Saturday, June 19, 2021

Gin Dinner

I don't know what got my attention first, whether it's the chance to preview a soon-to-be-opened restaurant or the unusual pairing of food with gin from one of my favorite makers, but anyway, this is our first time sitting down for a proper meal at Sake Central at PMQ, prepared by guest chef Shun Sato with a special menu paired with bottles from the Kyoto-based artisanal gin distillery Ki No Bi during their month-long pop-up promotion. 

We opted to start our dinner early as I wanted to take our time working through the 8-course menu each paired with one drink, and we were the first to arrive at the long communal bar table in the dining area where the meal was served. The first dish was brought in as soon as we settled down, with the raw oysters (coming from Japan's Tohoku region) served with the tangy and sweet yuzu sanbaizu dressing. The oyster is not the meatiest type but with great flavor and the minerality worked well with the rice vinegar-based sauce. On the side was a Ki No Bi yuzu shot, more like a chaser as the oyster ran down the back of my throat. 

Next was hamachi (yellowtail) served contemporary sashimi style, with the creamy whey-tomato-ponzu sauce and scallion oil. Loved the well-balanced flavor of the sauce with a touch of tomato water and ponzu for the acidity and the whey for the body, which matched nicely with the thick slices of the fatty fish. Not a gin pairing for this course but instead, it's a bottle of sake from Kyoto using the same water source at Fushimi district, made with the indigenous rice breed called Iwaimai. The slight off-dry Junmai Daiginjo is always a good choice for sashimi dish and I like the floral nose with a hint of banana. 

The beef tartare was beautifully presented topped with egg yolk and radish sprouts, and on the side was the crisps and a shot-glass size of "Snowgroni", a twist to the traditional negroni made using Ki No Bi "Sei" gin and a tad lighter touch of bitters giving it a smoother, milder flavor but still delicious. (and it was my favorite pairing of the evening) 

We quickly moved on to the next dish which was as photogenic as our last course. What was cheekily called "Pain Perdue" was essentially an open sandwich with the piece of toasted milk bread dipped in chicken jus and bacon oil and topped with tongues of uni (sea urchins). The rich flavor of the toast contrasted perfectly well with the clean and delicate taste of uni. Wasn't so sure about the pairing with a Nigori - I think the rich rice taste with the unfiltered sake was a bit overwhelming to the dish but it was tasty on its own.

Bamboo Shoot was another dish I love. The most tender part of the seasonal bamboo shoot was deep-fried with wonton wrapper, and on the side was the squid mousse and sakura ebi karaage. I especially enjoyed the thickened dashi gravy with subtle bamboo shoot and seaweed tastes. And the drink pairing was a glass of "Gin and Sonic", which replaces tonic with soda. 

Our grilled course was sawara, or Spanish mackerel, which came into season in late spring/early summer. The piece of fillet was grilled skin-on and served with a green miso sauce (infused with coriander) and bits of grapefruits on the side. While I like the dish, I wasn't a fan of the gin mizuwari served on a cute mini martini glass - I jokingly said it's more "mizu" than anything as all I tasted was just water (mizu). The wagyu beef main course was alright, with thin slices of fatty beef cooked in a seaweed soy sauce and topped with inoki mushrooms - I was looking for something more sophisticated but it tasted fine. And nothing wrong with the G&T with Ki No Bi "Sei", except again, the portion is way too small to be satisfying. And finally, it was the dessert of strawberry and mascarpone daifuku. 

Overall, everything was decent, but I felt the portion of food and drink was way too small - to the extent we need to walk down the road for a second meal after we left. (Thank God we started our first dinner early so we had time to go for a second before everything was shut down at 10). Otherwise, I thought the execution was impressive and I do look forward to trying more of Chef Shun-san's dishes when his restaurant open in late June.

When? May 22 2021
Where? Sake Central x Censu, S109-113, 1/F Block A, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central
Menu Highlights? Beef Tartare, Sesame, Ichimi
Tsukino Katsura Junmai Daiginjo "Heiankyo" - Masuda Tokubee Shoten, Kyoto Prefecture
月の桂 純米大吟醸 平安亰 - 京都市増田徳兵衛商店
Tsukino Katsura Junmai Daiginjo Iwaimai Nigori - Masuda Tokubee Shoten, Kyoto Prefecture
月の桂 純米大吟醸 祝米にごり酒 - 京都市増田徳兵衛商店

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