Hong Kong: Wagyu Kaiseki Den

Elisa:

In a culture whose gastronomic creations are already one of the most aesthetically handsome in the world, Kaiseki is the most elegant form of Japanese cuisine. It is the highest form of culinary art that respects tradition and formality to a minute degree, yet with a playful but strict focus on the balance of freshness, colour, textures and flavours.
Wagyu Kaiseki Den is helmed by Chef Hiroyuki Saotome, a veteran of Nobu in Paris and London, and Japan’s Ginza Kyubey and Waketokuyama. In 2010, it became the first Hong Kong Japanese restaurant to be honoured a Michelin star by both the Hong Kong and Macau guide. However, if street-side ramen or dim sum joints can common hours-long queues, this Shueng Wan secret hideout definitely deserves greater accolades than just a few glowing press clippings to acknowledge its arrangement, beauty and dedication that fuels the restaurant’s steady rhythm every night. Yet, it radiates a certain kind of exclusivity which probably explains why the applauses have come from insiders rather than the mass market.
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Firstly, it is located in Central Park Hotel on the quieter end of Hollywood Road. Behind an unassuming entrance, there is an imposing, immovable front door that opens only by a switch. Once inside, a dimly-lit staircase leads you upstairs to two main dining areas – the sushi bar that sits only eight diners, and two private rooms that each seat ten diners comfortably. But indeed, do demand a seat at the bar, or at least try too, so that you can experience what must be the gold standard of open kitchens and gaze in awe at the technical wizardry of each master chef. The rest of the décor is simple and not at all ostentatious.
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And then there is a HK$1,880 per person Kaiseki menu that is served only once a day – 7pm or later. The ingredients for each night’s culinary art arrive at 6pm daily, just an hour before patrons start arriving. Hence, the menu varies daily based on what has hit the shore. What’s more, the ingredients are bought to feed just the exact number of reservations each day – no more no less. There are no leftovers, and little stored in the refrigerator.

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Our appetizer course consisted of Cold Beancurd with Sea Urchin, Wasabi, Okura & Sweet Corn Soup. This was a play on both texture and temperature. The smooth beancurd boasts several distinct layers that tickles your taste buds with each “slurp”. The sea urchin was sweet and fresh, almost briny like the sea. And the wasabi added a wonderful flavor contrast that cuts through all that sweetness. The corn soup on the other hand, was warm and comforting.
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Moving on, Braised Lobster, Snap pea, Stem of Taro, Kinome Herb with Ginger Sauce. The bright red lobster was cooked perfectly. It had a slight bite to it, yet not overly chewy but instead soft and springy. The other components of the dish complemented the star ingredient suitably, bringing out the sweetness of the lobster and providing textural contrast that heightens the dish to the next level.
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Pike Eel, Water Shield, Plum, French bean with Yuzu Citrus Clear Soup. Comforting. But what sets this soup apart from other typical Japanese soups is the use of yuzu that makes the soup just more refreshing and light.
Chef Selection Sashimi boasts a prime selection, which probably explains why I got too carried away and had forgotten to snap a photo 😦 I remembered we had chu-toro that melts in your mouth almost like an otoro. And then there was the abalone that was so fresh it was not even chewy. And then there was the fluke whose flavor was so clean and subtle. Every piece of fish was plated beautifully and artistically, shining like a radiant star in your mouth in its own distinct ways.
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Grilled Ayu Fish. This was probably the least exciting dish of the night. Decent nonetheless.
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Eel with Sticky Rice, Fried Eggplant stuffed with Minced Shrimp & Sweet Egg. They had initially forgotten to serve us this dish until my Mum realized it when she was reading the menu. But of course, we forgive them, given that this dish, and everything else before and after, was absolutely divine and nothing shy from just creativity, innovation and genius. I absolutely loved how the sweet eel drowned in its sauce paired well with the sticky rice, a change from the traditional sushi rice. The sticky rice was almost like a glutinous rice, just maybe about 5 times sweeter and less savoury. The eggplant seemed as if it had just came out of the fryer – crunchy, yet not at all greasy –, encompassing in it a substantial filling of minced shrimp that was flavourful and this time, savoury. Lastly, the sweet egg. This isn’t a Tamgo. I wouldn’t call it that. Instead, it’s an egg cake that is almost dessert like. You see the different colours? Golden brown caramelized sides and a bright yellow inside. There are no layers, just one extremely sweet spongy-castella-like cake that is so airy and fluffy. It sinks right into your teeth, and is slightly moist. Once you’ve tried this, you’ll never look at Tamogo the same way ever again.
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Taraba Crab Meat Cold Shabu Shabu with Maitake Mushroom, Spring Onion in Vinegar. This was almost like a palate cleanser, to prepare us for the next big dish. Well, what’s better of lumps of crab that is just so sweet and juicy and just so fresh? Nothing, and that’s that.
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And then there was the Charcoal Grilled Wagyu Tenderloin & Sirloin sourced from Kagoshima. The beef is so marbled – red meat and white fat bleeding into each other. What’s significant about this dish is not about the flavours, but instead, the sublime texture that is unique to just this. The fat thrills across the palate like a cold shiver, making you distance yourself from reality and just concentrate on its richness as the sensation fades. It melts in your mouth instantly, just like that, and it’s like it never existed, leaving you yearning for more. But fret not you still have several pieces of Wagyu to go, with each piece equally thick and succulent. Indeed, Chef Saotome ensures that you get the best of everything. What is absolutely commendable is that grilled vegetables are served on the side, balancing the richness from the beef and allowing you to take a break till the next course. It definitely goes to show how much thought process Chef Saotome and his team puts into every dish, ensuring not only balance in each dish, but also making sure that the menu as a whole flows smoothly.
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Then there was the famous dish of Sea Urchin, Crab Meat with Truffle Rice, and there’s no gratification quite so deliberate as when you put sea urchin, truffle, and dollops of caviar together in a bowl. It is most impressive when it first arrives, in a claypot where the rice is cooked till crispy and crunchy, and the aroma of black truffle hitting you as soon as the lid is lifted.  It is indeed showy, with generous slices of truffle shaved on top, and it is deceptively simple. After all, it is just claypot rice with majestic ingredients. Yet, this dish is all about complex flavours – the smoky rice, the sweet yet briny sea urchin, the fresh juicy crab, and the woody truffle that completes this delectable creation.
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Last but not least, Wasanbon Warabi Mochi Cake.
Do not be intimidated by the price tag as you will be presented with just the best. Toro, Uni, Wagyu, Truffle, what more to yearn? It’s definitely worth every penny. Come here with an open mind and empty stomach as you indulge in ingredients that take turn to impress your tongue and a range of flavors that burst within a matter of seconds. Indeed, Wagyu Kaiseki Den has proven that it entails more than just exclusivity that sets it apart from the stacks of others that take gastronomic cues from Japan. It is a celebration of the highest culinary art, a celebration that is both posh, yet respectful of the tradition and humble at the same time.
Wagyu Kaiseki Den 
263 Hollywood Rd
Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2851 2820
http://www.wagyukaisekiden.com.hk
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This entry was posted in Dinner, Hong Kong, Japanese, Travel to eat! :) and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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