“I have a lot of guilt. I worry about not spending enough time with my kids. Last year I told my eldest who’s turning 7 that we’ll be renovating for 2 weeks this year. She’ll have our time, she can do anything she wants. She told me that she wanted to spend the day at Lake Gardens, simple. That was last year. I haven’t taken her there until now.”
Renovations are almost underway. The restaurant is only open for takeaway & delivery during MCO but it’s already abuzz at 10am. Winnie tells us about how the Japanese eatery, known for their mainly fish menu, will be upgrading their freezer.
In between multiple calls, text messages, and quick discussions with her staff, Winnie brings us back to her traditional Japanese wedding in Chiba, to her husband and co-founder who helms the eatery’s kitchen. She recounts how she met with people who sparked the “fish business” idea.
“Did you know that if you ate fish just fresh out of water, you would just taste sea water?” She tells us about Japan’s not-so-secret art of preserving fish using specific freezing methods. The key is to serve the fish right at the point where it’s “aged” nicely, just before the process of decay begins. That’s when it tastes the best. “That’s why most tuna at Japanese auctions are frozen”.
“My husband and I decided to give it a shot: get fresh fish from Japan, sell it here. Teach customers about fish, make quality fish accessible. Soon we thought we would try doing brunch sets on weekends. We couldn’t believe how popular it got. Now here we are.”
Uokatsu was conceived when Winnie was 9 months pregnant with Miyuki, her first child. She now has three children: aged 7, 3, and 9 months. Her day starts at 5am: milk duties. Then she gets the kids ready for school, everyone sits down for family breakfast, and they’re off. After school, they hang out at the restaurant where she organises colouring books, puzzles, or pancake-making sessions during off-peak hours. At the end of the day, she tucks them into bed before starting her nighttime paper work.
“That’s how I compensate for the time. My kids hang out here, and I make it fun. They get so excited when I say we’re going to the restaurant”.
Winnie used to do just about everything at her restaurant. She cooked, degutted fish, took orders, rang up the till, washed the toilet, and is, even during this interview, taking orders overs the phone. Her friend describes her mothering style as “damn efficient”. It’s clear that it also applies to the way she runs the restaurant.
“I run my restaurant and home the same way. We have washing/cleaning schedules for every type of towel, we cook the same way, and we plan our budgets the same way. My family dinners are prepped the day before. Lunches, at 6am.
The planning I need to do for my family is as such. So when people ask me why I don’t do more with Uokatsu, it hurts. Because it is a big sacrifice.
I had a miscarriage when my baby was 4 weeks old, at the restaurant. I drove myself home because my husband couldn’t, he had too many things to manage here. I called my doctor who had already suspected that I had lost the baby. I saw her the next day at 8.30am and she gave me painkillers. By 10am I was back at work. My mother felt responsible for the lost of my child because I fell at the hospital when I was checking her in. I nearly lost my mom to dengue before I lost my baby.
One day my husband asked me why I needed to put on a strong face. I told him that I was sad about losing a child, but there was nothing I could do about it. We were so busy and stressed, that we probably weren’t in the best conditions to carry a healthy baby through. I found peace in that, and choose not to blame anyone: not my mother, not the restaurant, not even myself.”
After this, Winnie took a step back at Uokatsu, and put the hard work elsewhere – her health. She changed her lifestyle, exercised, and ate healthy. Soon after, she gave birth to daughter Michiko, then baby boy Mikihito.
Winnie has avoided doing interviews thus far. She doesn’t want her or her husband to be the face of Uokatsu. The food, she says, has to speak for itself.
And speak, it does. As forerunners of specialty fish restaurants in KL, Uokatsu does its title justice with signatures like the grilled yellowtail cheek, tuna sashimi, and mentai (pollock roe) rice. Most of the dishes are prepared shioyaki style – grilled with salt – to let the ingredient shine.
“Most of our fishes are from Japan. For example, we get our mentai shipped here still in their sacs, and marinated in Japan to our specific requirements. The telltale sign of fresh mentai is its creamy orange colour when mixed with the sauce. The bright orange ones you commonly see were “harvested” a while ago.
“We’re sticklers for good ingredients, and it’s why we choose Cultiveat produce.”
Winnie Tang, Co-Owner of Uokatsu
They speak for themselves. I don’t have to dress it up with a tonne of sauce to mask its flavour. Where regular lettuce usually tastes bland, each of your lettuce has its own flavour. The Romaine has a tingling sweetness and a pleasant aftertaste. The red veggies have mild bitterness that add flavour to the salad.
When I first received your veggies, I let some of my customers take them home. They thought it was so interesting, how they’re all live plants. They tell me that it tastes like they’ve just been harvested”. And they have.
“I’m very passionate about this: ingredients speak for themselves. Just like our fish. My kids eat one meal at the restaurant everyday, that’s how much we trust our own food.”
Besides quality ingredients, Uokatsu is known for their service. The restaurant is like the couple’s home. Walk in and ask about the menu and you will be greeted with friendly, detailed explanations. Regular customers have become friends. Winnie believes in building relationships and community.
“Do right by everyone. Do it from your heart, so there is no guilt.” – Winnie Tang, Co-Owner of Uokatsu
Find Uokatsu here:
Address: B-0-7, Ground Floor Plaza Damas 3, Jalan Sri Hartamas 1, Sri Hartamas 50480 Kuala Lumpur.
Contact Number: 03-62010339 or 017-5524943 (Whatsapp)
Opening Hours: Tue – Sun, 11.30am – 2.30pm, 6pm – 9.30pm