Chef Hideaki Sato has left Tenku Ryugin to open his own restaurant, using Asian ingredients in unconventional French-Japanese cuisine.
Text by Mandy Li, interior photos by Samantha Sin
*Featured in Crave’s July 2015 issue
At Ta Vie, chef and co-owner Hideaki Sato is pushing boundaries. Freed from the rigour and rules of cooking kaiseki Japanese cuisine at Tenku Ryugin, where he was chef de cuisine, he is enjoying creating a style of his own – with the blessing of Ryugin’s founder, Seiji Yamamoto.
“I think it’s the right time to move on to a new page,” Sato says. “After three years, the operation at Tenku Ryugin is stabilised and I have settled in Hong Kong, too. I have always wanted my own restaurant, and the investor of Tenku Ryugin offered me this space to carry out my dream. I am grateful.”
Sato worked as a French chef in Japan for 10 years before joining Ryugin in 2009 and becoming chef de cuisine at Tenku Ryugin in 2012. For three years, he followed instructions from Yamamoto to the letter, while also creating a few dishes for the Hong Kong branch. His talent in infusing French air into Japanese fine cuisine caught the investor’s eyes and they started talking about opening a restaurant to showcase Sato’s talent. Given this background, it’s tempting to compare Ta Vie with Tenku Ryugin, but Sato says the pair are similar only in philosophy.
“We both uphold pure, simple and seasonal as the rules of thumb. Except this, everything is not so alike,” he says.
Ta Vie serves only an eight-course tasting dinner menu, and the dishes are modern, bold and daring. He’s partial to Asian ingredients. Sweetcorn comes as puffed mousse, Hotaru squid is served with Caesar salad-style dressing, an oyster is wrapped in a thin slice of wagyu.
“I don’t limit myself in any frame now. When I have an ingredient, I dig into my head to scour a way that would bring out the best of the produce. My cooking now is mainly French and Japanese, but it’s also limitless,” Sato says. “I believe Asian produce will become more influential in the future, and I want to promote them.”
He uses meats, vegetables and fruits from local markets, and seafood from Japan. Subtle Asian touches abound: each dish is paired with tea, a rice or noodle dish is served as the final entrée course, and the colonial-style restaurant is decorated with vintage Japanese furniture and Chinese porcelain.
“I want to create a fine-dining experience that Asians are comfortable with, while Westerners find it interesting,” Sato says. “Ta Vie’s Japanese name means journey – come open-minded, that’s the only way you can truly enjoy my cooking.”
1. Hotaru Squid with White Asparagus
The first course is a highly seasonal dish featuring Hotaru squid, a Japanese delicacy that’s available for only one month a year. It’s pan-seared, paired with seasonal white asparagus, and dressed in a squid mayonnaise sauce that has a creamy texture and a flavour a little like anchovy. The whole dish is a celebration of the unique squid flavour – concentrated, briny and umami- filled. It’s a true show-stopper.
A dish created during Sato’s time at Ryugin, an oyster is wrapped in a paper-thin slice of wagyu and served with grated celeriac jelly. We were uncertain about this strange combination, and after tasting our group’s opinions were still divided. Some loved the novel experience, others would have preferred the oyster to have a stronger character as the wagyu was sumptuous but without much flavour. We all agreed it was an interesting dish and applauded the culinary creativity.
3. Hirame Japanese Flounder and Hokki Clam
The third course continued to impress us. Flounder from Aomori, Japan, is pan-seared, cooked in clam juice and dressed in clams à la Marinière sauce. The fish was cooked perfectly and we enjoyed the bouncy, firm meat with the sweet crustacean sauce. The Hokki clam provided a pleasant chewiness. Elevating the experience further is the pairing of raw pu-erh cold tea – light, sweet with a note of jasmine scent, it complemented the dish like a glass of chardonnay.
4. Pan-seared Abalone with Risoni alla Carbonara
Instead of meat, Sato’s final entrée is a filling and satisfying orzo dish in line with Asian eating habits. Orzo is cooked in carbonara sauce with abalone liver, which imparts an unusual greenish colour and a distinctly sweet flavour. The abalone was thinly sliced and pan-seared for a springy texture. The dish is followed by a palate-cleansing cup of cold ginger and lemongrass tea that cuts through any lingering heaviness from the dish.
5. Fresh Strawberry Gratin
Strawberries are grilled until slightly soft, which gives them a concentrated sweetness and is a completely different experience to the usual fresh version. To balance the sugariness, the gratin is paired with lemongrass- flavoured strawberry sauce. We loved the choice of coffee served after the dessert – lighter Alishan from Taiwan or stronger Sumatra beans from Indonesia. We chose the Alishan, which was aromatic, light and mild for a cup of comfort that ended our night perfectly.
2/F The Pottinger, 74 Queen’s Road Central, Central
Tel: 2668 6488