IKO Restaurant and Bar on Neil Road is a modern Japanese gastrobar that combines the best of Japanese influences with quality ingredients and inspired, cutting-edge cookery.
We’re stating this upfront – don’t expect classic Japanese cuisine at IKO Restaurant and Bar, one of the latest additions to the Keong Saik-Duxton Hill dining enclave. If you’re looking for an authentically Japanese dining experience, the contemporary bar restaurant is not it. Instead IKO offers its own unique, near irreverent twist on Japanese culinary traditions but also draws heavily from Western techniques and ingredients.
You first get a sense of this when you take your into step into IKO. The gastrobar eschews traditional minimalist Japanese aesthetics for a disconcertingly dark lounge-like space, punctuated by strobing bright neon lights outlining its logo on the ceiling (it was, it must be said, previously an establishment of a sleazier sort). The music too is atypical of that of a Japanese-run dining establishment; it’s more lounge-like, and less intimate dining.
But don’t let the club vibes detract you from the food. Like most gastrobars of its ilk IKO adopts a small-plates approach, which is meant to encourage sharing among dining companions. Not the Uni though, a single portion chawanmushi-like appetiser of cauliflower pudding that has its flavours lifted by piquant dashi jelly and topped with caviar and creamy uni.
You wouldn’t want to share the Somen either, because you’re most likely to finish up the delicious ume-infused thin noodles – coated in a bisque-like foam, and studded with ikura – in a single slurp.
Then there’s the Tai Crudo – featuring thin slices of raw Japanese sea bream that sits in a dressing of shiso oil, Peruvian chilli peppers, and kumquat pieces – which you’re more than capable of finishing on your own. Even more so the Asari, which had us fighting over the sweet juicy little clams that sit in a most moreish broth.
IKO, whose kitchen is run by head chef Jeremy Chiamm (previously of the now-defunct Le Binchotan on Amoy Street), prides itself on its robata dishes. And rightly so. Our Japanese Black Cod turned out perfect, its skin seared to a crisp while retaining the creamy moistness of the flesh, which we attribute to a generous basting of miso-infused butter.
The Angus Short Rib and Iberico Pluma are more classic Western offerings, but they are competently executed and – we daresay – can be better than those from more lauded modern European restaurants.
The one dish that bears sharing though is its Mushroom Donabe. Their twist on the classic Japanese claypot dish sees rice that’s thoroughly soaked up with mushroom broth and then perfumed with black truffle; it’s an absolutely umami treat, but best savoured in small doses.
For drinks IKO has a small cocktail section of mainly Japanese-style highballs, but there’s a decent enough selection of sakes that should just about please most enthusiasts. Connoisseurs may appreciate that they carry the highly-rated Toyo Bijin Junmai Ginjo Okarakuchi from Yamaguchi Prefecture and Akita Prefecture’s Yamamoto Pure Black by the edgy brewery. But there’s the more affordable Nanbubijin Junmai Daiginjo Omachi for pure smashability that will go with your food as well. Available too are some wines; we like that there’s some Japanese representation with the Kayagatake Rouge and Gris de Koshu from Yamanashi’s Grace Winery.
IKO Restaurant and Bar joins a slew of recent new establishments that look at redefining Japanese gastronomy – think Spanish tapas-inspired Japanese sake bar Sake Labo, or Tanoke’s modern Japanese inflections. And while we wished there was a wider selection of proper cocktails and sake, IKO does deliver its dishes with aplomb.
So much so you’ll quickly come to the realisation that sharing food here is overrated because you’ll want it all for yourself.
IKO Restaurant and Bar
Address 65 Neil Rd, Singapore 088897 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 11.30am to 2.30pm and 6pm to 10.30pm Mondays to Saturdays; closed on Sundays