Monday, June 9, 2014

The Most Expensive Lunch at Sushi Shikon

We started our Dragon Boat Festival long weekend with a lunch at Sushi Shikon, for an overdue return visit to what we think is the best Japanese restaurant in town. It's almost 2 years ago since we last came before it officially opened, and this time we managed to convince 2 of our other friends to join us, assuring them a meal like this is an enlightening experience and well worth spending "a little more than usual". Okay, not just "a little"; in fact it's probably the most expensive lunch I have ever had.

The restaurant started offering lunch service late last year in addition to their regular 2 evening dinner seatings, with the condition that there's at least 4 people on the booking party. Their lunch omakase menu is essentially a simplified version to that of the dinner's, with 2 otsumami/appetizer courses, followed by 12 sushi pieces, then soup and dessert (the dinner features more appetizers and sashimi and a little bit less sushi)

Head Chef Yoshiharu Kakinuma - or Kaki as he's known - was ready for us as we walked in and settled down at our seats, on one end of the 8-seater hinoki wooden counter, which was shared by another group of customers on the other end. I was very glad to meet Kaki-san again, as he served us an amazing dinner last time.

We started with an appetizer served in a little bowl. Inside, on top it was konoko (sea cucumber roes) in its typical bright saffron color along with a large strip of the leg of kegani (Japanese hairy crabs from Hokkaido), and at the bottom, more crab meat and mozuku (sea weed) soaked in vinegar. I loved the balanced flavor of the whole dish, with every bit of umami sensations coming out of the sea cucumber roes, which were considered a delicacy in Japanese cuisine.

Our second appetizer was tako (octopus) served with wasabi and pickled vegetables on the side. It's intensely tender and rich, and I was very impressed that Kaki-san managed to improve upon the already excellent version we had the last time. We were given the thicker part of the tentacles, and dare I say this is probably even better than the one served by Kaki-san's master Chef Masahiro Yoshitake when I was at his restaurant in Ginza a couple months ago.

As we were enjoying the appetizers, Kaki-san started to prepare the ingredients for the nigiri sushi. First up was Akamutsu (also known as Nodoguro which in English is called blackthroat seaperch) from the nearby Shizuoka Prefecture which was marinated in a light ponzu sauce and has a fatty texture and mild taste, followed by the trio of tuna - akamai-zuke (marinated lean tuna), chu-toro (medium fatty tuna) and o-toro (fatty tuna). There was a tiny bit of sinew - almost unnoticeable and just made me chew a few more times - on the side of my chu-toro piece, and other than that all of them were actually excellent. The o-toro had just the right fattiness which didn't leave me with a super oily aftertaste, and with good portion too - it's one of my favorites of the afternoon. 

Kaki-san then brought out a sushi roll that was made in advance and cut a piece for each of us. On top is a lightly-cured barracuda fish, and the shari (vinegared rice) was rolled with kinome, the young leaves of sansho pepper, sesame and plum sauce in the middle. The kinome left us with an interesting aromatic after-taste which reminds us of lemongrass. This was followed by the seasonal and tasty kisu (whiting), which was delicate and refreshing with a slight hint of konbu in which the fish was marinated on.

We then moved on with two types of shellfish. The shiny and thick torigai (giant cockles) sat beautifully on top of the rice, and it was crunchy and sweet, working perfectly well with the tartness of the akasu (red vinegar) infused rice, as in typical edomae sushi style. Awabi (abalone) is no doubt the signature dish and my all-time favorite here, and for lunch, instead of the whole piece of abalone as it's normally served during dinner, we had the nigiri sushi with the abalone thinly sliced (mostly of the trim area) and topped with wasabi and the liver sauce. Not as big a wow factor as the dinner pieces, but still, the abalone liver sauce was to die for.

The uni sushi was almost as amazing as the one I had at Sushi Yoshitake in March. Both Bafun uni and Kita Murasaki uni - both from Hokkaido - were sumptuously piled on top of the gunkan-style sushi. The distinguishable different tastes of the sweeter bafun uni and the richer kita murasaki uni combined was heavenly.

The final 3 sushi pieces were kuruma ebi (giant shrimp), anago (sea eel) and a toro-cucumber maki roll, and they were all very decent, especially the anago which was served hot right after steaming (in bamboo leaves?). It was soft and creamy. We finished with the traditional castella egg (made very sweet almost like a real honey sponge cake), miso soup (with a clean flavor from the fish-based broth being used) and the beautiful dessert of orange kanten (with the jelly poured into a hollowed orange and cut into "slices")

As I have stocked up a few bottles of sakes from my recent Japan trips, I brought one to share at lunch. The Kuheiji Kurodasho ni Umarete from the famous Banjou Jozo brewery in Nagoya was perhaps the one I was most eager to check out. I asked the sake be served in white wine glasses and only slightly chilled, as recommended by the brewmaster. This is a seasonal release (a junmai daiginjo with rice milling ratio of 50%) which came out to market once a year in March/April using rice grown in single origin from the preceding harvest (so this is a 2013 vintage) - on the label there's 2 sets of number indicating the longitude and latitude of the field they owned and grew the rice on. It's a fragrant sake with a wine-like citrusy nose and slightly sweet on the palate with focused rice taste. This bottle was not particularly powerful per se, which I think worked well with the delicate fish without overwhelming the food, and the palatable acidity slowly came out towards the end of the meal, after we have opened the bottle for an hour or so.

As this lunch came after several superb sushi meals I have had in the past couple of months in Tokyo (and Hong Kong), I couldn't help to make a comparison between them. And my verdict? This is clearly still the best in town, and possibly anywhere outside of Japan. And given the price they are charging, I didn't expect anything less, and Kaki-san managed to deliver up to that expectation. I loved his selection of the ingredients, mixing up with the predictable choices with some seasonal ones, and it's evident he grew in confidence since we last saw him, commanded behind the counter with just the right pace of serving and excellent skills. I could easily see why the place won the heart of so many, joining the rank of only a handful sushi restaurants outside of Japan receiving the highest honor with 3 stars at the recent Michelin Guide. We will definitely return some time - Kaki-san, just wait for us to save up for it.

More pictures on my Flickr page:

When? May 31 2014
Where? Sushi Shikon, The Mercer Hotel, 29 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? All!
Drink? Kuheiji Kurodasho ni Umarete 2013 - Banjou Jozo Brewery, Aichi Prefecture
醸し人九平次 純米大吟醸 黒田庄に生まれて(2013) - 愛知県 萬乗醸造

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