Causeway Bay’s new sustainable seafood restaurant is a stylish destination helmed by chef James Cornwall, formerly of London’s storied J Sheekey.
Text by Tiffany Chan, select food photos by Joe Kwong
*Featured in Crave’s May 2016 issue
Seafood Room’s name is somewhat misleading. This is no mere “room”, but a palatial 8,000 sq ft space and 2,000 sq ft rooftop with panoramic views of Victoria Harbour. The space is filled with ocean-themed art – including a few pieces, we hear, from actor Adrien Brody’s private collection – ice sculptures and colossal chandeliers dipping down towards the table centrepieces.
It’s the first Hong Kong venture for the Bulldozer Group, a Russian hospitality company that runs more than 80 upmarket restaurants worldwide, including Cipriani and VIP Room in Dubai. Helming the kitchen is executive chef James Cornwall, who worked at revered London seafood restaurant J Sheekey for eight years prior to moving to Hong Kong. But Cornwall insists that, other than the seafood-heavy menu, the new venue will be an entirely different experience.
“[At J Sheekey] it was more about classic techniques, more British, hence more cream, more butter and more fat. Those who have been to J Sheekey won’t recognise the dishes here,” he says.
Cornwall sources wild and farmed sustainable seafood from all over the world: snapper from New Zealand, yellowtail from Australia, line-caught tuna from the Philippines, farmed salmon from Scotland. Closer to home, abalone, lobster, crab and prawns come straight from Aberdeen Fish Market.
The menu is broken down into sections that highlight different ways of cooking and presenting seafood, including carpaccio, tartare, “new style” sashimi and hot dishes. But it’s all very flexible, Cornwall says. Guests can choose to discard the menu and pick something from the fish tank.
It was Hong Kong’s vibrant seafood markets that inspired the concept. The Russian owners fell in love with the idea of going to the market in Sai Kung, picking out live and splashing seafood and having the chef cook it however they wanted it. When Cornwall first came to Hong Kong in November, he, too, was blown away by the sheer variety and accessibility of the seafood.
“I’d never experienced anything like it,” he muses. “In other countries around the world, you only see fillets of fish. People don’t want to buy the whole animal and prepare it at home, because, of course, it smells and it’s a lot of work,” he says. “Here, everything is on display. People in Hong Kong are brave with seafood, so we can be, too.”
1. Tuna Carpaccio with Foie Gras and Truffle
Being sustainable is not just about sourcing, but about using the whole fish, Cornwall explains. He uses tuna trimmings for the carpaccio, flattening out the fish into a thin rectangle adorned with dollops of truffle mayonnaise, tissue-thin black truffle shavings and foie gras cream. Eaten together, the tuna, truffle and foie gras is incredibly rich and luxurious. However, we wished there was something to cut through the richness.
2. Langoustine Tartare
Given how sweet and fresh langoustine can be, we were glad it was served raw, and in our opinion, it is the best way to eat it. The langoustine sits on a generous layer of diced avocado, garnished with truffle shavings and caviar. We spoon the oily truffle and yuzu dressing over the tartare and mix it together to create a wonderful mouthful of creamy avocado, sweet langoustine and truffle. Again, it was very rich, perhaps more yuzu in the emulsion would have lifted the flavours.
3. Sea Bass Ceviche
Ceviche shrivels up irredeemably if left for a few moments too long on the table, so we ate it as soon as it landed on the table. Diced sea bass and prawns marinated in lime and orange juice is tossed with a medley of fresh ingredients: tomatoes, mangoes, onions and a heaping pile of fresh coriander. The ceviche comes with long strips of homemade plantain chips. Fresh, zesty and herbaceous, this is a dish that sings of summer.
In this hot dish, seared scallops sit on a swish of roasted cauliflower purée with raisins marinated in Sauternes that lend an intense sweetness. The buttery sauce is finished with dukkah, an Egyptian spice mix of roasted hazelnuts, sesame seeds, cumin seeds and Maldon sea salt. We were told that diners are split on the dukkah, which is a strong flavour for Hong Kong diners’ sensitive palates, but we enjoyed the piquant, lively flavours.
5. Yuzu Tart
First things first: the portion is enormous, so four of us could split it. Topped with copious Italian meringue (perhaps a little too much), the yuzu centre is tart with a good consistency. We liked that it wasn’t overly runny and just held together. The pastry was solid, not too thick and doughy. Our only criticism was with the homemade green tea ice cream, which lacked the requisite rich, earthy flavour.
26/F Tower 535, 535 Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay
Tel: 3708 9668