So maybe money can’t buy happiness but it can get you a meal at RyuGin. If you’ve got enough of it, that is. Opened by chef-owner Seiji Yamamoto, the original restaurant in Tokyo’s flashy Roppongi district boasts plenty of street cred, including three shining Michelin stars and a coveted spot in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. And just opened on the 101st floor of the ICC building, RyuGin’s first overseas outlet is ready to serve the Hong Kong public – or at least those who are willing to shell out for the pleasure.
There’s only one menu for dinner – a 10-course kaiseki meal priced at $1,980 per person (tailor-made menus are available on advanced request). The seasonal dishes are designed by Yamamoto himself and executed by his protégé and resident head chef Hideaki Sato. Some creations are ethereal, like the second course of monkfish liver and akagai arc shell that we indulge in on the night of our first visit. The orchestration is impeccable: a touch of vinegar-laced miso sauce cuts through the deep-flavoured ankimo while crunchy clams and deep-fried mushroom ‘chips’ offset the liver’s creamy, rich texture. We’d be content just having 10 courses of this dish. Honest. The following dish is also impressive, a seemingly simple bowl of Japanese spring vegetables (including baby corn, fiddlestick fern and a few Japanese pepper leaves) simmered in shallow broth with abalone and hotaru squid. The ingredients shine with their most organic, natural flavours and every element is cooked to perfection, especially the tender squid with flesh that swells with broth.
There are some lulls though, most notably the first course of Hokkaido uni that’s wrapped in nori and superfluously deep-fried. And while we enjoy the bright flavours of the accompanying spring potato purée, we care less for the astringent, dried bitterbur shavings that are sprinkled on top. The dashi soup is also somewhat forgettable, though the subdued flavours act as a welcome break before the set’s daily sashimi selection. For our dinner, the fresh catch arrives to the table as slightly cooked lobster (served with apple gelée, sea salt, wasabi and a wedge of lime), uni with squid and two slices of katsuo. Already seasoned on the plate, the sea urchin is particularly delicious, at least more so than the deep-fried version served in the opening course. Sometimes, less really is more.
The meal rolls on with several more hot dishes, including a chargrilled alfonsino fish. The flesh is milky soft but it’s really the layer of fragrant, toasted rice on the skin side that steals the spotlight. We also wax lyrical about the re-imagined sukiyaki constructed from sheets of Kuroge wagyu beef sirloin plated with white asparagus, insanely fragrant morels and an onsen egg. To end the savoury courses, a bowl of sakura tea-simmered Japanese rice is perfectly comforting with gummy kernels covered in briny sweet sakura shrimp.
Moving on to desserts, RyuGin’s signature -196°c candy strawberry served with 99°c jam is an impressively complex creation. A thin, glass-like shell encases flash frozen strawberry ‘powder’ before being topped off with softened berries. The intense temperature and textural contrast is novel but the winning dessert in our books is the sake kasu soufflé – a light, cloudlike tuft that rests above slices of ripe bananas. The waitress will advise you to eat this before the accompanying banana ice cream but, if you’re like us, you’ll want to save this best bit for last.
RyuGin Hong Kong offers small glimpses into the magical universe of its established mother venue but, as a brand new import, it’s still finding its own feet here. And with only one single menu to choose from – and a pricy one at that – this restaurant is really only designed for those with a deep wallet and an equally profound appreciation for the finer things in life. Dorothy So
101/F, International Commerce Ctr, 1 Austin Rd, West Kowloon, 2302 0222. Daily noon-2.30pm & 6pm-9.30pm.
10-course kaiseki menu x2 $1,980pp
10 percent service charge $396
Total (for two) $4,356
101/F, International Commerce Ctr, 1 Austin Rd, West Kowloon