September 3, 2011

Decadent Japanese lunch

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I'm doing the first of my 3 reviews today inside the Sheraton, and visiting Unkai (雲海) for the very first time.  Not sure why I never came around in all the years I've been in Hong Kong, but come to think of it, I'm not sure I've ever eaten in the Sheraton - other than the odd visit to Morton's.

I made a reservation to sit at the teppanyaki counter as I expected to order from that part of the menu.  I expected to come out smelling a little, but in the end I don't think it was too bad.

We had a very, very generous budget from the Sheraton, and I decided not to be too polite and ordered a few of the premium items, along with a bottle of good (but not too expensive) sake.

I ordered the kaiseki set (懐石料理) - one of their signatures - and was curious to see how well they did it.

Starter: baked eggplant topped with ginger and bonito flake (先付: 焼き茄子  生姜  糸賀喜) - decent and pretty standard.

For some reason the restaurant made the same mistake as many Chinese restaurants - which happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves - by serving multiple dishes at the same time.  Hello?!!!  Kaiseki is meant to be served one course at a time.  In order.  You don't bring 3 of them to the diner all at once!

Appetizer: marinated cucumber, shiitake and jelly fish with vinegard sesame.  Soft simmered octopus, eel sushi and ginger.  Braised deep-fried fresh water crab with edamame (前菜: 胡麻酢和え  胡瓜  椎茸  水母蛸柔らか煮  鰻鮨  ガリ  沢蟹揚げ煮  枝豆) - the cucumber/jelly fish combo was OK but nothing to write home about.  The eel sushi was pretty decent, and the octopus was OK.  I never understood the attraction of eating a sawagani (沢蟹) as the shell is a little too crunchy, and the sharp bits can jab your gums or elsewhere inside the mouth.

Clear soup: sea urchin dumpling, shiitake, mitsuba and yuzu (吸物: 雲丹糝薯  椎茸  三つ葉  口柚子) - this was OK, but kinda sad (whether for me or for the chef) that I didn't realize the big ball I was eating actually had sea urchin...

Sashimi: thin-sliced hamachi (造り: 魬薄造り) - this was OK, served with chopped spring onion, grated chili radish and dipped in ponzu (ポン酢).

Braised dish: fig with mugwort gluten and snow peas (煮物: 無花果風呂吹き  蓬麩  絹サヤ) - interesting to have braised fig, with a chunk of sweet miso on top.

Grilled dish: flame-grilled Miyazaki beef with pumpkin and sweet potato (焼物: 宮崎牛網焼  南瓜  丸十) - it's been a couple of months since I last had Japanese beef, and it was very good although not exactly medium-rare. They managed to burn the sweet potato a little too much on one side, and decided to hide it by serving with the better side facing me...

Deep-fried dish: pike eel, green pepper (揚物: 鱧唐揚げ  獅々唐 ) - FAIL.  This is supposed to be hamo (鱧) season, but all I could taste was the batter as well as the collagen of the fish.  The delicate flavors of the eel was entirely lost.  I count myself lucky that I only found one large piece of bone in my mouth...

Vinegared dish: sea moss with ark shell and grated yam (酢の物: 水雲酢  赤貝  とろろ) - definitely lots of vinegar and acidic, but I enjoyed it.

Meal: cold green tea soba, tempura bits, wasabi, spring onion and seaweed (御食事:  冷し掛け茶蕎麦  天かす  山葵  葱  針海苔) - basically a たぬきそば.

Fruit: Kyoho grapes (水菓子: 巨峰) - nice but not as good as the ones I had the other night at Sushi Sase.

In addition to my kaiseki, I also ordered up a bunch of dishes - primarily for my friend's benefit - which I also shared.  We started with some sushi:

Sea eel (穴子) - this was OK.

Sea urchin (雲丹) - honestly not the freshest uni around, although not to the extent that I would say it has spoiled.  I had expected better from a 5-star hotel.

Crab tomalley (蟹味噌) - once again, something is just a little off here.  I guess not enough diners order this item...

I also ordered a few teppanyaki dishes since it's another signature of the restaurant:

Prawn (車海老) - this was OK but nothing special, although it certainly looked a little better than the prawns for all-you-can-eat lunch customers.  At least ours were kinda alive and the shells removed in front of us just before cooking.  And we get the head, too...

Abalone (鮑) - for some reason the Australian abalone did not come to us in its own shell, but already pre-sliced and with the organs removed and discarded.  Naturally I was a little suspicious, as all the abalones I've had during teppanyaki meals have all been alive in their own shells, and had died a (presumably) painful death while being cooked in front of me.  Well... this really wasn't all that.  And I'm not even sure if this was a whole abalone, or what the restaurant deemed to be "one serving".  And I still don't understand why the stupid chef insisted on putting some chopped green leaves on top of my abalone and thought it would make for a prettier picture...

Kagoshima A5 Wagyu Sirloin 200g (鹿児島和牛サーロイン) - the pièce de résistance and the single most expensive item we ordered.  I wanted to see if they can do it right.  I asked for medium rare, as I normally would, and I don't think what I got was medium rare.  My friend's portion was even more well-done as she received hers probably half a minute to a minute later, and the chef was saying apologetically: "Aiyah!  Overdone!  Overdone!"  Yes, it was a nice and fatty piece of beef, and certainly looked great when the chef showed it to us before cooking.  But somehow I didn't get the satisfaction that I expected.  Adding insult to injury, the standard accompaniment of deep-fried garlic chips were pre-made, and were a little stale and soggy on our plates.

Assorted Vegetables (焼野菜) - I thought my friend might like some veggies but we've had too much food by now, especially with the fatty Japanese beef.  Oh well...

Kikuhime Nigori (菊姫にごり) - I don't normally drink cloudy sake (にごり酒), since it's not very refined and I prefer the purity of daiginjo (大吟醸).  But this was lunch and my friend doesn't drink much, so ordering an expensive bottle would be somewhat of a waste.  I saw this bottle on the list, and figured I can't really go wrong with anything from Kikuhime.  Very raw as expected, with very strong, starchy rice flavors.  Sweet on the palate but with a somewhat dry and spicy finish.  Pretty enjoyable.

I guess the restaurant kinda performed as expected... with a few misses I found surprising.  I think if one stays away from the high-priced, premium items and hence lowered one's expectations somewhat, it would make for a better dining experience.

For a more concise version, please visit AsiaTatler Dining here.


Fabrice Delorme said...

it sounds that you had not a high opinion of this chef, trying to make the dishes looking prettier in putting green leaves.....

Peech said...

maybe I was being a little harsh, but if he really wanted to make the dish look prettier for my picture, he could have at least added something a little bit prettier than some randomly chopped up greens - where the knife work was hasty and the pieces were big and not that pretty...


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