began with the Bonsai Salad (RM29), which was extremely photogenic – and luckily, proved that it had substance as well as looks.
Leaves, herbs, edible flowers and a scoop of Japanese potato salad, replete with crunchy vegetables, came looking like a table centrepiece. The accompanying apple dressing combined a fruity, tangy-sweet appeal with a subtle umami backbone.
There’s a selection of unctuous, glistening sashimi on offer here, but if you can’t decide among the salmon, yellowtail, tuna, red snapper and Japanese jumbo sweet prawns, have three of the above in the sashimi moriawase (RM49).
If you prefer your fish cooked and whole, ordering the saba no shioyaki (RM42) will land a whole Norwegian mackerel at your table, still smoky from its grilling over charcoal.
The freshness of the fish shone in this simple, popular dish, with the grilling also intensifying its oily richness.
The offering of cold ramen (RM45) is a dish that may take some getting used to for some, but it’s really worth the effort.
The intense, sweet-salt of the sesame dipping sauce clings to the chewy noodles, and proves to pair just as well when applied to the accompanying prawns, king crab legs and charcoal-grilled chicken.
It was a very likeable dish, but the soulful bowlful of crispy kaki age with udon or soba (RM35) in a piping hot broth was the real show-stealer – not least because of the meltingly uber-silky, slender udon noodles the chef imports from Japan.
Coupled with the crisp tempura lattice of onions, vegetables and briny sakura ebi, and the savoury broth, the noodle dish provided a satisfying cornucopia of tastes and textures.
The smoky, gently-grilled Australian wagyu slices atop the Bocosan wagyu don (RM85) was another luscious dish, even without the addition of the pasteurised onsen egg (the restaurant uses only pasteurised eggs in dishes where they aren’t cooked through). Garlic chips, salted seaweed and an earthy truffle shoyu completed the delicious picture; if you want to add 50g of foie gras, it’s an extra RM45.
For dessert, we had the mizu shingen mochi (RM18), better known by its more poetic moniker of raindrop jelly.
The colourless jelly sphere captured Instagram, and is slowly making its presence felt on menus here; this one boasted a good balance of give and resistance, yielding to a gentle touch of the spoon.
It’s paired with Japanese black sugar syrup, which has a deep, dark, almost malty sweetness, and toasty roasted soy bean powder.
Bocosan is in its early days yet, and it’s definitely one to keep an eye on as it grows.
From what we’ve seen, it looks set to be a formidable player on the KL scene.
G-2A & 2B, Ground Floor, Vertical Podium, Bangsar South, Jalan Kerinchi, Kuala Lumpur.
Open Mondays to Saturdays, 11.30am to 3pm.