The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Exquisite kaiseki @ RyuGin, Hong Kong

I have a little confession to make. As of yesterday, I am officially no longer in my twenties. I've always felt old, and people have always told me that I look and behave matured for my age (a polite way to say I look old?), but it's finally hitting me: I'm in my thirties! Many of my friends commemorated this event by holding a huge party, but I was dreaming of going on a cruise around the Mediterranean (which is being postponed because our summer trip to US kinda blew our travel budget for the next few months). The cruise will happen, just not for my birthday. Instead, hubby and I went on our first dinner date since 2010, eating my favourite cuisine (Japanese) at an exquisite kaiseki restaurant on the 101st floor of the tallest building in Hong Kong. Indeed, that was a pretty nice way to celebrate a birthday! Said restaurant is RyuGin Hong Kong, the younger sibling of the highly esteemed RyuGin of Tokyo that was awarded its third Michelin star for 2012. Hubby had brought me to the Tokyo restaurant for my birthday in 2009, where I had a sublime foodie experience that was nothing I'd ever had before, nor has anything matched it since. I was delighted to find out that RyuGin had opened an outpost earlier this year in HK, and even more so when I discovered that it was literally next door to where we live! It was a no-brainer choice where to go for my birthday dinner.

Inside the restaurant:

Our table setting:

We got a good window table in the corner, so we could enjoy wide harbour views:

The restaurant is located in a prime location, with sweeping views of the harbour. The decor was minimalistic and simple, but distinctly Japanese, and the dishwares were some of the most beautiful I've encountered. The service was exceptional and without fault, as to be expected of Japanese hospitality. Staff was mainly Hong Kong Chinese, who possessed good English skills and were very knowlegeable of the menu items and drinks. As more Chinese clients filled up the restaurant, the Chinese staff were assigned to take care of them, and we then had the pleasure of being attended to by the Assistant Manager, Ms. Hiromi Takano. Her husband is one of the chefs, and they both previously worked at RyuGin in Tokyo. Takano-san was delighted by the fact that we could speak and understand some Japanese, and she added to the authenticity of the Japanese experience. The Chinese couple on the table next to us must have felt they were missing out on something, because they requested to be personally introduced to Takano-san towards the end of their meal. As was our RyuGin experience in Tokyo, the dining format was a no-choice ten-course kaiseki menu, priced at a hefty HK$1980. The menu is seasonal, with special ingredients sourced from Japan, and I think RyuGin would be the perfect place in HK to experience traditional kaiseki, which I regard as the peak of Japanese cuisine. This was not a meal to be rushed through, and I had a very pleasant and relaxing time, enjoying the delicious food, my husband's company, and the gorgeous night lights of the city and harbour below us.

Torotoro Umeshu (HK$138) - sweet and fruity, and very easy to drink:

First course: Hot Egg Custard of Grilled Shiitake Mushroom, Kurumaebi, Lily Bulb and Gingko Nuts. A lovely rendition of the traditional chawanmushi, with earthy flavours of the shiitake, umami of the kurumaebi shrimp, the delicate sweetness of the lily bulbs and the slight bitterness of gingko nuts.

Second course: Mixed Salad of Kegani Crab and Sea Urchin from Hokkaido, topped with Black Vinegar Jelly of Chrysanthemum. Abundant sweet seafood flavours in one little pile.

Third course: Soup of Abalone, Prepared with Premium Broth, Sesame Lotus Mochi and Japanese Turnips. The abalone was very tender from slow-cooking for a long time, and like our meal at RyuGin in Tokyo, this was the best abalone I've eaten. Hubby doesn't understand the appeal of abalone because he thinks it is quite flavourless, but he agreed that it was prepared well at RyuGin. The ichiban dashi was indeed premium with lots of umami and a type of viscosity that can only be produced from hours of simmering. Hubby's favourite part of the bowl was the fried mochi, which was very tasty and provided a nice contrast in terms of flavour and texture.

Fourth Course: Lightly Grilled "a la minute" and Straw Smoked Bonito in TOSATSUKURI style. I love the presentation on straw! We were informed by Takano-san that 'tosatsukuri' refers to a cooking method that originated from a region in Japan formerly known as Tosa. Quite similar to tataki. The bonito had a pleasant smoky fragant, and it was so smooth-textured that it seemed like the bonito melted on my tongue. Although a small dollop of karashi was provided along with a dish of special soy sauce, I enjoyed the bonito best on its own.

Melt-in-the-mouth bonito:

Fifth Course: Alfonsino marinated in Yuzu-flavoured White Miso, Eggplant, Shaved Chestnuts and Endive Confit. Alfonsino is known as kinmeidai in Japan, and it is succulent and usually has a mild flavour. The yuzu brightened the miso-based marinade, and the chestnuts shavings were fun to eat.

Sixth Course: Sukiyaki Kuroge Wagyu Beef Sirloin with Cèpe Mushroom and Onsen Tamago. This is a traditional dish, with premium meat and ingredients. Although I'm not a fan of red meat, I really enjoyed this dish. The best eggs come from Japan, with rich orange yolk and delicious flavours. I've cooked and/or eaten eggs in almost every country I've lived in or visited, and none can compare to Japanese eggs.

Seventh Course: Rice Simmered in Flavoured Dashi Broth, with Minced Chicken and Mixed Vegetables, aka takikomi gohan with soboro and tsukemono. The name is easier and more concise to say in Japanese. It was very tasty, in a rustic way. Rice signifies the end of the savoury stage in a kaiseki meal, and I was thankful for the small portion because I was feeling pretty full at this point.

Eight Course: Cold Teuchi Soba (hand-made buckwheat noodles), which I unfortunately forgot to take a photograph of! It was served simply with a small bowl of tsuyu (dipping sauce). The noodles had a good bite and bounce, and just great with the tsuyu.

At this point, I was presented with my dessert served on a special platter with a personalised birthday greeting. The waiter offered to take photos of us, and we then spent a couple of minutes taking photos.

Ninth Course (Dessert #1): RyuGin Specialty -196°C "Candy Apple" and +99°C "Apple Jam". This is the famous dessert that RyuGin developed since we last dined with them in '09. The "candy apple" had been frozen in liquid nitrogen to -196°C, and then placed inside an encasing that had been shaped to look like an apple. We were instructed to smash open the candy apple, and then warm apple jam was poured over the frozen dessert. I found a video that shows how this RyuGin dessert is made (with strawberries instead of apples), and the fact that the video is 8 minutes long should give an indication of how labourious the process is. I enjoyed the dessert for what it was - the beautiful presentation, the purity of the apple flavours, and the contrast of the temperatures. However hubby thought it just tasted like frozen apple powder, and the dessert didn't seem worth the effort put into making it. Well, at least I appreciated it.

Tenth Course (Dessert #2): Roasted Tea-flavoured Crème brûlée. This was steamed rather than baked, which results in an ultra-creamy and smooth texture. My tummy was bursting at this point, but my tastebuds couldn't help but enjoy this dessert. I'm not usually a fan of creamy desserts, but this was full of flavour and not too rich - I would love to know how it was accomplished.

The meal was ended with Matcha, traditionally prepared and served. Very good.

I really enjoyed my birthday dinner. Hubby was underwhelmed by this experience compared to what we had at RyuGin Tokyo, but I don't think it is very fair to compare with the original in the homeland. I wonder if RyuGin HK will earn its first Michelin stars less than a year after opening, when the 2013 guide is published next month. RyuGin comes highly recommended for a special occasion, and also for the kaiseki experience.
[---Edited on 5th Dec 2012: Ryugin was indeed awarded two stars in the 2013 Michelin publication.---]

[Prices quoted above exclude the 10% service charge.]

101st Floor, International Commerce Centre
1 Austin Road West
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
Hong Kong
Tel. +85 2 2302 0222


  1. Happy Birthday!

    It looked like an exquisite meal!

  2. Thanks Kelly! If you haven't had kaiseki before, you should try at least once in your life! You should be able to find one in New York :)