After a whirlwind tour of Japan, executive sushi chef Ah Do and his team serve inspired omakase in this new restaurant.
Text by Tiffany Chan, photos by Samantha Sin
*Featured in Crave’s February 2016 issue
In fine Japanese cuisine, diners are loyal not to a restaurant or its star rating but to the chef. Sushi chef To Chi-hang, aka Ah Do, has gained a loyal following since his days at Sushi Ta-ke. Just as they followed him to Kishoku, now they go to Sushi Gin.
Located in the same building as Kishoku (fortunately, the former Big Foot Centre has been renamed Zing!), Sushi Gin occupies a clean space with streams of natural light and expansive views of Happy Valley and Causeway Bay. Blossoming bonsai plants, rippled sanded walls resembling the ocean floor and smooth oak tables give the space a warm, natural look.
To prepare for the new restaurant, To, executive chef Cheung Ka-kui and three other chefs travelled around Japan for 10 days seeking inspiration everywhere from Michelin-starred restaurants and street-food vendors to fish markets and tableware specialists.
“There were many sleepless nights,” To says. “We ate eight meals a day, slept at two or three in the morning, only to wake up at 4am to 5am to watch the tuna auctions.”
In Osaka, they found honeyed apples and baby persimmons. In Tokyo’s Tsukiji market, they learned how to judge a tuna’s quality by rubbing its tail. They learned sake pairing, sourced sake glasses and discovered that many people in Japan are no longer fond of traditional kaiseki meals, finding them uninspired.
The omakase at Sushi Gin features several courses inspired by the trip, such as whiting lightly seared with salt and paired with Hokkaido cheese. Palate cleansers in the form of sweet Japanese fruit are served between courses, and rather than an accompanying shot of sake, warm sake is poured into the oyster and crab shells, integrating the beverage into the course.
“An omakase should always be different, creative and have elements of surprise throughout,” To says. “But for now, let’s also take a trip down memory lane.”
He brings out one of his famous toro sandwiches, eliciting in us the elation that comes with seeing an old friend. Cupping the nori and thick slab of toro sandwiching a piece of shiso leaf, it is just as we remembered.
Kawahagi Sashimi with Liver
Kawahagi, or filefish, from Kyushu has firm white flesh that makes excellent sashimi. Flecked with fine baby leeks and slathered in its own liver, it’s raw, rich and luxurious. The creamy raw liver melted in the mouth and contrasted beautifully with the firm, almost crunchy thin slices of fish. To balance and cleanse the palate, the leeks were fragrant but not overwhelming spicy.
Mantis Shrimp Gunkan
One of the most time-consuming courses to make, the gunkan is stuffed with meat from the arms of the seasonal mantis shrimp, or shako. The thin slithers of meat are less flavourful than shrimp, but more tender. Topped with prawn-head paste and small sakura ebi, it’s sweet, rich and crunchy. Given that each gunkan requires five pairs of shako arms and considerable effort, it’s only served by special request.
This two-part crab dish is served with its meat, roe and innards thoughtfully separated into piles on the right, and on the left is a crab head filled with innards paste and served with a crunchy rice cracker. After eating most of the paste from the head, warm Fisherman Sokujo – a speciality sake specifically for crab dishes – is poured into the shell so you can swill the remaining paste. Delicious.
Grilled Hokkaido Abalone
To bring out its aroma, abalone from Hokkaido is grilled in butter with spring onion and mushroom. The best part of the dish, however, is the cooking juice. Poured over the abalone and mini balls of vinegary sushi rice, the juice is sweet, deep in flavour and altogether excellent. After mixing the rice into the juice, we faced the almost impossible task of refraining ourselves from licking the bowl clean.
Charcoal Grilled Hata-hata
The arrival of seasonal hata-hata, or sandfish, signals the beginning of winter. A sweet, meaty fish with no scales, it is simply charcoal grilled with salt and served on skewers in an impressively large cauldron. We’re told that later in the season, the fish will have more buriko, or eggs, which are crunchy and milky. We can’t wait to try it again later in the season.
27/F Zing!, 38 Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay
Tel: 2151 1888