Sunday, July 8, 2018

Haku's Hat Trick

I was at Haku a few weeks ago to check out the new seasonal menu introduced by Chef Agustin Balbi. I ate at the restaurant a couple of times before (Meal #1 and #2) and enjoyed Chef Agustin’s unique cooking style with well-chosen ingredients, and I was curious to see how the restaurant and the dishes have evolved 12 months on since its opening at a cozy corner inside Harbour City shopping mall.

Four of us took up the seats at one side of the counter in front of the open kitchen, and soon, almost all the counter seats were filled up by customers that came in after we did. That’s impressive given Monday is considered a slower day for restaurant business. Not much has changed in terms of d├ęcor and set-up that resembled a Japanese kappou restaurant, and in front of us was the menu written only with a map of Japan indicating which ingredients were used and where they were from. Most of the dishes were prepared in the open kitchen right in front of us with Chef Agustin and his team working tirelessly throughout the evening. With the struggle Argentina team faces in the preliminary round of World Cup, we joked that we probably shouldn’t mention the games this evening in front of the Argentina-born chef for fear of getting poisoned, and I must say the dishes we had were all right on target, unlike that Lionel Messi missed spot kick.

With glasses of champagne poured for us, we began with a few small plates served in quick succession as “welcome snacks”, presented in a similar way as Hassun course of a proper Kaiseki menu. In a bamboo plate was a small piece of Okonomiyaki done “Haku style”, then oyster with passionfruit granita, the crispy carrot “cone” with pike roes and smooth yolk filling, and in a small cup was the tomorokoshi (or sweet corns) served as chilled soup. I love the plump and creamy oyster (with mild briny flavor) matching with the sweet passion fruit granita, but my favorite was definitely the soup, refreshing and full of the sweetness from the corn.

The presentation of the sashimi course was cute with each items served in small lidded porcelain bowl that one must open one by one to reveal what they were. The sashimi was very rich in seasonings with some interesting combination of ingredients, of which I like the bowl of mizu-ika (big-fin reef squid) most with the soft slices of squid paired with smoked soy sauce “pearls” and tiny kinome leaves on top.

We were told that most items on the menu have changed since our last visit, except our next course of uni and brioche, which has become Chef Agustin’s signature dish of sort. This time, Murasaki Uni was used instead of Bafun variety and they were slightly cured, so there’s this outburst of mellow umami flavor highlighted by the hint of saltiness once you put it into your mouth.

A few other dishes were then served in tasting portion to complete our menu. I love how the octopus was cooked (grilled open-fire) and the sauce (chicken broth reduction using wings) that came with it, but I wasn’t so sure about the sides of peas and maitake… somehow I thought it’s a bit too mild to match. Maybe a toss on the saute pan with butter or smoking to turn up a notch in flavor? Otherwise the octopus was great with the giant, tender tentacles. The isaki (chicken grunt fish) is right in season this time, and our small piece of grilled fillet was gorgeous, with perfectly crisped skin, and served with a baked fingerling potato from Hokkaido, ham and cured kombu, plus a creamy leek sauce. Nozaki-gyu was used for our beef course, using the meat from a top farm in Kagoshima Prefecture. It was grilled slow on top of charcoal and finished at a higher temperature for the crispy and tasty crust. And on the side, it was a piece of ox-tongue – slow cooked for the soft, tender texture, baby corns, Humita puree and jus reduction. It tasted great with everything mixed together – I especially like the baby corns matching the meat, adding some crunchy texture and hint of sweetness to it.

Our last savory course was eye-opening and I thought it’s the best representation of Haku’s unique food style. Inside the lidded bowl was rice served with a piece of chicken, scallions and rich chicken broth made using Chosyu Kurokashiwa chicken from Yamaguchi Prefecture. It reminded me of the traditional Japanese chazuke or the rice course that may be served at the end of say, a Yakitori dinner, but Chef Agustin told us the dish was actually inspired by Caldoso, a “brothy rice” that he grew up eating at home in Argentina. It’s delicious, comforting and cleverly done – 100% contemporary Japanese style while applying chef’s own style and techniques, drawing inspirations from different cuisines. The details was really in the broth. 

We finished with two desserts, both prepared using seasonal fruits – starting with Miyazaki Taiyo-no-Tamago mango compote and chunks served with milk icecream, and then Hakuhou white peach in 3 ways: espuma, granita and jam. First one was super sweet and creamy, and the second one refreshing. Third time I am here and I enjoyed every one of them – so can I call this a hat trick in the spirit of football? 

(Dinner was by invitation and you may fine more photos here: www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/albums/72157698390252235)

When? June 25 2018
Where? HAKU, Shop OT G04B, Ground Floor Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, Tsimshatsui, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Chosyu Kurokashiwa Chicken Rice Caldoso
Drink?
Champagne Duval-Leroy Fleur de Champagne Brut Premier Cru NV
2016 Pikes Wines "Traditionale" Riesling, Clare Valley Australia
2011 Domaine de Bargylus Grand Vin de Syrie Blanc, Latakia Syria
2015 Familia Zuccardi "Concreto" Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina
Web: www.haku.com.hk



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