Friday, August 24, 2018

Impromptu visit to a new restaurant

A spur-of-the-moment thought the night before led us into making a booking for lunch at the new restaurant Arbor the next day on a Saturday afternoon, and we were glad to have gotten the last table at such short notice.

Many of our friends have visited the restaurant and got nothing but good words about their dining experience and Chef Eric Raty’s cooking style, so we were eager to check it out ourselves. The restaurant is located in the heart of central at this new building filled with art galleries, and with it housed on the higher floor means the view was gorgeous with the Mid-levels on one side and a glimpse of the skyline and harbor on the other – it’s particularly pleasant on this sunny day when we went. I also loved the Nordic-style décor with a wooden theme (fittingly so with the name of the restaurant means “tree” in Latin), cloth-less table and contemporary Japanese-style tableware, bringing down a notch in uptight-ness and up one in modern chic in this cozy dining space with less than a dozen tables plus two private rooms on the side.

We went for the “Chef’s Palate” menu which was essentially a "4-course" "omakase" meal with courses decided by the chef based on seasonal ingredients. With champagne poured (a balanced blanc de blancs) and bread basket served (sourdough with sunflower seeds and crisps with cumin, plus bonito and kombu-infused butter, which were great, by the way), we began with a bite-sized amuse-bouche of tuna sashimi served on a nori crackers. The use of Japanese ingredients with contemporary cooking taking inspirations from various part of the world definitely set the tone for the rest of our lunch and Chef Eric’s unique style given his culinary background.

Our first course was langoustine, only barely-cooked and flash-grilled by woodfire on the outside which gave it a delicate texture and a slight hint of smoky flavor. On the side was the fruit tomatoes from Japan topped with candied kombu, and tomato water mixed with vinegar underneath giving the dish a complex yet well-balanced flavor and particularly refreshing for the summer. Such theme continues to our next course but in a slightly different taste profile. In the middle of the ceramics deep dish was a piece of turbot fillet, prepared a la meuniere with the outside gently seared. On top was a few slides of seasonal gooseberries for the slight kick of acidity and sweetness, and on the side, some smoky and creamy foam and a piece of poached baby new potatoes with a touch of matcha powder. I was impressed with so many different ingredients and flavor in play but they were all presented in perfect harmony with nothing overpowering the rest.

We were told to wait while the next course of orzo with mushrooms were brought to us, with slices of Tasmanian black truffles shaved on top at table-side. And the aromatic truffles did augment the dish already loaded with earthy mushroom flavors with a mix of maitake and chanterelles. It was the perfect intermezzo course which turned up in richness, and led us into the main course of beef. What looked like a straight-forward preparation of Kumamoto A4 wagyu seared and served au jus and caramelized onions on the side still came with some surprises, with a hint of miso flavor lingering as after-taste in the beef, and the sweet caramelized onions topped with grilled pearl onions and black garlic puree which worked well with the meat. It went perfectly well with the glass of Cote-Rotie that was recommended by their sommelier.

I thought both desserts were perfect for this season, starting with the seasonal Japanese white peach (mo-mo) poached and served with a peach sorbet infused with shiso flower and meringues. It was simple but beautifully presented, with bits of shiso flowers topped the halved peach for the unique aroma. And the second dessert was an interesting play of something local, with a quenelle of soy icecream served with crispy yuba sheet on top and grated salted egg yolk and white chocolate crumbles underneath, and on the side, a few candied black beans steeped in soy sauce (from an artisanal store not far away from the restaurant) and Okinawa black sugar. It has an interesting savory-sweet combination with the familiar soy-milk taste, just in a totally different form from what we were used to. And we finished with the warm madeleines with lime zest served as petit fours.

I have heard more than one of our friends commenting that Arbor is by far the best restaurant opening this year, and judging from our lunch, I think that's about right. The overall flavor was right on the mark with perfect balance in each of the dishes, and the creativity and clever use of different ingredients and cooking techniques were evident. And everything else just worked out fine as well – the fact that we probably picked the best day to visit with sunny sky and gorgeous view outside certainly helped, and so were the great service we have enjoyed by the friendly front-of-the-house team.

More photos can be found on my Flickr album:

When? July 28 2018
Where? Arbor, Level 25, H Queen's, 80 Queen's Road Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Langoustine with Japanese Fruit Tomatoes and Candied Kombu
Champagne De Sousa Brut Reserve Grand Cru NV
2012 Domaine Yves Cuilleron Cote-Rotie Madinere

No comments :