Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Pretty Average Kaiseki Dinner

I succumbed to my Japanese food craving to squeeze in a meal at Nadaman, in between my two trips to Japan in quick succession. It's not my first visit to the restaurant, located on the second floor of the Island Shangri-la Hotel, but if I remembered correctly, only the first time I was here for dinner. 

The place seemed to be very popular as most of the tables were occupied during the Sunday evening, including the sushi bar tucked away in a private room and the teppanyaki section on the other side. But despite being quite full on the evening of the visit, the place was quiet and comfortable, something I sort of expected from a high-end dining venue like Nadaman but I could never take for granted these days given the hotel clientele - if you know what I meant.

We were in the mood for a long dinner so we opted for the Kiri set, which was their regular multi-course kaiseki menu which changes monthly based on seasonal ingredients. I was eager to clear some of my sake stock at home so I brought along a bottle, especially after taking a glance at their sake menu and didn't find anything particularly interesting.

The menu followed the standard kaiseki order starting with sakizuke, working through a platter of hassun appetizers, then sashimi, simmered dish (takiawase), a cold dish, the grilled main course (yakimono), and ended with rice, soup and dessert. I will start with the dishes I liked first - the hassun came with a sumptuous display of several items in fancy presentation. The nagaimo (yam) chopped to matchstick size with lotus root and junsai (water shield) in a mild vinegar sauce in a tall ceramic cup was legit and refreshing, and the small little piece of steamed taro served alongside the anago sushi wrapped in leaves was done great with the right texture and the hint of sweetness. I also liked the deep-fried hamo (pike conger eel) with shiso - it's still warm when served and the batter crispy.

We had our fair share of hamo, or pike conger eel, last month in Kyoto but I was happy that the one we had, first the deep-fried piece than another served in the sashimi course, was pretty decent even in comparison, except there's some slightly boney part in the pike conger that I wish the chef could clean it up prior to serving - I found it a bit hard to chew on those parts. But the chu-toro in the sashimi course was passable - not a lot of taste to show forth, and I would even argue the cut was further to the back side of the fish than what I would call a proper chu-toro.

The simmered dish, was interestingly a deep-fried Japanese fig served with a light dashi-shoyu sauce inside a lidded bowl. I love the sweetness and texture of the fig slow-cooked - mushy but still kept in shape - and the interesting combination with the light, savory broth. It's the first time I had such pairing and I liked it.

I wasn't exactly a big fan of the next course, which was a "cold wagyu beef shabu shabu", which essentially was a few thin slices of wagyu beef flashed boiled and served cold, along wide with green onions, cucumber, lettuce, asparagus and tomatoes, in a sesame sauce. To start, I thought they could have used better ingredients and prepared them more carefully - the tomatoes lacked the right sweetness and weren't that appealing with half of them looked unripe. And the folded lettuce hidden behind the beef was passable at best - I could easily live without. I honestly liked the previous course of the deep-fried fig, but this made me angry.

My comment was a bit mixed with our next course of grilled ayu served with Japanese bayberry and young ginger stalk. The ayu, or sweet fish, was of the right size for grilling and tasted fine, but I don't believe it's grilled properly - either the cooking temperature was too low or they didn't cook it long enough. The skin was all soggy and lacked crispness. I did have high hopes when the course was presented but it let me down.

The rice - with sweet corn kernels and truffles mixed in - was alright - if I am willing to overlook the fact that I didn't smell nor taste any truffles in it. More a quality issue than quantity I reckon since flakes of black truffles were quite visible in that bowl of rice. But if that's the quality of truffles they were willing to use, I was equally happy if they spent it on cheaper but better mushrooms instead, like a maitake or something. That would at least give the rice some more crunchy texture.

The dessert was described as Japanese plum with plum sherbet. The plum was cooked fine - we are at the end of its prime season and the one we had was pretty sweet - but the "sherbet", which was more like some crushed ice surrounding the plum, was rather blend. I tasted nothing but maybe some sweet syrup. If you tell me those were just regular ice to keep the plum cold when served, I would have believed you.

Overall the service was borderline acceptable - that's after I let our displeasure known to the manager after experiencing some issues after we sat down. They were apologetic and tried to make up for it, but still, this is a bit off from the level of service I expect from a 5-star hotel and from a top-end Japanese restaurant - a totally different experience from the wonderful dinner at their Chinese restaurant only a few months ago. But we were just glad to have some relaxing time to sit down and eat together finally after a busy weekend, so despite being a pretty average meal, at the end it's all good.

When? July 19 2015
Where? Nadaman at Island Shangri-la, Pacific Place, Supreme Court Road, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Deep-fried Japanese fig served with light bonito sauce
Drinks? Isojiman Daiginjo Junmai Emerald Bottle, Isojiman Brewery, Shizuoka Prefecture
磯自慢 大吟醸純米 エメラルド - 静岡県 磯自慢酒造

1 comment :

Peech said...

you should know by now that Nadaman is never anything more than "just average"...


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