Rei Kappo Dining, Bukit Damansara

October 21, 2021

As customers spy the cedar counter where the sushi chef unsheathes his blades, Rei might first seem like simply one more omakase restaurant in KL. 

But Rei's roots rest in the second part of its name, Kappo Dining, reflecting a casual, classic outlook on Japanese multi-course meals, a back-to-basics change from omakase dinners drenched in decadence. 

A kappo is a throwback to tradition, in the fundamental spirit of trusting skilled chefs to serve what they believe is best. 

Rei's warmth is in its intimacy, its elegance in its simplicity, its potency in its purity. Its credentials mean it's capable of bringing a meaningful experience to the table.

The restaurant is founded by Tinkermen Collective, the driver of a dozen distinctive venues in Bukit Damansara and beyond, from Vintry wine bar to Proof pizza parlour, Stoked charcoal-oven specialist to Smith wood-fired bread store. Rei is Tinkermen's second Japanese venue, after Toji Sake Bar. 

True to its ethos of championing local talents, Tinkermen has hand-picked chef Fei to lead Rei's kitchen. He's one of the longest-serving Malaysian chefs in the art of omakase, having spent nearly a decade in one of KL's first such restaurants.

For now, the sushi counter is limited to five to six persons per session. But Rei's beautiful dining rooms, private and semi-private, are perfect for spending a few hours with a small handful of family or friends.

Freed from excessive extravagance, expenses at Rei rank among KL's most reasonable for an omakase exploration, with our extensive meal priced at RM330 nett. Courses change regularly; no two lunches or dinners in different weeks would be identical.

A welcome drink of yuzu-laced sake is a bright opening, followed by two rounds of otoshi, appetisers of pickled baby okra, with hints not only of wasabi paste but wasabi leaves, and a light salad of sakura kaiware radish sprouts, mizuna leaves and gently sweet tamanegi yellow onions, their bracing crispness rounded out by the nutty creaminess of a sesame sauce.

We then shift gears from the vegetarian to the pescetarian: Marvellous Japanese molluscs buoyed by citrus scents and sensibilities - lusciously fleshy, lightly briny Hokkaido oyster, enlivened by a tart squeeze of sudachi lime, as well as abalone, delicately cooked whole, drizzled with a gentle grating of yuzu, dressed with umami-rich, mirin-sweetened liver sauce.

If you love sashimi, chef Fei keeps it coming, thick and tender, fresh and full-bodied: Hamachi with a perky, piquant slice of sudachi, smooth scallops with ark clam that tastes irresistibly of the tide, and a tuna twosome of akami and chutoro - compelling representatives of keeping seafood raw, enhanced with earthy condiments to exquisitely wed ocean and land.

The sushi is a swim through wave after wave of succulence.

Sanma, Pacific saury, is one of Japan's esteemed envoys of autumn, superbly supple here with a subtler-than-usual flavour, brushed with Rei's own soy blend and beautifully torched.

Engawa, rich and meltingly fatty, is followed by a prime sirloin cut of Miyazaki A5 beef, their sumptuous textures and sublime taste made emphatic by sushi rice that's notably more restrainedly vinegared and less salted than some shari.

Chef Fei has fun with the final two pieces. Chutoro on nigiri is topped with shuto, bonito intestines, for a gutsy splash of deep savouriness, while Japanese hairy crab, gorgeously juicy, crowns a gunkan maki.
As a word, kappo originally meant to cut food with a knife and cook with a flame. 

The fire of the latter is fulfilled in the comforting heat of the nimono course, simmered unagi with winter melon, and the classic conclusion of clam-laden miso soup.

Winter melon, sourced from Shizuoka prefecture, also features in dessert, preceding the finale of ceremonial-grade matcha with a Japanese-French houjicha financier, baked exclusive for Rei by its sister establishment, Smith downstairs.

Rei has intriguing future plans to combine sake and wine pairings with its omakase meals. 

The restaurant takes its sake seriously, offering possibly the most thoughtful sake experience at any omakase-themed venue in KL.

The bottle-aged Fukumimi Junmai Daiginjo Genshu conveys complexities that hold up strikingly to strong-flavoured food, with 15 months of ageing adding a sherry-like resonance to a velvety sake.

The Kamoshibito Kuheiji Junmai Daiginjo Omachi lives up to the 'Sauvage' in its name, brewed with omachi wild sake rice, balancing out its refreshing nuances with a bit of bitterness in the afterglow.

Even the sake glasses are noteworthy at Rei, double-sided with different mouths, yielding surprisingly contrasting sensations on each side, affecting perceptions of acidity, alcohol, minerality and more. It's like sipping on two separate sakes in a single glass.

Rei Kappo Dining

3-M, Jalan Setia Bakti, Bukit Damansara, 50490 Kuala Lumpur.

Lunch and dinner, by reservation. Tel: 010-243-5272

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