Tenku Ryugin, Hong Kong
Hong Kong is known to be the paradise for foodies. They’ve had plenty of great Chinese/Cantonese restaurants (as expected) as well as French/Italian fine dining. However, somehow they lack top notch Japanese – compared to say Singapore’s Shinji, Aoki, Tetsuya etc. Nadaman, Nobu, Zuma etc. are fine but people won’t really come to HK and deliberately eat at these places. But, everything changed drastically last year when Seiji Yamamoto decided to open his famous Tokyo establishment, Ryugin at ICC (International Commerce Centre) Kowloon (also Sushi Yoshitake arrival at Mercer hotel - I will discuss this a few weeks later). Suddenly, Hong Kong is now a strong contender among big cities to have served best Japanese cuisine outside Japan.
I don’t yet have a chance to eat at Ryugin Tokyo, but I can tell that Tenku Ryugin is one of the best restaurants offering authentic Japanese kaiseki. Their 10 course items are about as interesting and delicious as Urasawa’s non sushi courses. Outside these 2 places, I cannot really think of a better restaurant serving kaiseki (excluding Japan of course). The restaurant is part of the elite Sky dining restaurants at ICC’s 101st floor offering striking views of Hong Kong skylines. The dining room is simple and a bit dimmed, dominated by wood and beige/light brown color. Food-wise, it’s wonderful! Among them that I liked a lot were:
-Soup of simmered abalone and scallop dumpling: the dashi is clear but flavorful, ichiban! The abalone, slow cooked for a few hours, is tender and delicious. The small scallop (maybe like kobashira) is sweet with nice texture
-The baby tune sashimi is unbelievable. Usually anything short of Chu-toro is never good enough for me (yes, I was not a big fan of maguro/akami sushi). But this yokowa sashimi, usually only available in Spring, is a bit oily, very soft and they melted in my mouth
-The tasty amadai is first deep fried (wrapped in kadaif aka ‘middle east pasta’) then grilled on binchotan – generating crispy ‘skin’ and soft flesh. The fish is not only beautifully presented, but is also quite rich in taste. Awesome ..
In addition to the fantastic dishes above, Ryugin also offered classical items such as
-Chawanmushi with uni; as long as you have the good quality organic egg and sea urchin, it’s not easy to go wrong with this kind of dish. The yuba made it a bit more interesting
-Sukiyaki served with succulent beef and fragrant French morels worked really well with the onsen tamago’s runny egg yolk and ‘sweet’ sauce. A nice thing to serve this kind of this in Spring
Prior coming here, I anticipated to try Yamamoto-san’s legendary dessert: candy pear dessert nitro-chilled to -196C and served with a sauce of the same fruit heated to a scalding 99C. Alas, it was not meant to be, but the replacement is not disappointing at all, in particular the fresh and sweet tomato under ‘glass candy’. The quality of the tomato is incredible.
Ryugin’s hospitality is led by Ms. Nakano. The service is professional, warm and impeccable especially when the Japanese maitre d’ herself is the main ‘waiter’ for your table. She knew what she’s doing and very passionate about gastronomy as well. Overall, I happily gave this place 94/100 for both food and service – by my Michelin equivalent standard that would mean a solid 2 ½*. However, if Otto e mezzo or Atelier Robuchon could get 3-star by HK standard, this place deserved to be at the same level. I’m confident Tenku Ryugin can attain it within 3 years