Thursday, June 23, 2016

Kaiseki with a Modern Twist

Everyone walking into the long private room at La Bombance had the same reaction, totally drawn to the stunning unobstructed harbor and skyline view from the window and ignored other friends who already sat at the table. A couple weeks ago our friend CXB found out this new Japanese restaurant which opened in mid-May, so the nine of us decided to check it out a few Fridays ago.

La Bombance took up the space in this new building one level down from the top floor and not far away from Times Square in Causeway Bay. It’s the first overseas branch of their original restaurant  in Tokyo’s Nishi-Azabu district (with the same name), which currently has a Michelin star. The décor was stylish and elegant, with dark wooden furniture and recessed spotlights in both the open dining area with both counter and table seating and a few private rooms, and the kitchen was hidden at the back, out of diners’ sight. The private room we were seated in was the largest, which can seat 10 comfortably and is also the one with the best view facing the Victoria Harbor.

The restaurant only opens for dinner service with a seasonal 9-course menu that changes monthly. Head chef Koya Takayaki actually came from their Tokyo restaurant, bringing some consistency with what people would expect. The style was of contemporary kaiseki with a clever use of western and Japanese ingredients, and a mixture of modern and traditional cooking techniques. It largely followed the traditional serving order of a kaiseki meal using a beautiful collection of tableware, adding to the aesthetics factor.

All of the dishes were very very impressive – it’s almost impossible pinpoint any particular favorite course out of all the food served. We started with a colourful cold dish of Hokkaido Matsuba-kani (snow crab), Awabi (abalone) which was steamed, a slice of char-grilled Nasu Kamo (Japanese eggplant) which came to season in early summer, sweet tomato and on top, ginger-vinegar jelly and an edible flower. Presentation was impeccable, served in a dark ceramic deep dish, and the taste well-balanced with the umami flavors from the seafood and the kick of acidity from the vinegar jelly augmenting the overall taste.

Next was a platter of bite-sized dishes – like hassun in the conventional kaiseki course – but with a twist using some modern ingredients. Foie gras was rarely used in traditional Japanese cooking but here it’s paired with a mini onigiri (deep-fried to give it a bit of crunchy texture) served on the lacquer spoon. Same with parma ham, wrapped with the seasonal and super-sweet slice of Miyazaki mango.  End of May/beginning of June marked the start of ayu season, particularly those caught in Lake Biwa near Kyoto. It’s cooked in the simplest way by a quick dip in red-hot oil. It’s mild with the slightest hint of bitterness, the unique flavour of ayu. Completing the course was a small glass bowl of housemade yuba (tofu skin) with crispy whitebait fish, dab of wasabi and light soy dressing, and a couple small pieces of Kyoyasai – seasonal Kyoto vegetables.

The soup course looked simple but I am sure took a lot of effort and skills to prepare. The base was kombu-dashi (kelp superior soup) with clam juice, served in a fine lacquer bowl with the cleanest flavor. Inside the bowl was a piece of shinjo, the quenelles common in Kaiseki cuisine, made with shrimp and scallops, and a thin slice of lotus crisp on top. It was then followed by another platter of richer flavors, this time sushi and sashimi, with uni sushi done gunkan style, and toro-zuke in nigiri sushi, plus aburi kinmedai (torched goldeneye snapper) and hamo (pike conger) blanched then grilled served with a small piece of myoga and a brush of soy sauce served in a mini-bowl on the side.

The next three courses made use of common Japanese ingredients prepared in an unconventional manner. First was the grilled taichiuo (beltfish) prepared "Wakaya-yaki" style - grilled skin-on with a light brush of sake and soy sauce - with a few seasonal vegetables on the side, in a western presentation finished with a brush of knotwood vinegar dressing. It was followed by the Saga beef "sukiyaki" served in a bowl with a oba leaf-wrapped goma tofu tempura. Lastly it's eel - traditionally considered a summer dish - sliced sebiraki style and chargrilled, then served as a piping hot mini casserole with namafu, yakinegi, mizuno and sansho in an umami-loaded dashi broth.

Chef Takayaki dropped by our room with the pot of rice in his hand, our last savory course along with miso soup and housemade pickles. The kamameshi - rice cooked in clay casserole - was covered with shavings of black spring truffles on top. Chef carefully mixed everything together in the casserole at our table and served the rice to us in individual bowls, with Japanese egg yolk sauce drizzled on top. The perfectly-cooked rice brought up the truffles aroma with the heat and the earthy flavor mixed with the oozy egg yolk and the fluffy rice was just heavenly.

Three desserts were served - my favorite was the traditional warabi-mochi with kuromitsu syrup, served with the bowl of freshly brewed matcha. We brought a few bottles to share, starting with a pair of vintage champagne and a few sakes. I particularly enjoyed the Isojiman 42 Spring Breeze Junmai Daiginjo, dry on palate with a hint of refreshing floral and melon aroma, pairing well with the lighter courses served in the earlier stage of the dinner.

What a meal. Glad we have tried this while it's still considered somewhat of a hidden gem - with such quality it won't remain a secret for long.

More photos in Flickr:

When? June 10 2016
Where? La Bombance, Level 30 V Point, 18 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Black Truffle Kamameshi
2002 Bollinger La Grande Annee Brut Champagne
2004 Henri Giraud "Argonne" Ay Grand Cru Brut Champagne
Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo "Spring Breeze 42"
Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo "Emerald"
2013 Kuheiji Junmai Daiginjo "Eau du Desir"

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