In many ways, Hisho Japanese Cuisine is the culmination of chef Danny Leow’s childhood dream. It’s a story that started with childish jealousy but morphed into something far more meaningful.
“One of my classmates had a lot of expensive things. I was around 10 and was a bit jealous of him. One day, his father had a party and I went. I felt like his house was very big and he was very rich! I checked the father’s background and found out that he was a big-time Chinese chef. From then on, I felt that as a chef, you could have a good future,” he says, chuckling.
Leow is a good-natured, affable soul who worked his way up the hard way. He started out working part-time at local Japanese restaurants when he was just 16, and rose up the ranks over the years, guided by the steady hand of seasoned Japanese chef Hitoshi Kimijima (of local restaurant Ozeki Tokyo Cuisine), whom he calls his mentor.
Leow’s journey has taken him through a series of Japanese restaurants in Malaysia as well as eateries in Switzerland, Germany, Britain and China.
In 2010, Leow’s skills were recognised when he won HAPA’s Best Fusion Japanese Award. In 2012, he also picked up the Malaysian International Gourmet Festival’s Best Chef Award.
Despite his many successes, Leow began to realise that he needed to spread his wings and be his own boss. “When you’re not the boss, you cannot do whatever you like, so a lot of my ideas were rejected. But here, I’m happy because I can create what I want and do what I want,” he says.
Leow started Hisho in March 2017 to fully flesh out his vision of opening a Japanese fusion restaurant. “I wanted to open this restaurant because I feel like about 70% of Japanese restaurants here are traditional. So customers come in and have tempura, sashimi – these kinds of traditional dishes, and I feel like they are bored. So I wanted to create Japanese fusion dishes and make it a more interesting experience,” he says.
Leow designed the menu from scratch and sketched out each dish before even beginning to plate. It’s a trait he picked up from Kimijima, and one that he says helps him sort out his menu ideas when inspiration strikes at unpredictable moments.
To get a proper initiation into Hisho’s fusion concept, try the tako kimuchi with mango salsa (RM25), which is basically composed of small octopus marinated with kimuchi sauce (the Japanese version of kimchi) and spicy mayonnaise. The octopus is cooked perfectly – soft and tender while assiduously avoiding falling into that dreaded rubbery category. The salsa gives it a piquant kick and each mouthful offers bagfuls of flavour.
Then there is the beautifully-plated volcano roll (RM38) which incorporates salmon roe, avocado, crab meat, cucumber and a special sauce (Leow will only reveal that it includes mayonnaise and a house-made chilli sauce). The rolls offer lots of clever textural juxtaposition and a rich sauce that ties everything together beautifully.
Perhaps the undisputed hero of Hisho’s menu is the sensationally good garlic fried rice (RM12). The dish is a labour of love that took Leow ages to perfect. “I threw out so many versions, until I got all the ingredients right. I think 90% of the people who come to Hisho eat the garlic fried rice,” says Leow, his eyes betraying an unmistakeable gleam of pride.
Leow is right to be proud of his creation though, as it is deserving of the superlative “best”. Each grain of rice is distinct and velvety with garlicky bits that adhere to it like a devoted acolyte.
The salmon steak (RM45) doesn’t really seem to have any Japanese roots, but the grilled fish has a lovely crispy skin and when prodded apart, reveals a tender cherry blossom pink middle. The sauce is very creamy (perhaps a tad too creamy) but the salsa adds a nice, tangy counterpoint to the fish.
Next up, try some of the offerings from the omakase selection (RM180 for five courses, RM270 for seven courses), which changes depending on what’s in season. The omakase menu requires a minimum of two people and must be ordered 24 hours in advance.
The sashimi platter serves up all the best seasonal offerings that Japan has to offer. Hisho gets most of its seafood directly from Japanese suppliers, so expect very fresh tuna, salmon, prawns and octopus.
One of the most inventive items on the omakase menu is Leow’s carefully crafted gyoza skin with yuzu foie gras, which features foie gras marinated in yuzu for two whole months! This is one of the most sublime, unusual things you’re likely to eat anywhere – the foie gras is silken soft and supple and has sweet fruity undertones, akin to the taste of jackfruit. It’s a revelatory experience, one that speaks volumes about Leow’s abilities as a chef.
Given his success at being his own boss, one has to wonder if this is an experience Leow might perhaps like to duplicate somewhere else? Apparently, he’s all for it, and plans are already afoot for his next outlet.
“Yes, we are looking at opening another restaurant sometime this year. Which is good, because I have a lot of food sketches at home which I haven’t used anywhere. So I can use it for my next restaurant!” says Leow, with a wide smile.
Hisho Japanese Cuisine
2nd Floor, DC Mall
50490 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2011 2666
Open daily 11.30am to 3pm; 6pm to 10pm