Thursday, January 3, 2013

New year lunch at Nadaman

For our first meal of 2013, we headed to Nadaman, the fine-dining Japanese restaurant at the Island Shangri-la hotel. With our good share of western food in celebration of Christmas, I just thought we should get a balance by trying out how the Japanese celebrate one of their most important festivals - the New Year.

Nadaman is one of the few Japanese restaurants in town that offered a decent Kaiseki menu daily - the delicate, traditional haute-cuisine consisting of a number of specially designed courses making use of fine seasonal ingredients and with elegant presentation. And on new year's day, they offer a special lunch menu combining their normal Kaiseki offering with dishes normally found in osechi-ryori, the traditional new year cuisine. Like Chinese when we celebrate our new year (in a month's time), many Japanese osechi-ryori dishes were symbolic to auspiciousness, whether that be for prosperity, fertility, happiness, health or longevity, and apparently most of the osechi-ryori dishes were prepared in advance and served cold over the new year holidays, often in a tiered lacquer box, as I later learned.

Our table reservation was for the first seating at 11:30am so that made this an early lunch for us. It's no surprise that most of the other customers that day were local Japanese families, all dressed up and in celebration mood. We were seated at a table by the window side in one of their small dining rooms. After a complimentary glass of house sake to toast to a new year, the waitress - dressed in kimono - began to bring our food in sequence.

We couldn't help but exclaimed at the sumptuous display of our first course - it's a nicely arranged platter of small appetizer bites, most of which typical osechi dishes, served on a lacquer plate and fine bone china bowl. Abalone (or awabi) is considered auspicious in both Chinese and Japanese cultures, so it's no surprise to find a small steamed abalone served on its shell here. Herring roes (kazunoko) were said to symbolize fertility. Kuroname - sweetened black beans - is a symbol for health and hard work, and datemaki - sweet egg omelette roll - is often seen as a symbol of wisdom. Kohaku-namasu was made of marinated radish and carrot strips - with its red and white festive colors - and ours were served with salmon roes (ikura) and kelp tied in a knot, both mildly marinated in rice vinegar. And similarly the fish cakes (kamaboko) were presented in the same color scheme, while simmered shrimp (ebi) is a symbol of longevity. A cold dish of gomadofu with sea urchin (uni) with thickened dashi soy sauce served in a small bowl, and a couple pieces of rolled mackerel sushi (saba kosode sushi) completed our appetizer course. Gee, and these were only the beginning.

Our appetizer platter was quickly followed by the soup course. Ozoni is another traditional new year dish - a clear soup made with dashi and konbu, with mochi cake served with a chuck of lightly-marinated panfried chicken, shiitake mushroom, thin slice of daikon (white radish), carrots, green vegetables, and slices of yuzu peel and gold flakes. Don't let the appearance of the clear soup fooled you - it's full of flavors and combined well with the enticing citrus aroma from that of the yuzu peel. The chewy mochi cake added an interesting dimension to the texture and was delicious after soaking in the soup.

There's nothing much to write home about with our sashimi course that came next - with snapper, tuna, and yellowtail. It's decent but not spectacular. (by the way, snapper is often associated with auspicious event as well so that's why they made its way to our lunch today) The next course was a simmered dish (called Nishime) consisting of shrimp wrapped in scrambled eggs, bamboo shoot, Japanese pumpkin (ebisu kabocha), carrot (a special species known as kintoki ninjin, characterized by its deep red color), baby taro (saito imo) and sword beans - all simmered in a light thick sauce. We were most amazed at the vegetables all cut in fancy shapes - including the carrot as a plum flower petal! Impressive, and the whole dish was nicely done too - with harmonious flavors, color combination and texture.

Our grilled item of the day is grilled black cod with half-boiled eggs (known as hyotei tamago) and grilled green pepper. I love the rich flavor and texture of the black cod grilled with a light brush of miso sauce - it's just cooked to the right tenderness and good moisture within, but the egg - said to have cooked in "Hyotei-style" - was a far cry from what we had a couple months ago at the namesake Kyoto restaurant which said to have invented the dish 400 years ago. It's supposed to have just-cooked egg white and still runny egg yolk in the middle, but this one was way overcooked and underseasoned, plus I suspected it's not Japanese egg either (which I could have been wrong - not 100% sure). What a pity - otherwise it would have been a lovely main course dish.

Our final savory course is the rice and soup. The one we had is a "red and white" rice - half of the bowl was filled with regular steamed white rice (with toasted black sesame seeds), while the other half was sticky rice with red beans (azuki) known as osekihan. The rice came with the usual condiments of red miso soup and pickled vegetables. And the dessert for today was the traditional sweet soup of shiruko (red bean soup with mochi), which brought our lunch to a satisfying end.

It's the first time that we celebrated new year in Japanese style and we absolutely loved it. Maybe we should turn this into our family tradition? Or next year we may try to make our own osechi bento. Well with an auspicious lunch like this one hopefully it will bring us a propserous new year - if only that's what it takes.

For a more detailed introduction of osechi cuisine, you can check out my friend HK Epicurus' blog in which he shared his homemade osechi bento box!

And more pictures on my flickr page -

When? January 1 2013
Where? Nadaman at Island Shangri-la, Hong Kong

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