April 10, 2008

Finally, Sushi Qube

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Last night I finally had the chance to try out Sushi Qube with a couple of friends. I had read about this restaurant on the internet, as there were some discussions about this being a "branch" of Tokyo's famed Kyubey (久兵衛) - my favorite sushi restaurant. I was obviously eager to try, even though I had heard some lukewarm feedback.

The restaurant is wedged in a small space, with all of 10 seats at the sushi bar (and no tables). Apparently they seat 11 at lunch - must be really cramped! The have built in display fridges for their selection of premium sake and fine wine, and they do have a nice selection of very high end sake but prices are just too much... Fortunately I brought along a bottle of Rihaku Daijinjo Tobin Gakoi (李白大吟釀斗瓶囲い), a limited production sake that I really enjoy. This bottle was produced in June of 2004, so it's about time that I drank it up. It was pretty smooth, but a little bit more spicy on the after palate than I remember.

At a place like this, of course we would be asking for omakase - giving Chef Sato-san a free hand. Sato-san has been in Hong Kong for more than 30 years, and spoke excellent Cantonese. He explained that the restaurant is actually owned by a Mr. Yeung (did not get a clear explanation of which Mr. Yeung...) who has befriended Imada-san, owner of Kyubey. Imada-san has no stake in Sushi Qube, but there are two connections: There is a set menu called Kyubey Set whose ingredients are dictated by Kyubey, and Sushi Qube receives a shipment of fresh seafood from Kyubey each Friday.

We started with a large selection of sashimi that was clearly very fresh, which was evident starting from the amuse bouche. The chilled (not frozen) chu toro (中トロ) was very good, and the scallop was very sweet, but the surprise was the akagai (赤貝). I usually avoid akagai as I find it too crunchy, but the texture here was a nice balance - soft and supple with a touch of crunchiness.

The quartet of shrimps was also interesting - the usual suspects of ama ebi (甘えび), botan ebi (牡丹えび), kuruma ebi (車えび) plus something new called tenshi no ebi (天使のえび, Angel shrimp). All were very good, but the two which were not frozen - kuruma ebi and tenshi no ebi - were better, crunchier.

Then came the interesting experience of eating white baitfish (白飯魚). The tiny live fish were scooped out of a box and dropped into a champagne flute filled with vinegar. We were meant to have these live, by either swallowing them whole, or chew on them while having them in our mouths. After much deliberation, I decided to keep them in my mouth (and feel them wiggling on my tongue), then chew a bit before swallowing. Any taste of the fish was probably overpowered by the vinegar, but I'm glad that I finally had the chance to do this.

Moving on to sushi, we were presented with single pieces of nigiri. Initially I was a little unhappy with Sato-san's skills, as I prefer my rice to be a tad stickier so that the rice doesn't fall apart when I hold the sushi in my hand. But there was no question about the quality of the fish. I especially liked the medai (目鯛). The biggest surprise, however, was the uni (雲丹), which were from Hokkaido and gigantic. Unusual for an uni sushi, there was no seaweed wrapped around the rice, as Sato-san simply laid a large piece of uni over the rice. Delicious.

We finished with the usual egg, and here it's made with a recipe not unlike Kyubey - bearing some resemblance to Japanese castela cakes. The fruit course of tomato was also good although I found the skin a bit too thick and tough. Yuzu ice cream had nice big chunks of the rind - a good palate cleanser.

At a cost of HK$1,500 this is par for the course for this type of establishment in town. Was this an amazing meal? Not when I compare it to Kyubey. But there were enough highlights to give Imamura (今村) a run for its money in Hong Kong.

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