Review: Kastero, a tasty introduction into the world of Nikkei cuisine
A restaurant in Jeddah serving exciting small plates with a Japanese-Peruvian flair…
Kastero, which opened in January, is one of the first and best examples of Nikkei food in Jeddah.
It marries traditional Peruvian ingredients with Japanese technique in the hybrid style of Nikkei cuisine, a genre that originated with the thousands of Japanese workers who immigrated to Peru at the dawn of the 19th century.
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Step inside Kastero, and you’ll find an intimate space that seats about 60. Lights are low, and the music is loud but thankfully good, catchy even.
The murals on the restaurant will be the first thing you notice – bright, bold, and ballsy. They are a testament to the restaurant’s daring cuisine.
The two-level restaurant is all about urban elegance. Circle around the dining room, and you’ll find timbre-panelled walls, artfully designed furniture, plenty of plush seating, and concrete and steel surfaces.
After a warm welcome at the reception and a walk up the staircase, we take our seats at the table by the glass balustrade. The room’s distinguishing feature is a dramatic, Tessen-like steel installation suspended over the middle of the room.
“One thing we’ve learned is that dining out these days is about the whole experience,” says Kastero’s marketing manager, Nouf.
“We wanted to create an environment where when people walk in the door, they’re transported to somewhere else. Especially during these times, it’s quite nice to give people an escape for the time they are with us.”
The chefs at Kastero have created a delicious and straightforward, if unsurprising, introduction to the pleasures of Nikkei.
The food is designed to share; served on small plates. There are 21 dishes on the soft opening menu, but the list will be fluid as the kitchen experiments with ingredients and flavours.
From the cold appetisers, the ceviche with chives, radish and black sesame seeds is a triumph. Firm, chilly pieces of seabass are slaked in a bright beetroot sauce that turns the wobbly gobbets of flesh into a heady catalyst of tanginess and punch. Yet, despite all the intense flavours, the fish is still the star of the dish.
Next, move onto the salmon tacos with homemade avocado sauce. What fun to crunch into those tacos, shattering through that shell to hit the soft flesh within. It is a luscious mix of flavours and textures: fresh, rich, slightly spiced, a tad salty.
The following dish – grilled halloumi skewer coated in sweet and savoury teriyaki sauce – is charred in spots and intensely flavoured, resulting in a sublime moment for the mouth.
For main courses, the Picante Canqrejo Crema is an incredible, full-flavoured dish with fresh crab meat, spicy cream and Sriracha mayo that makes us wish we aren’t sharing with the rest of the table. We would have liked loads more of it.
Keen to try something that’s not on the menu? Request the truffle mushroom rice. Topped with generous shavings of truffle, it is rich, creamy, and totally decadent.
If that’s not enough food for you, you can’t come to Kastero and not order their maki rolls. Try the Crispy Dragon, with shrimp tempura, asparagus, unagi and Japanese mayonnaise – it’s got a lovely crunch on the outside, which compliments the whole roll.
The mango lobster maki is heaven on a plate. It’s hard to go wrong with the spicy lobster-avocado-mango-tobiko combo, but Kastero certainly does it right.
Though we didn’t have a chance to try it (it’s unavailable when we’re there), those looking for a true Nikkei flavour should order the tiradito, a combination of sashimi and ceviche that perhaps best encapsulates this unique cuisine.
Kastero may be something new for Jeddah, but thanks to our natural openness to global cuisine, it feels right at home here. Nikkei cuisine has its own character, and it’s great to see a restaurant that’s committed to developing a distinctive identity.
Safe to say, Kastero has it down pat…
Kastero, Etoile Centre, Al Zahra, Jeddah 23424, daily 9pm to 3am. Tel: 056 446 6667. @kastero.sa