Monday, October 13, 2014

Dragon in the Sky - Birthday Dinner at Ryugin

We don't know why we haven't set foot in Ryugin before - both the original restaurant in Tokyo and their Hong Kong branch (called Tenku Ryugin) - but we this year decided to come to visit to celebrate my birthday on the weekend before the actual day. Since I was born in the Year of the Dragon, and the name of the restaurant, Tenku Ryugin, literally meant "Dragon in the Sky" in Japanese, it just seemed to be a somewhat fitting venue for the occasion (or just a lame excuse to finally check it out)

The on-going Occupy Central protests created a slight inconvenience to our travel plan but that just meant we needed to leave home a bit earlier and hopped on to the MTR train instead of taxi. Not that we really mind. Turned out we even arrived on time for a quick scroll in the shopping mall downstairs before taking the elevator up to 101st Floor of the ICC building, where the restaurant was located. The restaurant is part of the Sky Dining 101 complex, sharing the floor with two other restaurants, Dragon Seal serving Chinese cuisine, and Inakaya, another Japanese restaurant that I had tried last year.

We were seated at the far end of the restaurant with windows on both sides - one with the view of the west side Hong Kong Island, and another the view of West Kowloon all the way to the magnificent Stonecutter Bridge as the backdrop. We were the first group of customers to arrive and soon the dining room was filled. As we settled down, the waiter came to explain to us the menu of the evening, which was a 10-course seasonal omakase menu, and checked once again whether we had any food preference/allergy.

"Watari" crab salad under chrysanthemum flowers
We began with a beautifully-presented first course, the "Watari" crab salad under chrysanthemum flowers.  Shredded blue swimmer crab from Tokushima was served in a shallow katakuchi bowl with edible chrysanthemum flowers, pickled cucumbers, okra and yuzu zest on top, and covered with a thin layer of ponzu jelly. It was refreshing, well-balanced, detailed, and served as a lovely introduction of seasonal ingredients of the Fall menu.

"Enter the Autumn Forest" - Simmered Abalone, mushrooms, pine nuts on hot egg custard
The light first course then made a turn into some richer in the next course. "Enter the Autumn Forest", as the menu described, was a chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) with a medley of mushrooms and vegetables, toasted pine nuts and a simmered abalone piece. I love the combination of flavors of the perfectly cooked egg custard, the smokey flavors coming from both the mushrooms and especially the pine nuts, and of course, the tender abalone. Amazingly beautiful and delicious, just as the rest of the dinner but this was certainly my favorite of the evening.

Poached Gilladeau oyster wrapped with shabu-shabu wagyu beef and grated celeriac jelly
The next course was a somewhat interesting combination - slightly poached Gillardeau oyster was served wrapped in thin slices of barely-cooked wagyu beef, with celeriac jelly and finely-diced chives on top, served in an oyster shell. I personally quite enjoyed this unusual surf-and-turf pairing with the rich marbled beef going head to head with the strong sea-water/umami taste of the oyster (and balanced by the slightly acidic jelly), but C seems to think the combination was too strange to her liking.

"Flavor of Autumn" - Charcoal-grilled Matsutake Mushroom in Ichibandashi Soup
Another ingredient that comes prominently in any seasonal menu at this time of the year would be Matsutake mushroom, and this evening, it's grilled in charcoal and served in "Ichibandashi" soup. It looked simple enough, with just 2 pieces of mushrooms (with the stem) and the clear consomme served in the lidded lacquer bowl. But it's amazingly aromatic (from that of the mushrooms) and tasty - a light squeeze of sudachi served on the side did augment the entire dish to the next level of deliciousness.

Assortment of Sashimi
If I have to pick one course that I was slightly disappointed in, it would probably be the assortment of sashimi which came after our soup course. It's said to be based on seasonal selection, and the ones we had that evening was Hirame (Flounder), Katsuo (Skipjack Tuna) and Tako (Octopus). The Hirame was not exactly a high-end choice of fish and the one we had lacked flavor and was a bit sinewy (I was secretly hoping for Naruto-tai instead, a specialty in Tokushima region, given the head chef's tie to the area) The Katsuo was done the traditional way tataki style - flashed grilled with straw fire - giving it a crispy skin and raw meat inside. I liked the firm texture of the meat and the hint of smoke, but I very much preferred a more citrusy, lighter soy sauce to go with the fish, instead of sharing the same rich soy sauce as the lighter-flavored Hirame. Whoever designed the menu was a bit sloppy with this. The octopus was said to be slow-cooked for over 2 hours, but let's just say I have had better one elsewhere - this one just wasn't tender enough and was a bit ordinary.

Slow-cooked Blue Bloster and selection of vegetables with "Manganji" pepper-flavored sauce
Large eel grilled over Binchotan charcoal

Ikura and Kobashira on steamed rice
We moved onto a few more courses that were more substantial. The blue lobster was served in a broth-like sauce infused with Manganji-pepper flavors with an assortment of vegetables collectively known as Kyoyasai, or Kyoto Vegetables. The light sauce mixed with grated daikon on top was great.
Then it's the middle part of eel grilled Kansai style with a generous basting of tare sauce and served with sansho sprouts on top, then wasabi and sansho pepper powder on the side - I did like the firm texture of the eel and it's definitely the best I have tried in town. Our last savory course was the steamed rice, served with ikura (salmon roes) and kobashira (small scallops), pickled vegetables and a small cup of miso soup. Guess I am more used to rice served cooler (like closer to human body temperature) for a dish like that but this version was alright. Both ikura and kobashira was only lightly seasoned so they didn't overwhelm each other.

-196C Apple Candy and +99C Apple Jam
The "-196C to 99C" dessert was the signature dish of Ryugin - essentially mixing 2 different ways of preparing the same ingredient, one flash frozen to powder form using liquid nitrogen (-196C) and one cooked in heat (96C). The one we had was made using apple - with the frozen apple powder encapsulated in an apple-shaped sugar sphere, which was cracked open and with hot apple jam poured on and mixed at the table. I appreciate the playful part of mixing up different textures and the apples were sweet and tasty without being mushy.

"Kyoho" grapes and "Nashi" Calpis jelly, sense of sudachi and shiso flower
Second dessert was Kyoho grape jelly with Calpis foam and Nashi pear, with a sense of sudachi and shiso flower. I had high expectation of the dish given I love both Kyoho grape and Calpis, a popular Japanese yoghurt drink, but it turned out not as special as I thought it would be. It's still very decent though, just that there's not much of a surprise factor.

I was quite amazed the restaurant offered a more extensive wine list than a sake list, but at the end we were able to find a bottle of sake we liked (and reasonably priced). We had another bottle from the same brewery just a few days ago but this one, the Kuheiji "Eau du Desir" Junmai Daiginjo 2012, has an even higher polishing ratio (35%) and richer body. Hint of apple aroma and orange zest, and definitely towards Karakuchi, even more so than the one we had previously. I quite love the matching of the sake with the menu tonight, which in general tasted quite rich.

As we finished up our wine just before desserts, I asked whether they could bring us some tea. Then they served us two types - first was a cup of lighter sencha green tea, cold-brewed then mixed with hot water before serving giving this a very clean taste, followed by the richer matcha, properly prepared and served in the traditional deep bowl. Both were delightful.

Overall the service was excellent, they paced the meal very well and we enjoyed our evening tremendously from start to finish. Someone mentioned before one of the cardinal rules of restaurants-going is that, the better the view, the worse its food. This may hold true in many occasions, but you can tick Tenku Ryugin as one of the exceptions. I would be curious to try out their spring or summer menu when it came to that part of year.

Full photo album on flickr:

When? October 11 2014
Where? Tenku Ryugin, Sky Dining 101, International Commerce Centre, 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon
Menu Highlights? Simmered Abalone, Mushrooms, Pine Nuts on hot egg custard
Wine? Kuheiji Betsuatsurae "Eau du Desir" Junmai Daiginjo 2012 (醸し人九平次 純米大吟醸 別誂 BY24)

1 comment :

Peech said...

I've never had a bad meal here.