Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Wagyu Takumi - as good as it gets

Some of the best meals I've had have been eaten sitting at a bar. Now, that might sound a bit strange, but the type of bar I'm referring to are 'bar style seats' that wrap around a kitchen, taking the drama and theatre that happens in a kitchen and bringing it to the diner.  The fact that there are more and more restaurants that either have 'chef's tables' or have open kitchens is testament to the fact that diners want to have more than just a meal.  They want the whole experience and that includes interacting with a chef.

I had a suspicion that I was going to have a memorable meal, I mean the very fact that I was heading to a Two Michelin Starred restaurant was enough to almost guarantee a great meal.  The fact that a couple of my favourite cuisines were combined surely had something to do with my high expectations as well.  We were heading to Wan Chai and Chef Mitsuru Konishi's Wagyu Takumi and my expectations were skyrocketing!

Chef Konishi is no stranger to Michelin Starred restaurants, apart from running one of the few Two Starred restaurants in HK, he spent time at fellow Two Star restaurant, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Tokyo, as well as a numerous Michelin restaurants in France, including Taillevent, Michael Rostand and L'Hotel De Carantec.  It's that type of pedigree that gets my heart aflutter!

In an amazing twist of good fortune, we were able to secure a table for two at Wagyu Takumi on the morning of our Saturday night reservation.  The food gods were indeed smiling down on us.  It was more remarkable when you consider the size of the restaurant, which seats a cozy twelve diners at a time.  As we arrived for our 7:30pm reservation, we almost got lost in the back streets of Wan Chai, but Google Maps had us at the slightly hidden front door just in time.  As we announced ourselves, the door slid open 'Star Trek' style and we made our way to one of those few precious seats.

My first impression of the space was that it was tiny, very much dominated by the kitchen, which was also dominated by the presence of Chef Konishi.  Our seats were in an excellent position, right in front of the preparation area and the spot where Chef Konishi marshalled his kitchen troups throughout the night.  My excitement level went through the roof when I realised I'd again get to watch a master at work.

There is only an eight course tasting menu at Wagyu Takumi, which suited me just fine, I love tasting menus and degustations, which are the best way for a chef to demonstrate his skill and really get a sense of their style.  There was no mucking about, we were asked which main option we wanted, there were three, and which cheese course of which there were two.  We also had to choose our type of water, Evian still and for SC, it was time to select her wine of the evening.

We started our Japanese French fusion tasting menu with a '3 kinds of Amuse Bouche', three beautifully presented small bites sitting on a bed of poppy seeds.  With instructions to eat from the left to the right, we started with a small glass of Japanese sea urchin covered with a soft and luscious lobster jelly.  Next to the sea urchin was a little sour green apple with goose liver macaron (but not a macaron) which had just a little sharpness from the apple.  We finished our amuse bouche with a caviar, a decent quenelle of top notch caviar with was lovely and salty.

We were amazed by the French white asparagus salad with honey vinaigrette and asparagus snow, which looked pretty far removed from your average salad.  The incredibly finely sliced asparagus was wrapped around a lettuce salad that had been drizzled in the sweet honey vinaigrette. It was dainty and supremely balanced on it's own, then the addition of some molecular tomfoolery in the asparagus snow helped elevate the salad to mystical levels.  The flavours danced around on your tongue for a while and the sweet snow added temperature to the dish.

Sitting so close to Chef Konishi was not only mesmerising, he and his team were running a well drilled kitchen, but it allowed us to watch the individual dishes being composed.  The morel mushroom etuvee with foie gras royal and parsley foam was was perhaps the most surprising of the Wagyu Takumi courses.  There was a beautiful, deep flavour from the sautéed morel mushrooms etuvee (French for stew) that was balanced by the sweetness of the foie gras.  There was some texture from what tasted like a parmesan crisp and after mixing the stew together, blended the perfect combination of textures and flavours.

After a couple of courses, we were already comparing Wagyu Takumi to the very best meals we'd enjoyed in HK, but at the next course our comparisons were to the best meals we'd had globally!  The abalone shimanto seaweed with barley risotto was an absolute triumph.  The abalone had been seared on the grill slowly and then added to a risotto that was quite outstanding.  Intense barley flavour with a sweet undertone and slight bitterness from the seaweed became a surprising reward after devouring the slightly chewy but oh-so-delicious abalone.  

It's interesting really, there have been plenty of times when I've had a piece of fish and thought that it was perfectly cooked.  It wasn't until I tried the pan-fried Japanese sea perch with basil flavour vegetable bouillon, that I knew what I'd been mission, it was the most exquisitely cooked fish I remember having the pleasure to eat.  The fillet was so moist, it fell apart under knife and had to be scooped up with the wonderfully punchy vegetable bouillon.  The vegetables were also supremely cooked, firm and super tasty, but the sea perch was from another world.  Yum!

Incredibly, we were up to our main course, where we'd had the choice of three different options. There was no way I'd head to a restaurant with Wagyu in it's name and not order the beef, so unsurprisingly I went for the charcoal grilled Kagoshima wagyu tenderloin and wagyu beef tartare with 'MONAKA' biscuit.  

We'd been watching the preparation of the wagyu all night, and I loved the care and attention to detail in the dish.  The Kagoshima tenderloin had been cooking at a low temperature for a long time, which helped retain it's moisture while cooking to a perfect medium rare.  The wagyu tartare was an interesting little morsel, prepared like a brûlée with the traditional egg sitting atop and then heated to a golden colour.  My tartare went down in one mouthful before I set my sights on the tenderloin, which cut like melted butter and then almost dissolved in my mouth, it was so tender. Hands down the best steak I've had in Hong Kong and a worthy namesake for the restaurant.

SC had chosen the French blue lobster with green asparagus, lobster jus and cherry vinegar, which looked very busy on the plate.  The generous serving of expertly butter poached lobster was surrounded by artichoke and asparagus, then placed on a slightly tart cherry sauce.  Initially chosen as a lighter option than the wagyu, the sheer size of the lobster dish meant that I got to sample quite a large size.  It was simply superb and while I definitely enjoyed my wagyu, I could easily imagine ordering the lobster on my next visit.

I normally hate the cheese course on most of the tasting menus I've had, thinking the course as a bit of a cop out, but with a couple of choices on the menu, I was able to enjoy a course I often leave alone.  Sure, there was a cheese plate, which SC ordered, but there was also a fruit option which included Macedonia fruit with cream cheese and rosemary espuma.  The light cream cheese was very much like a sweet dessert, a feeling which was added to by the inclusion of summer fruits, stewed to perfection.  It was a cheese course that I loved!

Our culinary journey was drawing to an unfortunate close, we'd very much enjoyed watching a master at work, but the end was near.  Our dessert was perhaps the prettiest of all the courses, which was saying a lot given the presentation of the meal to date.  The hazelnut creme brûlée with lemon sauce and ice cream milk was like a beautiful piece of art, worthy of any wall.  The symmetry of the dish was extraordinary, connected by a perfect circle of lemon curd that helped bring the components together.  Each component delicious in it's own right, especially that silky smooth milk ice cream, but together they were stunning.  It was simply a great full stop to a perfect meal.

Of course, it wasn't the full stop, with some wonderful looking petite four heading our way (along with the rather pricy bill).  A little raspberry tartlet, a passionfruit (I think) macaroon and a little custard cake were almost too much, in fact, they were for SC and I had to help her finish off the tasty little treats!

We've had some pretty decent meals in our time, many two and three Michelin starred restaurants included, but the Wagyu Takumi meal went right to the tippy top of the list.  The meal was so good in fact, that we found it hard to differentiate from all of our previous experiences. Quite simply put, food just doesn't get any better.

It helped that we were able to watch our food composition and it also helped that the service was spot on, but our time at Wagyu Takumi was immensely satisfying.  Look, it's not cheap, but it's not the most expensive meal we've had in Hong Kong.  In fact, even though it's on the pricier side of a meal, it was probably worth spending the money.  The meal took almost three hours and we were able to enjoy a show as well as a meal.

It's definitely a restaurant that I'll recommend my friends visit, and there is little doubt I'll be back. Yeah, it's pretty good!

Such concentration from Chef Konishi - no wonder the meal was perfect
Beautifully flavoured soft butter - hand churned
Perfect for the crusty bread
The chopsticks were there for one course only
The fine details make the difference
What's that green leafy substance?
Such precision and accuracy with each of the dishes
The generous lobster dish
The cheese course
Beautiful symmetry with the dessert
Stoically standing in his kitchen - awards in the background

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