Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Best Ever

“The best ever by the chef” was the comment I heard from my friend RR who went to eat at Haku recently. I came to eat here a few times last year and witnessed quite a transformation from good to great, not just the cooking or the choice of ingredients, but the overall dining experience. And that along with the comments by our foodie friends, we were excited to return to the restaurant to check out their latest menu, courtesy of our friend Chef Agustin who invited us over.

The restaurant was again serving at full capacity even on a random weeknight, with both the counter and the tables on the side taken up by customers, with a good mix of locals and travelers. We were seated in the middle of the long counter, which gave us perfect view of all the cooking actions inside and outside of the kitchen, managed by Chef Agustin and his sous chef Luis.

We began with a duo of amuse bouche bites served at the same time. Served on a small plate was a piece of tapioca-squid ink crisp served with a dab of roasted onion puree and a tiny piece of pan-seared foie gras in the center with edible flower condiments. In a small porcelain cup was the “chawanmushi”, egg and dashi custard steamed and chilled (hence served cold) and topped with a thin layer of smoked soy sauce jelly and kristal caviar. Love the hint to sweetness from the onion puree which balanced well with the foie gras, and I also like the smoky flavor combined with the rich umami taste in the caviar and jelly to contrast with the milder taste of dashi and egg underneath with the perfect texture.

Next dish was an interesting one. What traditionally was the suimono course in Japanese kaiseki cuisine was given a twist by Chef Agustin with an unique combination of ingredients. It’s based on ozoni, the soup with mochi (Japanese rice cake) often served as part of the Japanese new year celebration. Here the dashi soup was made by the conventional method using fresh shaved bonito and kombu, with the steamed mochi (with the unmistakable sticky texture) placed at the bottom of a shallow bowl. On top was a piece of daikon (radish), slow cooked with a slightly richer broth – probably with dashi and shoyu – and both as garnish and flavor enhancer was a thin piece of Spanish bellota ham and vegetables (carrots, okra and bell peppers). Overall the flavor was light and clean accented by the strong taste of the ham - a perfect summer course as palate refresher.

Chef Agustin carefully explained the concept of the salad course as he’s putting in the finishing touch on the glass bowl filled with vegetables, herbs and flowers. Everything inside was supplied by a local organic farm which was purely based on what’s seasonal and drizzled on top was a light miso dressing using some of the house-fermented miso, tomato water and yuzu koshi. I love that touch of using local ingredients and the colorful presentation with all the edible flowers, though I could live with some more textures to make this more interesting than just a salad - or a better idea might be to infuse the concept of local ingredients throughout the courses rather than having one dedicated to this.

Next up were a few seafood courses. I enjoyed the trio of sashimi served as a platter, with shiro-uni served with a splash of single malt whisky, followed by akami with a dab of Kinzanji miso and yari-ika (spear squid) served with fermented olive oil and caul fat. I followed the order as the chef suggested, and every time I thought the one I tried was spectacular, only to find out that the next was even more so. Obviously my favorite was the last one of yari-ika with such creamy texture and interesting flavor using olive oil and fat as garnishes in an unconventional manner.

The lobster dish was nice too – with the lobster meat slightly poached and served with cauliflower puree and mashed black olives plus shio-kombu with the deep nutty flavor from the black olives combining well with the mild cauliflower taste. The fillet of Suzuki (Japanese seabass) was perfectly done with the crispy skin on top and served with a light broth made of asari clam juice, tomato and a touch of jamon ham. Both worked well infusing a touch of Mediterranean flavor with Japanese ingredients and cooking.

Our main course was beef, with Nozaki wagyu tenderloin grilled on charcoal served with nameko mushrooms and the plankton and bone demi-glaze and green asaparagus. I like the marbled texture with good balance of fat yet retaining the meaty flavor in the tender piece of wagyu that was served. I tried the rice served in caldoso style last time but this version is a new evolution, this time served with slices of Japanese kuro-awabi (black abalones) and served with a chorizo-chicken dashi with the strong hint of smoky and spicy taste.

We finished with a few courses of sweets. My favorite was the apple-daikon one which came first, with apple done a few different ways (including jam, crumble, sorbet) plus diced daikon slow-cooked in sake syrup. I also liked the petit fours styled after traditional wagashi, especially the wonderful nougats.

We left it to Wallace their sommelier to bring us his drink recommendation to go with our meal. We went with quite a few interesting bottles including those from unfamiliar wine regions, and my favorite was the Hungarian red that went with the beef course. Seems to have brought out the best of the food and the wine. I also loved the Kijoshu (or noble-brew sake) served with our first dessert, with the off-dry taste and good acidity worked perfectly well with the apple-daikon dish.

Is that truly the "Best ever?" – you bet.

More photos in my Flickr album:

When? May 16 2019
Where? HAKU, Shop OT G04B, Ground Floor Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, Tsimshatsui, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Wagyu/Asaparagus – A4 Nozaku Gyu, Nameko Mushrooms, Green Asparagus and Plankton Sauce
2005 Recaredo Brut de Brut Gran Reserva Cava Brut Nature, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Catalonia
2015 Wijnkasteel Genoels-Elderen Chardonnay Wit, AOC Haspengouw, Belgium
2018 Latta Tranquil Nebbiolo Non Dos, Pyrenees, Australia
2017 Kakeya Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu, Takeshita Honten, Shimane Prefecture
2016 Peter Wetzer Soproni Kekfrankos, Sopron, Hungary
Rumiko no Sake Junmai Takajoshu Omekoshi, Moriki Shuzo, Mie Prefecture
2014 Domaine Jean-Rene Germanier Mitis Amigne de Vetroz, Valais, Switzerland

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