We’ve been saying for a long time that culinary excellence is to be found at the far end of Hollywood Road, now here’s the evidence.
Wagyu Kaiseki Den quietly opened up for a select few on Valentine’s Day. Since then, the restaurant has quickly filled with the devoted posse of Peter Lam, who has also invested in The China Club, Island Tang, and China Tang in London. You can expect to find as much flashness and exclusivity here as in his other hotspots, but this time simplified to a shiny black box where the kitchen takes centre stage. At time of press, they would not allow interior photos to be taken (hence the external shot that accompanies this review), and there are no walk-ins – you will be turned away if you try.
Behind an unassuming entrance at the Central Park Hotel, a sliding door leads to a split-level black-on-black dining room and sake bar. Flintstones-sized Kobe ribs are encased in individual glass refrigerators lining the wall – like some kind of bovine coroner facility – hand carried from Japan due to their high value. There are only eight seats at the bar, lining what must be the gold standard of open kitchens. While there are two oversized private rooms that can each seat ten diners comfortably, all the fun is to be had at the counter, where you can watch the masters at work.
Each operating day, just enough ingredients are bought to feed the exact number of reservations. By that, we mean exactly three cuts of chu-toro, two shrimps, and one goose liver per customer. There are no leftovers, and little is stored for the next day – don’t even think of asking for second helpings. At present, there is no a la carte menu – the chefs are still working out the details – so for now a ten-course kaiseki menu ($1,680), which is the highest art from in Japanese dining, will have to do.
The first course was lobster and caviar with wasabi jelly in sesame sauce. This single bite of sweet Boston lobster (served either poached or steamed) with wasabi cubes was laid to rest on a liquid bed of sesame dressing. It was blessed with a generous dollop of caviar. Though individually these ingredients are strong, powerful agents, together they each take turns impressing the tongue: sweet, salty, meaty, sweet-hot, ending with a slight chill: all of these flavours within a matter of seconds.
Next, three types of fat: toro tartar, minced wagyu and goose liver sushi.
We started with the medium fat toro; it was creamy, slightly chilled, finely minced and full of flavour. The second fattiest, the wagyu mince, was served in a small bowl coated with a thin sweet-soy gravy. Not really the best way to have wagyu in our opinion, as the texture and umami were lost to the sauce. However, we desperately wanted a second helping of the seared goose liver, but feared the waiter’s scorn at such a request.
This was followed by – get ready for it – Japanese clam soup; slices of raw toro, jack fish, and flounder; grilled red snapper; and simmered abalone with shark’s fin. All simply prepared and executed very well; kudos to the chef for being unafraid to let the ingredients stand on their own merits.
The meal hit a bump with their steamed lily bulb dumpling in truffle nanohana sauce. When the server lifted the lids to the bowls, the air was immediately fragrant with the scent of truffles and stock; however, the lily dumpling was nothing but a small ball of sticky dough seeped in soup. There was no pleasure in eating this. The texture was wet-doughy, clinging to both teeth and tongue. We honestly would’ve been happier just breathing in the truffle-spiced broth; it was heavenly.The savoury portion of the meal ended with bowls of taraba crab, sea urchin and truffle rice, which, if we had to summarise in one word each, were good, great, and grand.
The only criticism I have about the menu is that it is somewhat clichéd. I understand it takes a certain A-list of ingredients to get people to shell out $1,680 for a meal, but I was really hoping our city’s overindulgence in abalone, shark’s fin, lobster, caviar, truffles, waygu and toro would have inspired Lam and his team to be more creative with their cuisine, perhaps introducing more fruitful, exciting and exotic delights: the taste buds were given a great workout, but somehow still left bored.
In the end, despite highs and lows through the course of the meal, the benchmark for excellence in Japanese cookery has been significantly raised with the opening of Waygu Kaiseki Den. This is already one of our favourite picks for 2009.
UG/F Central Park Hotel, 263 Hollywood Rd, Sheung Wan, 2851 2820. Daily 6pm-midnight.
|Venue name:||Wagyu Kaiseki Den|
UG/F Central Park Hotel, 263 Hollywood Rd, Sheung Wan