Monday, April 19, 2021

It's All About The Season

I love the sense of exclusivity when we walked into Kappo Rin at Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong for our dinner. With the dining restriction still in place, the counter-only restaurant specialized in Japanese kappou cuisine could only seat two groups at a time, so we only shared the long counter with another couple in front of the chefs working behind the open kitchen the entire evening. 

This dinner was only our second proper Japanese meal we had this year. The traditional Kappou Ryori showcased chef’s cooking skills as much as the use of seasonal ingredients, and our dinner at Kappo Rin certainly represented some of the best I had in both categories. A 10-course omakase menu was served this time, beginning with a chilled appetizer of Hokkaido uni (sea urchins), picked hairy crab meat and white asparagus puree served in a small glass bowl. The clean and crisp flavor of the white asparagus contrasted well with the umami-rich sea urchins and crab. 

Takenoko (bamboo shoots) was the symbolic ingredient for spring season in Japanese fine cuisine, and our next course was hamaguri (hard clams) was served along with the soft and spongy Yuba Shinjo (湯葉真丈 mashed fish cake with tofu), wakame seaweed and chunks of young takenoko in a lacquer bowl with gold foil pattern of seashells as decoration. All the ingredients were tasty, but it’s the dashi and the bamboo shoots that gave me a lasting impression. The clear dashi was filled with the rich clam juice flavor accented by the sansho leaves on top giving it an interesting kick, and the bamboo shoots had the perfect texture, firm and crunchy and tasted so sweet that I thought it’s candied.  It’s a bowl of spring color and flavor right here in this single course. 

The sashimi course was next, with four different kinds served with different condiments. Among them my favorite was the sayori (needlefish), which came from a decent-sized fish, carefully filleted and carved, and served with grated egg yolk on top. The baby toro (fatty tuna) with shiso soy sauce, madai (red seabream) with chopped scallions, and a blob of ise-ebi (spiny lobster) made up the rest of the platter. Sawara (Spanish Mackeral) was known to be a fish of spring (with its kanji name 鰆 essentially a combination of the word Fish 魚 and Spring 春) and it's done yuanyaki (幽庵焼) style with pickled nanohana (rapeseed blossom) on the side. I love the fatty texture of the fish fillet, combining well with the marinate of sweet soy sauce, mirin and a touch of yuzu - more earthy than acidic. 

Springtime also marked the season of sansai (Japanese mountain vegetables) with many known for its unique hint of bitterness – “the taste of spring”, as some might say. Some of those were shown to us in raw form before they were brought into the kitchen for our “deep-fried” course done tempura style. In a loosely packed tempura patty with the thinnest batter, there’s the Fukinoto (butterbur buds), Taranome (Angelica tree sprouts) and Soramame (broad beans) along with the tiny Hotaru Ika (firefly squid), also available only at this time of the year. It has an amazingly complex flavor with minimal seasonings. Not being able to visit Japan this year I felt this is the closest I felt being there in spirit with every bite of this dish. 

Another bamboo shoot dish appeared and this time it’s served with Ainame (ling cod) fillet which was deep-fried than steamed, hosta leaves and a kinome sauce with a fresh zesty kick. The bamboo shoot was also cooked to a much softer texture. Before the main course was served, there’s the palate cleanser of noresore (baby conger eels) and konoko (sea cucumber roes), both considered seasonal delicacy, in a seaweed vinaigrette dressing. I love the acidity combined with the crisp umami flavor. 

Main course of the evening was wagyu done sukiyaki style. The whole piece of Miyazaki wagyu ribeye was shown to us before they were carefully carved into thin slices. Then the chef carefully charred up the seasonal gyoja ninniku (Hokkaido Alpine Leek 行者蒜), carefully caramelized the beef slices with finely-grained Wasanbon sugar (和三盆糖), mixed with the special sauce and served with a half-boiled onsen egg. One couldn’t go wrong with such combination with the fatty meat and the rustic yet delicate leek. 

Rice course was another of my favorite of the evening, with scores of ingredients – shrimp, sea eel, salmon roes, egg and shiitake – finely diced and laid on top of the cooked rice in an earthenware casserole. “Like a giant chirashi bowl” was what’s been described by the chef when he showed us the pot. It’s so good that I asked for a refill, twice. 

Just as we worked on the giant pot of rice, the chefs were busy preparing our dessert. On one end, one was carefully assembling the cold dessert of fresh fruits with umeshu soy icecream and red bean paste, and on another end right in front of us, one was turning and mixing warabiko batter in a stovetop saucepan, slowly turning it into warabimochi cake, served with kinako powder coated on top and drizzles of kurumitsu syrup. To finish, it was the traditional matcha served in an antique chawan. 

Went with two small carafes of sake with two drastically different characters. Started with a super-dry one with rounded, creamy texture and finished with one in a much sweeter note, light, refreshing and full of citrus aroma. Both went well with the flow of our dishes. 

When? March 23 2021
Where? Kappo Rin, 7/F The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Firefly Squid, Butterbur, Aralia Elata and Broad Bean Tempura
くどき上手「ばくれん」吟醸酒 超辛口 - 山形県亀の井酒造
Kudoki Jozu “Bakuren” Ginjo Karakuchi, Kamenoi Shuzo, Yamagata Prefecture

写楽純愛仕込純米 - 福島県宮泉銘醸
Sharaku “Junai Shikomi” Junmai, Miyaizumi-Meijo, Fukushima Prefecture


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