Can a restaurant really ever shake off the ghosts of the past?
One of my favourite meals in Hong Kong was at the (then) 2* Wagyu Takumi, helmed by renowned Japanese chef Mitsuru Konishi (see post here). I simply loved the exquisitely executed Japanese French fusion style of cooking, and I’m not alone, it’s a favourite of Hong Kongers in general.
But as things go in a transient city like Honkers, Waguy Takumi lost one of its stars, then talented chef Mitsuru went on to do other things (see post here).
But change is not always a bad thing; in this case, it meant a change of chef and a change of name. As they say, the King is dead, long live the King.
In this instance, the new King is Chef Daisuke Mori, a man with an impeccable pedigree that includes stints at the renowned 3 Michelin-starred Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon in Tokyo, as well as 2 Michelin-starred Restaurant Taillevent in Paris.
I’m not gonna lie; I have a seriously strong penchant for Joel Robuchon restaurants, and I tend to gravitate to chefs that have trained under the culinary juggernaut. There’s something about their training that continues to produce incredible talent and astonishing food. I also find the blend of Japanese precision with the French inventiveness as a combination that is impossible to fault.
Yeah, I was keen to see what the new chef had.
We were dining with regular eating pals Stephen and Gemma, whom I’d last shared a meal with at #Worlds50best restaurant, the Ledbury (see post here); a meal that had polarised us a little. I was keen to see if Takumi by Daisuke Mori would stack up when compared to the world’s best.
When we arrived, we noted that the only change to the restaurant was the illuminated signage at the front door; obviously with the new name. Inside was unchanged, with a small bar-style dining room wrapped around the open kitchen. With a total of 12 seats, the restaurant is quite cosy, allowing each diner to get up-close and personal with the cooking in progress.
Takumi by Daisuke Mori is a multi-course tasting menu restaurant; however, the big difference with normal tasting menus was the availability of three different options for the main component (more on that later). We didn’t waste too much time on the menu though, we pretty much all knew which main option we’d choose; so we just got on with the meal.
We were immediately brought individual bowls that contained a generous amount of French salted butter, which went along with the lightly toasted French baguette. Presented in a wire cone, the toasted baguette was the perfect way to commence the meal; even though the girl inadvertently used my butter, to begin with (leaving less for me!). Once she’d realised the error of her ways, I was left to enjoy the remaining meagre amount….
Thankfully though, we’re all seasoned diners, and declined the offer of replacement bread; instead, we focussed our attention to the meal ahead.
There was something quite special about our Amuse Bouche; the three little bites came delivered on a piece of slate with clear instruction of the order of consuming. First was a little tart of edamame with caviar, the salty hit blending with the slightly creamy edamame. It was really nice, but the sweet corn espuma was earth-shatteringly good, it was so light that it danced on the tongue as the flavour partied away in my mouth. Lastly, there was an expertly cooked quail egg, topped with a little horseradish that left a warm feeling in the palate as it was quickly devoured.
Sanma kicked off our meal, which was an interesting combination of mackerel pike (otherwise known as Sanma) and bulgur, a wheat-like cereal that texturally was similar to couscous. The strong oily fish was sensational, but I found the bulgur to be just a little bland, especially on its own; however, when you combined the fish with the sweet bitter sauce that was dolloped across the plate, a perfect balance was achieved.
While the first course was good, there was a noticeable jump when Canard Rouleau arrived. The expertly prepared duck breast was rolled around spring onion and placed on smears of avocado puree and finished with slices of radish. I loved the contrasting pink of the duck against the stark green smears and black bowl, but it was the rich gamey flavour of the duck that won me over. There was a freshness to go along with the intensely flavoured duck that left me wanting more.
I simply adored Oyster, which was a simple dish with an incredible depth of flavour. What nearly drove me insane though, was the cooking process, which occurred right in front of me. The oysters were lightly grilled in butter and the aroma emanating from the grill nearly destroyed me, it was so amazing! Presented in an open shell, the plump French oysters were covered in a saffron foam and coriander puree, that when combined with the sweetness of the oyster was unforgettable.
Our next dish led us to have an in-depth conversation about abalone diving, and the merits of sourcing the gastropod molluscs; ie, usually in shark-infested waters. Ormeau was described to us as the restaurant’s signature dish, and we could see why; it was superb. The expertly pan-fried abalone again drove us nearly insane with the aroma emanating from the grill; it was presented in a perfectly clarified shitake consommé. There was a richness to the consommé that really enhanced the abalone, which was sweet and delectable; I finished the dish in record time, then wondered if I could pilfer any of the Girl’s (no such luck!)
One of the benefits of sitting at a bar that wraps around the kitchen is that you get to watch the chefs work; there is nowhere to hide and it’s quite illuminating how well prepared a good kitchen team is. In fact, the Takumi team were so well versed in their work, there was hardly any talk at all.
On the flip side, being so close to the action means that the aromas emanating from the cooking can drive you slightly mad. There were many times where I simply stopped talking to inhale deeply and take it all in – this was the case with Risotto. The preparation of the barley risotto involved using a sauce that smelled simply divine; so it was no surprise with the depth of flavour from the barley risotto with thinly sliced Japanese octopus. There were layers and layers of flavour, enhanced by the slightly sweet and chewy slices of octopus; the dish really was not large enough!!
The choices for our mains were Poulet (chicken), Homard (lobster) or Japanese Wagyu; it was no surprise that the majority of us selected the beef as our main, but what did surprise me is that the girl chose Homard as her main?!
The French Blue Lobster was lightly poached in butter, then presented with a lemon fresh pasta and fennel salad; it was elegantly rustic in its presentation, helped with a light foam that covered for moisture. Look, it was a nice dish, well executed and quite tasty, the pasta al dente and the fennel providing a nice contrasting flavour….
But it wasn’t the Japanese Wagyu!!
Our thick slices of Wagyu had been ever so slowly cooked on the grill; with the aromas again driving me to distraction. The incredibly tender beef could have been cut with a spoon; but was it tasty? Oh-my-word yes! The beef was served with a shallot puree and fricassee of mushroom, so there was a lovely umami hit that went along with the beef. While the beef was good, dipping the wagyu into an accompanying side of salt just took the flavour to another level. It was simply delicious and I think the girl made a terrible, terrible mistake by not ordering the dish!
So far, everything had been superb, but I did struggle a little with the next dish; which felt a little like a ‘filler’ round. In this instance, it was Kyuri Men, a cucumber noodle with beef consommé and sadachi. I just found the beef consommé to be quite overpowering, and while there was a wonderfully beefy flavour to the dish, I didn’t like it against the cucumber noodles.
Pre-dessert was a punch of insanely delicious foam that was a lemon (or yuzu) and pineapple. It wasn’t big in size, but it was huge in flavour – I’d have died happy if I could have had a bucket-sized bowl!
Dessert was also superb, even though it looked a little boring. Called Black Figs, the bowl consisted of cinnamon ice cream and a coconut cream, with hidden Japanese grapes and of course the poached figs. The lightness of the ice cream and coconut cream was a perfect foil for the sweet fig, acidity from the grapes keeping an even balance with the dessert.
I’d gone into our meal at Takumi by Daisuke Mori pondering if the meal would have been as good as its predecessor; the answer was a resounding yes. The question I’d put to Gemma and Steve…. Was it better than our trip to the Ledbury? Yes for Steve and no from Gemma (and yes from me).
Takumi by Daisuke Mori is no doubt a superb restaurant; however, I need to warn you, it’s not cheap. Tasting menu starts at HKD 2,080 and by the time you add the wine and other drinks, is about as expensive as a restaurant gets. Of course, there is a Michelin Star premium in Hong Kong; and along with that premium comes excellent service and a wonderful meal.
Perhaps not a place that you’d go regularly (unless you’re loaded) but as a special occasion place, Takumi is definitely worth considering.
Especially if you loooooove Wagyu beef!