Monday, October 16, 2017

Sukiyaki at the Counter

It’s my fault that I had to rush across the harbor to make my 6:30pm reservation at Sukiyaki Mori, but I was glad I made it right on time (okay, I was more like 15 minutes late) at the doorstep of this new restaurant at the junction of Elgin and Hollywood. I couldn’t recall any other restaurant specializes in sukiyaki in town, and being meat lovers as ourselves, we were eager to check it out.

The interior was cozy and tastefully done, with tables near the front and on the side, and closer to the back was the L-shaped counter with the open kitchen. The dim lighting also made the place extremely comfortable. We were happy to be seated at the counter so we had the chance to see up close as the chef prepared our meal in front of us. It took us 10 seconds to decide on picking the sukiyaki set with wagyu – no-brainer really since it’s their specialty.

We began with the appetizer platter, whilst Chef Nakaya Mori began to prepare the ingredients for our sukiyaki main course. A few seasonal vegetables were arranged in a lovely presentation, including matsutake and maitake mushrooms, pumpkins, eggplant, gingko and baby potatoes. What a perfect taste of early autumn to start our feast with. It’s followed by the warm chawanmushi (steamed egg custard served in a tea cup). The egg custard was silky, delicate and soft, with amazing umami flavor from the dashi, picked crab meat and mozuku seaweed on top.

Meanwhile Chef Mori-san carefully took out various parts of the thinly-sliced beef from the hinoki boxes and arranged on a big round plate in an almost ceremonious manner. Then with the other vegetables and side dishes placed on another wooden box and the nambu tekki skillet placed on the stove in front of us, Chef Mori began prepared our sukiyaki feast. To me observing the preparation by Mori-san was already half the pleasure as it’s like a performance seeing him first oiling the skillet carefully with the cow fat, then putting the ingredients into the skillet in particular order and position, flipping and turning until they were ready, and placed them into the small wooden bowl and presented to us.

Our first bowl was simply leeks and ribeye beef. The restaurant sources various type of wagyu beef from different part of Japan, and Chef Mori-san told us tonight it’s the Omi Beef that was served. Well only a few months ago we were at Shiga Prefecture, where Omi Beef came from, so we were pretty familiar with the area and their excellent meat (known as one of the Top 3 wagyu breeds in Japan) The beef was prepared with a drizzle of the special sauce and a light sprinkle of sugar, so all we needed to do was to dip the beef briefly into the egg wash. The meat was soft with well-balanced and marbled fat and the slices were cooked just perfectly.

Then it’s a mix of vegetables – with Chinese cabbage, firm tofu, fu (wheat gluten) and shiitake mushrooms – cooked on the same skillet. After that another round of beef was served, this time the sirloin cut with konnyaku (konjac jelly) and shungiku vegetable (garland chrysanthemum leaves). The sirloin was probably leaner (only slightly) but with a richer meaty flavor. Then it’s a shoulder cut with a firmer texture, served in two rounds – one with leeks, and one with mitsuba (Japanese honewort). In between there were also Shirataki (yam noodles) and onions, all well-cooked and served in the right pace.

We finished with the bowl of rice topped with scrambled eggs and bits of beef which took in all the flavor from the skillet, plus pickles and soup, as per the tradition. We were pretty full by then (after so many courses of beef) but it was so tasty I kind of regretted not asking for an encore. Dessert was another beauty – with the creamy panna cotta topped with the seasonal pears and a matcha warabimochi.

I thought this is one of the most enjoyable dining experience I had in recent times, despite me having to rush so I could make the dinner. Everything was outstanding – the ambiance, the ingredients, the theatrics of watching Mori-san cooked with such flair, the well-attended service by the staff, and the decent sake (the simple, extra-dry junmai ginjo works just fine for the meat dishes) And for them to deliver these in such good value is unreal. We are so glad there’s finally a place in town that does it right. This is probably the one blog post I was so reluctant to post, because I simply wanted to keep this place to myself.

When? September 30 2017
Where? Sukiyaki Mori, 66 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Sukiyaki with Omi Beef
Drinks? Hatsumago Inaho Kimoto Junmai Ginjo - Tohoku Meijou, Yamagata Prefecture
初孫 いなほ生酛純米吟釀 - 山形県東北銘醸

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