Sunday, January 28, 2024

Venturing Up North

Spending the weekend in Shenzhen turned out to be quite a revelation for me. While most people travelled to our neighbor north to the border in the hunt of bargains, we went in search of some finer things with many new restaurants and hotels opening even before and during covid that easily rival those of similar caliber in town. 

Travelling in a car with door-to-door service got us into the Shokutei (植庭) in Futien District right in time for lunch. Inside the house in Japanese decor completed with zen garden, Chef Daisuke Baba and his team was making the final preparation for our lunch over the long wooden counter just as we walked in and settled. Shokutei is part of the restaurant group with a number of Japanese restaurants in both Shenzhen and Shanghai, from Yakitori to Sushi to Kappo-ryori, the traditional multi-course menu that showcases chef's individual cooking style and seasonality, which was what Shokutei specializes. 

Our 12-course meal followed that of the conventional order with seafood being the focus. We began with a piece of nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch) briefly torched on the surface with akagai (ark shell) and spinach. The tosazu (dashi-vinegar) jelly spooned on top with its subtle acidity provided the good contrast of flavor with the fatty fish. The oyster tempura was served “sushi” style with a twist, with a piece of juicy oyster served with a thick slice of karasumi (mullet roes) gently toasted over charcoal fire and a blob of sticky rice. I love this interesting combination of textures and good umami and mineral flavor. 

Mukozuke course is typically sashimi, and this time it’s a piece of sawara (Spanish Mackerel) with grated daikon and burnt leeks served in a deep bowl. Meanwhile, Chef Daisuke-san was making final preparation for the dashi for our soup course, by carefully shaving dried katsuo and cooked with kombu (dried kelp) Soon that became part of the Nimonowan course with grilled Fugu (blowfish) and Shogoin Kabu (Kyoto Turnip). The bouncy texture of fugu reminded me of eel but with a cleaner flavor, pairing well with the clear ichiban-dashi made a la minute. We finished our appetizer round with a second sashimi course, this time in the form of a platter. The selection was typical, like the tuna with 2 cuts (chutoro  and otoro), buri (wild yellowtail), sumi-ika (cuttlefish) and hata (grouper) coming from local waters. Condiments were served on the side, including the rich ankimo sauce that worked well with hata.  

We moved on to some more substantial course, starting with wagyu done sukiyaki style and served with ebi-imo (Kyoto “shrimp” taro) On top it’s finished with runny egg yolk, shirako (cod milt) sauce and grated truffles from Yunnan Province. The beef was excellent with the nice marble and all, but the real star was the ebi-imo which came into season in winter months (like most root vagetables), with the perfect texture and sweetness, battered and deep-fried with a nice crunchy crust. Goma Tofu was typically served as appetizer, perhaps as part of Hassun course, but this time it’s served as a interim savory course with a richer flavor profile, with tongues of sea urchins (bafun uni) and caviar on top. The “tofu”, made with kuzu starch, has a creamier, gooier texture than a normal tofu made with soy, and with nice, toasty sesame flavor infused by the grated sesame paste that added in. 

Shiizakana, or the “strong or substantial course”, was a stew-like course served in a lidded porcelain bowl, well-suited for the colder season. Inside the bowl was the local threadfin fish (or Tsubame-Konoshiro in Japanese) with steamed egg custard with mountain turtle and bamboo shoots underneath and topped with the thick dashi gravy sauce on top. It’s rich and hearty and the fish was poached and grilled with skin on giving this a nice sweet and fatty flavor. The normal Shokuji course with rice, soup and tsukemono was made fancy by Chef Daisuke’s team with a hairy crab kamameshi served with chunks of daikons (this time not the Kyoto Shoguin type but from Sichuan Province) and then a bowl of Kamo Nanban Soba (duck noodles in soup) with kuro-negi (green scallions)

With the ongoing import restriction on Japanese ingredients in Mainland China, the team need to be more creative in sourcing from other areas but the constraint was hardly noticeable. And we were served a nice flight of drinks, starting with a small cup of freshly-brewed oolong tea as we arrived, to champagne to a few bottles of sake that meant to match with the courses served. Just as we finished up, Chef Daisuke went through the whole elaborate process of preparing a bowl of matcha to every one of us, served with house-made strawberry Daifuku and tiramisu and chestnut icecream. 

Such an eye-opening meal – not something that I would expect to have picked myself to enjoy in our neighbor up north, but I am glad we did.  

(Meal was by invitation)

When? January 13 2024
Where? Shokutei Nihon-ryori, 9001 Shen-nan Road, Futien District, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China
植庭·日本料理 - 廣東省深圳市福田區深南大道9001號錦繡桃園內會古軒
Menu Highlights? Nimonowan - Fugu, Shogoin Kabu (煮物椀 - 燒河豚,聖護院蕪菁)
Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois
Akabu Gokujonokire Junmai Daiginjo, Azabu Shoku, Iwate Prefecture
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Sawaya Matsumoto Shuhari Ultra, Matsumoto Shuko, Kyoto Prefecture (BY 2021)
澤屋まつもと守破離Ultra 京都府松本酒造 
Jikon "Senbon-nishiki Hiire" Junmai Ginjo, Kiyasho Shuko, Mie Prefecture
而今純米吟釀千本錦火入れ - 三重県木屋正酒造
2016 Joh Jos Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, Mosel, Germany
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