Friday, October 21, 2016

Three-star Sushi Popup

I got into a major sushi crave after my sushi lunch at in Taipei just a couple of days ago – that meal was decent but I felt like something was missing – so you could imagine me jumping up and down getting all excited when I received an email from the PR team at Landmark Mandarin Oriental asking whether I was free to join some of their media friends for lunch at the Sushi Gyoten pop-up happening at their hotel. "Hell yeah of course", I replied almost immediately (of course I did it in a slightly more dignified manner), and that's before I frantically pushed aside everything on my original schedule – I did have a busy guytai life you know, even the lunch fell on my two weeks of work break.

Everyone was impressed with the effort by the Landmark MO team in transforming their function room into an authentic-looking sushi-ya overnight – completed with an L-shaped wooden counter which can seat eight customers (made of "Hong Kong Veneer", not a 600-year-old piece of Hinoki timber or something, as Chef Richard confessed to us), and a full kitchen set-up as the stage for Chef Gyoten to perform his master skills. I haven’t been to his original restaurant in Fukuoka (not that I haven't tried to make a booking when we visited the area a few months ago), but I was told the pop-up restaurant was as close as it possibly gets as a true replication.

Chef Gyoten-san and his small team was just about ready to serve when we walked in and settled in our seats, and after a brief introduction, we began this spectacular and fun culinary journey. The menu was served omakase-style, and Gyoten-san told us it's changed slightly even meal by meal depends on whatever ingredients he felt is ready to serve. For us, we began with a bowl of creamy uni (sea urchin) from Tsushima Island just off Kyushu, with seaweed and soy sauce underneath, followed by the few slices of Kue (kelp grouper) sashimi, caught from the same region.

Kinmedai from Yaratahama
A few pods of late-season Edamame (from Niigata) were served as a palate cleanser, then two more appetizer dishes were served. First was kinmedai (goldeneye snapper) served with a light splash of soy sauce, the dark nori sauce and finely-diced scallions. I love the contrast of the slightly smoky but oily kinmedai and the deep nori sauce combined for a complex taste profile. Two pieces of river eel from Biwako Lake were served – one from the tail and one from the middle body – which have been charcoal-grilled.  They were firm but fatty.

Just as we were finishing up the appetizers, Gyoten-san began to bring out the ingredients for our sushi courses, showing us the whole piece of Hon-maguro (Bluefin tuna) from Oma which he's been aging for a few days, and began to prepare for the shari, mixing up the rice and the red vinegar in a wide wooden basket.

Interestingly, we began our sushi courses with tuna – well, three pieces coming from the same fish from up north near Aomori prefecture. I thought all 3 pieces were equally impressive, starting with two different cuts of o-toro then the slightly leaner chu-toro. We were also served with a piece of grilled innards coming from the tuna fish, an off-menu item. Next was an unusual piece with a thin slice of Kihadamaguro (yellowfin tuna) served on top of the grilled seasonal matsutake mushroom and shari – I thought the mushroom was a bit overpowering but it's enjoyable as something different.

Shinko from Amakusa
Nodoguro from Kyoto
Shiro-ika from Karatsu
Gyoten-san then made a few more nigiri sushi pieces for us, handed directly in our palm instead of the plate so we got to enjoy the one he made immediately – that's a subtle but smart way of discouraging people from spending too much time taking pictures of it. Quite a few pieces stood out, including Shinko (young gizzard shad) with a delicate flavor, the Nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch) with the skin grilled with burning charcoal right in front of us, the fatty Iwashi (sardine) served with a dab of grated ginger, and the soft-as-air anago (sea eel) as our last piece. Most of the fish served was on the richer side, and I thought the rice (shari) was equally matched with a strong taste and a very firm texture (a tad bit too firm, I might even say). My only regret was the omission of shellfish and clams in the menu this time, which I assumed has more to do with the season limitation, but I was happy with more than a dozen nigiri sushi served during our long lunch, which were something I have been craving for.

Two different types of sake were served, starting with one from my favorite Kuheiji – it's slightly aged (of 2014 vintage) but still with very youthful characters – and followed by a Junmai Ginjo from the popular Miyasaka Brewery in Nagano, a bit softer but more neutral to go well with the sushi. After the dessert, we went for a 9-year-aged Umeshu from Kochi Prefecture - sweet like a plum compote, according to Chef Richard which brought the bottle in for us, taking a short recess from supervising at Amber's kitchen next door to see how we were doing.

We were provided the English menu so we could go along during the lunch, with the name of each dish and the origin of the ingredients. Many of the ingredients came from Kyushu and the nearby region in the south with just a few exceptions (like the tuna from Oma), which was a bit different than Tokyo where most seafood came from the north instead. In between courses Gyoten-san spent time explaining his philosophy of picking his fish, regularly checking on them to determine how long he would age each individual piece depending on species and quality, or how different ingredients were matched, to the less serious topics such as his complaint about being "overworked" at the pop-up event and not having the chance to explore Hong Kong more. As everyone in the room knew each other well, we let our hair down a little bit and became more relaxed, talking a bit louder, sharing jokes, taking lots of pictures… definitely different than the traditional, more up-tight sushi bar and something all of us enjoyed tremendously.

Thanks Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Chef Richard and Gyoten-san for the lovely lunch!!

More pictures on my Flickr album:

When? October 19 2016
Where? Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong
Masumi Yawaraka Type-1, Miyasaka Brewing Company, Nagano Prefecture
2014 Kamoshibito Kuheiji “Human” Ginmai Daijinjo, Banjou Jouzou, Aichi Prefecture

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