Saturday, May 23, 2015

Countertop Fine Dining at Wagyu Takumi

Wagyu Takumi was one of the restaurants in town that I have always wanted to try but never came around to, so this time we made a conscious effort to come check it out as part of the birthday celebration for my wife. The restaurant is part of the restaurant complex which also houses Gin Sai and Rozan in a quiet Wanchai neighborhood, with a rather discreet entrance located on the side street.

We were the final group of customers to arrive that evening, taking up the last 2 spots at the L-shaped communal countertop table in front of the open kitchen. Seating was a bit packed but not to the point of being uncomfortable - at least better than the other restaurant in town having a similar setting. Behind the counter was Chef Mitsuro Konishi, his two assistants, and possibly one or two more line cooks at the back kitchen helping with some of the courses. Like many Japanese chefs making a name for themselves in western cooking, Chef Konishi was trained both in France and Japan and known for the skills to combine classic French cooking using fine Japanese food ingredients.

The tasting menu we had was part of the special Le French Gourmay menu for this month, featuring food from the French Midi-Pyrenees region. We began with a trio of the beautifully presented small bites of amuse-bouche served in a long ceramic plate. The lobster jelly with Hokkaido uni and fennel cream has become a bit of a cliche these days but this one was still very much enjoyable. (The subtle yet refreshing fennel aroma in the cream was done just right) Likewise for the mini foie-gras "sandwich" with apple jelly on top and the pea tartlet with sweet caramelized onion puree - predictable but tasty.

French White Asparagus Salad with Honey Vinaigrette and Asparagus Ice Powder
First dish was a beautiful salad course. The seasonal white asparagus was steamed, shaved and served chilled like a roll "stuffed" with musclun in the middle mixed with honey vinaigrette. Underneath was flash-frozen asparagus powder, with sprinkles of edible flower and gold leaf on top. Presentation was gorgeous and the taste was interesting, with the strong floral honey flavor complementing the clean and crisp white asparagus taste very well.

Morel Mushroom etuvee with Foie Gras Royale and Parsley Foam

Abalone and Shimanto Seaweed with Barley Risotto
Next 2 courses were both rich in flavors, starting with a bowl of morel mushroom etuvee with foie gras royale - like a chawanmushi with steamed foie gras - and topped with edamame, parmesan crisps and parsley foam. That was followed by pan-seared abalone with barley risotto, Shimanto seaweed, and celery foam. The abalone was slow-cooked then finished on the grill in front of us carefully by Chef Konishi. We were more used to the delicate flavor of abalone (as in Chinese cooking) but this one added a dimension of rustic smokiness with a chewy bite, which interestingly worked well with the barley risotto cooked "al dente" with a rich broth. The celery foam, and to a lesser extent the Shimanto seaweed which was mixed in the risotto, gave a hint of clean, grassy taste to balance out the rustic tone from that of the abalone.

Pan-fried Japanese Sea Perch Fish with Basil flavored Vegetable Bouillon
I liked the arrangement of a lighter seafood dish in between the abalone and our main courses - just to tune down a little bit of the overall richness and worked as a "palate cleanser" of some sort. The blackthroat seaperch - or nodoguro - from Nagasaki was filleted and pan-fried, then served with an herbaceous vegetable bouillon. The rich bouillon made with root vegetables and infused with basil was brilliant and the skin of the nodoguro was seared perfectly crisp.

Roasted French Pyrenees Baby Lamb and Barbajuan of Breast with Caramelized Onions

Charcoal grilled Kagoshima Wagyu Tenderloin and Wagyu Beef Tartar with "Monaka" Biscuit
Main course was a choice between the Pyrenees baby lamb done 3 ways or the Kagoshima beef. We picked one of each and got to try a bit of both. Both the rack and saddle of the baby lamb was tender with mild gamey flavor and the dish was accompanied with small barbajuan of lamb breast and goat cheese. Similarly, the Kagoshima beef was done 2 ways - tenderloin was grilled over charcoal and beef tartar was served over charred hollandaise sauce and with a piece of "monaka" biscuit underneath. On the side was fried garlic slices, romaine heart and condiments. Reminded me of a typical course in teppenyaki cuisine except this is more refined. The beef tenderloin taken in all the smokey flavor in low charcoal heat and inside was uniformly cooked and juicy.

Macedonia Fruit with Cream Cheese and Rosemary Espuma
Nothing to write home about the bread - more of retail bakery quality - but the smoked sea salt butter that went along was very nice - that's about the only motivation for me to reach out for more bread in between courses. I was also a bit disappointed by the dessert courses towards the end - they didn't taste bad but I thought there was definitely potential for further improvement. Making a choice of cheese or a cheesy pre-dessert I picked the latter for the course after our mains. It's not bad, but just very predictable from a Japanese chef doing French cuisine for a dish with very light cream cheese coupled with sweet fruits in the form of coulis at the bottom and a rosemary espuma on top.

Hazelnut Creme Brulee with Lemon Sauce and Milk Ice Cream
And I wasn't a big fan of the dessert, the final course of the evening which was the hazelnut creme brulee with lemon sauce and milk ice cream. The texture of the hazelnut creme brulee was a bit off - I was expecting something creamier and softer but this one was rough with bits of nuts without much flavor which was so uncharacteristic of hazelnuts. (the caramelized sugar crust on top was very good though) And the whole combination of milk icecream contrasted with racy acidity in the lemon sauce and the nuttiness from the quenelle of granola "thing" in the background plus the hazelnut creme brulee didn't sound (or taste) all too convincing to me. But the petit fours which came right after was the saving grace - the macarons, marshmallows and caneles were all very delicious.

We started with a white wine picked from the wine list at the restaurant, and then moved on to another bottle of red which we brought along from our own collection. The Sancerre was easy-going with distinct honey taste and a little bit of grapefruit in mid-palate, opening up a bit after some time with some floral characters. We asked our bottle of red to decant as we walked into the restaurant and started drinking about 40 minutes later after we were done with the lighter dishes. At first sip the 1996 vintage of Ch. La Mission Haut Brion showed signs of its youthfulness despite its relatively mature age with more fruits than being earthy at first. A bit of smoke and leathery on the nose, a palate dominated by hawthorn with the subtle dark cherry became more noticeable when given time to aerate. The tannin was rounded and slightly chewy, but the finish was a bit weak, especially given the caliber of this wine. Perhaps a sign of it going down from its peak already for this 20-year-old wine?

Throughout the evening service was fine despite having a packed house with only 2 front staff members. Inside the kitchen Chef Konishi's team managed the rhythm well, splitting the duties among themselves in harmonious fashion and working at ease to keep everyone happy and well-fed, though at times I did wonder whether the chef was somehow restrained by the restaurant setting and the compact cooking space for even higher achievements. Nonetheless the dinner was a great experience watching the team working smoothly inside the kitchen, turning out delicate and finely-executed dishes with an elegant touch. There were dishes I liked more than the others, but I was generally satisfied with all the food and thought the place lived up to the Michelin 2-star and all the other accolades received since its opening.

More photos on my Flickr album:

When? May 16 2015
Where? Wagyu Takumi, The Oakhill, 28 Wood Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights?
Abalone and Shimanto Seaweed with Barley Risotto and Celery Foam
Chacoal Grilled Kagoshima Wagyu Tenderloin and Wagyu beef Tartar with "Monaka" Biscuit
Jean Pabiot & Fils Sancerre Blanc "La Merisiere" 2012
Chateau La Mission Haut Brion 1996

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