Monday, October 15, 2012

First in Hong Kong: Sushi Shikon

(I have changed the title of this to reflect the recent change of restaurant name from Sushi Yoshitake Hong Kong to Sushi Shikon)

It's almost surreal as I walked through the familiar sliding door of Sushi Yoshitake, seeing the familiar face of Chef Masahiro Yoshitake working behind the Hinoki wood counter - after all it's hardly 6 months ago when I walked into his restaurant in Tokyo and had the most memorable dinner there. Afterwards as I reflected on that meal in my blog, I did mention I would love to go back some time, but little did I know I would actually have such an opportunity so soon, except this time the venue changed from a non-descript commercial building in the neon-lit back streets of Ginza 8-chome to a boutique hotel in a quiet corner at Hong Kong's Sheung Wan district.

A couple of months ago when I first heard that Sushi Yoshitake is opening a shop in Hong Kong, I was like, really? Would that be a case of stolen identity? Or mere coincidence? Or just one of those restaurants which a celebrity chef will lend his name to but never actively involved in the operations? Later as I confirmed that this is indeed the branch of the original, highly acclaimed restaurant, and that chef-owner Masahiro Yoshitake has made the bold move of relocating to Hong Kong to incubate this new place, I simply couldn't hide my excitement and look forward to its opening ever since. And we took on one of the earliest reservation days we could get, even before it was officially open, knowing I am being impatient as far as good food is concerned, and we have a perfect excuse to splurge for special occasion. *wink*

Masahiro Yoshitake is considered one of the top sushi chefs in Tokyo, with accolades including the most sought-after 3 Michelin stars for his namesake restaurant, awarded when the restaurant was listed in the Michelin Tokyo Red Guide for the first time in the 2012 edition. For his new Hong Kong restaurant, Yoshitake-san brought most of his team from Tokyo along with his new sous chef, Yoshiharu Kakinuma, who was trained under Yoshitake-san before moving to Atlanta 10 years ago. Kaki-san - his name in short form - is fluent in English so communications were no longer a problem. Decor is similar to the original Ginza restaurant, with the same theme of minimalist design with the elegant, pale-colored Hinoki counter that can seat 8 (which was made from a single slab of wood) being the focal point of this tiny, softly-lit space.

I am lucky to have my more-than-fair share of top-notch Japanese meals this year during my two trips to Tokyo previously so naturally my expectation was high. But at the moment I was presented with the first course I knew this was going to be up there among the best - it's a small amuse-bouche with salmon roes on top with sprinkles of yuzu zest, followed by japanese bok choy, matsutake mushrooms and yuzu jelly. "Just like the taste of autumn", quipped Kaki-san as he explained the dish to us. He can't be more right with that description - taste of the sea as represented by the salmon roe, of the field by the fresh japanese bok choy, of the land by the earthy matsutake mushroom and of the air by the refreshing yuzu, all combined to present a perfect picture of the crisp autumn day, all encapsulated inside this small, elegantly-presented earthenware dish.

Octopus is not something that we paid much attention to as long as sashimi is concerned, but this one was super tender and burst with flavors. We looked at each other in disbelief as if we have never had an octopus before. That reminded me of the movie "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" when Chef Jiro Ono-san talked about the lengthy procedure of preparing octopus - including asking an apprentice to massage the live octopus for 45 minutes to unlock its flavor and texture. Who knows - perhaps that could be the secret.

Kinmedai, which literally means golden eye snapper, was served with a light soy sauce blended with the tsume (sauce) made of its fish bones. Its freshness just shone through its opulent color and firm, smooth texture and eaten just with a light touch of the freshly-grated wasabi from Shizuoka prefecture on the chopsticks.

My eyes probably sparkled when I saw Kaki-san carefully spooned some sauce into a dish for our fourth course, as I realized what's coming next. The generously cut slices of abalone served cold with thick, dark-colored abalone liver reduction was the highlight of my last visit and the dish was still as good as what I had in mind. The course was perfectly prepared - the right texture of succulent abalone meat, combined with the intense flavors from the sauce, simply blown our minds away. This is the signature dish of the restaurant and rightly so. Charlotte nodded in agreement as she ate, after hearing me babbling about this a hundred times since I returned home from Tokyo after trying this dish.

During my first visit in March I was passed a stalk of fresh, crunchy white asparagus to mob the sauce dish of the abalone liver reduction, but this time we were given a blob of sushi rice instead. Not a bad alternative, especially given white asparagus was no longer in season this time of year - think of this as a mini risotto if you may. I nodded emphatically when Kaki-san asked whether I would like a second serving of the rice and the sauce. Hell yeah - who would say no to such an offer?

While we were still savoring the extraordinary abalone, Chef Yoshitake was busy starting the fire at the grill right behind the counter for our next dish. Skipjack tuna, aka Katsuo, was filleted, put into long metal spears, and flash grilled under fierce charcoal fire to char the skin. It was then cut into small pieces and served with a paste of mashed green scallions and ginger, and light soy sauce. I loved the combination of smoky flavor from the searing of the skin, and the intense and oily taste of the raw fish inside, and the mild kick from the scallions and ginger paste just brought all flavors together in harmony. We were also very impressed with our final sashimi dish of sea urchin, Hokkaido crab with sea cucumber roe - we were just overwhelmed by the explosion of umami flavors from various ingredients, all within the same bite.

We continued to be wowed by the nigiri sushi that followed, and they certainly stood out among all other competitions in town - if we can even call this a competition. We started off with ika (squid) which was firm and chewy with flavors. The finishing touch of salted water on top of the sushi gave the dish a shiny appearance and enhanced the subtle flavor of the squid much. That was followed by pleasantly looking (and delicious) snapper, which I forgot its exact Japanese name.

We quickly moved to high gear with a tuna "duet" - first is the agami-zuke which was lean tuna marinated in light soy sauce, and then o-toro, the fatty one which is tender, oily and with a pleasing, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Both were presented in succession and we spent no time finishing them. At Sushi Yoshitake, the rice was cooked with red vinegar in the most traditional way and served at body temperature. I think the tart flavor from that of the aged vinegar, combined with the slightly warmer rice, worked particularly well with the oily fish such as toro and various snappers. It's a perfect match.

Sanma roll with shiso is another dish that I found particularly interesting, both in terms of taste and presentation. Seasonal sanma fish (pacific saury) was laid on top of the bed of rice with aromatic shiso leaves and more fish layered inside, then it's "molded", or rolled into a log shape with plastic wrap (almost like a foie gras au torchon). Chef just cut 2 pieces from the roll and served it to us. The result is a sushi with firmer texture and more "compact" yet complex flavors - I suppose it's something like the Hako-style sushi ("box sushi"). The unique taste of shiso leaves just came right through among the slightly marinated sanma like magic and served as a great in-between courses of sushi.

The uni sushi (sea urchin) was perhaps one of the most creamiest I have tasted this year. Kaki-san was apologetic as he's struggling to keep my sushi in shape - "sorry I put too much uni on top..." - you kidding me? I don't really care even if I have to spoon the sea urchin from your wooden container directly, if you let me. It's in such a big portion that I had to eat with 2 hands. The sushi was served with a generous dollop of grated wasabi, but amazingly, the taste of the wasabi just blended right into the dish, unlike the unpleasant kick that often came with the one we usually had elsewhere (even compared to others that use the fresh wasabi, not the ones coming out of a tube).

There were several sushi courses which i didn't mention, which included kohada (gizzard shad), kobashira (small scallops), and kuruma ebi (giant shrimp). They were nothing short of perfection - I just ran out of words to describe them one by one as I was still in awe of them. Just look at the shape of the kuruma ebi sushi (pictured above) - it's like a piece of art (with wonderful taste to match)

Our final sushi course is anago (saltwater conger eel) presented in 2 ways. The whole conger eel was slow grilled above charcoal fire, then cut and split into four pieces of sushi (2 for each of us). One is seasoned with hint of yuzu zest and sansho peppers, and the other with traditional sweet glaze of eel sauce reduction. They were so irresistible that I forgot to take picture of one of them before putting that into my mouth. Ha ha!

There was only a short drink list available (typical in most sushi restaurants in Japan), but I suggest you just leave the choice to chefs' recommendations. They knew what's best to match the dishes that would be served. We had two katakuchi bowls of sake to share among us, starting from an aromatic, more intensely flavored one (which works with the heavier sashimi dishes) to the more delicate one with floral notes which worked well with the sushi. At the end of our meal, we finished with the customary tamago-yaki and miso soup, and a dessert of red bean yokan with matcha mousse.

This is hands down the best sushi restaurant in town, and certainly rivaled the best in Tokyo, with the menu price to match rightfully. But given this is the only choice in town and in case you need to satisfy your sushi cravings in between your trips to Japan, the meal absolutely worth every penny you spent. The formula for a great sushi restaurant is actually quite simple - having the best quality fish at the right time, combined with the most knowledgeable and skilled chefs. It's a mystery why Hong Kong never had something quite up to that standard before, but I am glad we do now. This is certainly an amazing evening to be remembered.

As much as we wanted to, unfortunately this can never ever be our everyday restaurant, but we definitely would love to return here some time on special occasions. Before that, I guess our real concern is, how are we going to cope with having to settle for something less in a regular sushi joint?

when? October 13, 2012
where? Sushi Shikon (formerly known as Sushi Yoshitake Hong Kong). The Mercer, 29 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong.
menu highlights? Everything. But if you must ask for the absolute best, it has to be the abalone with abalone liver sauce.
web: www.sushi-shikon.com/

If you need further reading about this new restaurant, please check out the chef's interview on HK Tatler by my friend Charmaine and the review by Lynn.

Full set of pictures can be found here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/sets/72157631776098018/

My previous visit: http://g4gary.blogspot.com/2012/03/sushi-yoshitake.html

2 comments :

Aimee Paradise said...

Great article. Love the photos you took at this restaurant, they make me hungry for sushi!

Integrated Way said...

I'm glad that Sushi Yoshitake had opened a shop in Hong Kong.It will be easy for me to taste the best of Masahiro Yoshitake's sushi and other specialties of his restaurant.Thanks for sharing an informative post.

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