For The Exotic Gourmand
It started with live Japanese crabs, and an aquarium full of these live crustaceans swimming at the entrance with a kill-on-order menu offerings that started the frenzy of Japanese crabs. Now, the owners of the crab-themed restaurant has moved on to the next challenge. The ingredient du jour, Octopus. Here’s a noteworthy look at the new restaurant which opened recently along Gage Street, Central.
The new 16-seater is just as intimate as its sister restaurant in Wanchai. Similarly, the new restaurant serves nothing but set menus, ONE lunch menu and ONE dinner Kaiseki menu to be exact. There is no a la carte option, no special orders, which makes ordering so much easier for diners and for the restaurant.
Diners are greeted at the entrance with a long aquarium view of live octopus, delivered alive 2-3 times a week and kept at the restaurant’s aquariums until they are ready to be served. Each octopus weigh between 200g each to several kilograms, as different sizes and body parts are best utilized in a variety of dishes featured in the menus.
The restaurant showcases octopus in its 10-course dinner menu known as “Grandpapa Menu” and a 6-course lunch known as “Grandmama Menu”. They each begin with an amuse-bouche named ‘Spring Roll’. Here the liver of a squid is harvested and combined with chopped octopus to make the filling of these slender spring rolls. Golden and crisp on the outside, the filling is slightly briny but has an ocean freshness to it.
To start a Kaiseki meal, the appetizer named “POND” comes in three parts, each showcasing seasonal produce and ocean harvests from Japan. The “Cold ‘SOMEN’ with Vannamei Shrimps and Caviar” tasted sweet and light, while the “Squid with Nuta Sauce” is delicate with the nuta sauce. The sweet “Tomato Jelly” helps clearing the strong flavours from these tidbits, getting the palate ready for the next course.
Unseemly as it may sounds, The “Saga Abalone with Liver Sauce, Octopus Suction Cups in sake wine” holds no surprise element, except the combination of flavours that support the tender braised abalone and the lightly chewy suction cups from larger octopus. The sweetness you’d taste comes from the miso and a light tickling sensation from the sake is exactly what you’ll need to get ready for the next bite.
One of the highlights of the meal, Only the dark morsel on the platter is edible. This ‘Baked Octopus Potato’ dish features a crust made from sweet potato, bread, and squid ink. A light sprinkle of dried nori adds the greenish hint of plant life on a rock of the forest floor. The filling has a creamy miso base, with chockfull of poached octopus, shimeji mushroom and bits of edamame. This stone invokes a sense of creativity in the presentation without sacrificing taste for it.
Having had a few morsels, we turned to soups. This “Chopped Octopus Soup” is flavored with Yakala, a seasonal fish from Japan, as well as Tofu and Winter Melon. The brilliant twist is adding minced octopus in the soup. However we found the texture rather disappointingly grainy although flavour remains fresh and flavorful.
Part of the charm of this Kaiseki meal is its presentation and the idea of going an extra mile to impress a diner. The piece de resistance falls onto the “Grandpa Octopus Fashion Sashimi”. A round metal case is presented alongside wasabi and salt. Uncovering the case reveals moving octopus tentacles within. Yes, tentacles very much ‘alive and well’. A delicacy in Korea, live octopus is rather over the top on theatrics, and putting one in the mouth is an acquired taste. Its taste, well, slightly briny and a texture not as slimy as it looks once you get past it’s ‘still alive’. If any consolation we recommend eating them on their own as a sprinkling of salt induces more movement on the tentacles.
A more mealy course for the Kaiseki menu, The “Toban-Yaki Style Premium Wagyu with Octopus Slice” holds some surprises. The A4 Wagyu Sirloin is well-marbled and the flash-searing on the Toban seals the juices within the rare meat. The bigger slices of octopus, upon turning opaque due to the searing on the Toban, bear a delightful crunch and its freshness is further enhanced by grated golden mullet roe on top.
Closing in to the end of the Octopus-themed meal is a “Sakura Shrimp Octopus Steamed Rice “. Tentacles of an octopus are cooked in a pot of water flavored with ginger. The water is then strained and used to steam rice in a clay pot, and served as it is at the table, alongside mixed pickles and a small bowl of sakura shrimps. These dainty coral-colored shrimps are crunchy on the outside, bursting flavors from within. They enhanced the oceanic sweetness of the octopus-infused rice as each bite brings crunch as well as chewiness from the octopus tentacles chopped and incorporated into the rice earlier. The rice was good on its own but best with a few spoonful of sakura shrimps mixed through.
The Kaiseki meal also comes with a chef selection of Sashimi, a platter of Taraba Crab Tempura with Assorted Vegetables, a signature of the sister restaurant as well as dessert. The restaurant is not big in size and an intimate group of 4 may be the best size for each booth. Reservations are strongly recommended.