The unstoppable rise of Hong Kong’s plant-based scene has paved way for upscale Japanese-French restaurant, HAKU, to unveil its first high-end vegetarian kaiseki offering. We ate our way though the late summer tasting menu featuring a celebration of Japanese regional foods from all over the country. Executive Chef Agustin Balbi’s exquistely crafted and often show-stopping six-course experience is a feast for all senses and one of the city’s better plant-based dining experiences. Below, we take a journey through the menu’s highlights.
A Celebration of Japanese Seasonal Produce
Working closely with farmers in Japan, the vegetable-forward menu begins with playful snacks including a deconstructed okonomiyaki. What follows after can only be described as an exquisite selection of gastronomic masterpieces, blurring the boundaries between food and art. Take, for instance, the famed Shio tomatoes with Shiso, roasted sunflower seed oil dripped in a beautiful, fermented black olive oil. Presenting more like a centrepiece than a plate of food, the Hokkaido tomatoes, prized for their exquisite sweetness thanks to the regions’s cold weather are succulent and ideally matched with the Spanish olive oil’s smokiness.
Playful, Creative Presentations
Be sure to pay close attention when Chef Agustin presents his Japanese sweet potatoes baked in edible clay and cooked in their own steamed juices, adding texture and flavor to the uber starchy tubers. A sprinkle of sea salt, some olive oil and white truffle to highlights the simple sophistication of this beautifully presented dish – the plate reminds us of a Japanese artist’s homage to a wintry nature scene. Chef Balbi truly delights.
Ultimate Purity in Taste & Flavour
Chef Balbi’s Tomorokoshi– cum-humitas, featuring the sweetest Japanese corn with meaty chanterelles mushrooms and salty manchego cheese, a powerful flavour combo finished with togarashi spice mix atop a espumante was our favourite dish on the menu. We could have eaten bowls and bowls of this- a glorious take on the popular Japanese street snack. Enjoy the glorious and outstanding flavors combined because this dish is definitely one for the books!
A Feast For The Senses
Diners can indulge in HAKU’s daily access of the freshest plant-powered catch with the last savoury course of Japanese Koshihikari rice and Kubota vegetables. This dish is the ultimate in CSA celebration: Chef Balbi never knows what’s coming in his weekly box, happy to await the farmers’ freshest produce choices. The result? An invigorating display of brightness and crunch: with greens, oranges and pinks!
The meal’s coda was was a visually stunning icy dessert: vibrantly pink, reminiscent of cherry blossoms, we enjoyed the famed Hakuhou summer peach from Okayama, its white soft flesh matched with tart yogurt foam and a crisp granita. Each bite felt like a tribute to freshness.
Inspired to pursue a plant-based menu after cooking for a visiting vegan industry friend and armed with HAKU’s access to exclusive, high quality ingredients, crafting a permanent vegetarian menu felt like a natural progression for Chef Balbi. The 30-year-old, whose resume includes Michelin-starred Le Bernardin in New York, Nihonryori RyuGin and Cuisine Michel Troisgros in Tokyo, told us that the real challenge was sourcing produce from farmers with accessible routes to Hong Kong.
“The menu took a few months of trial and error and several visits to different farms in Japan to find produce that was really special before we were ready,” explains Chef Balbi. “We are very demanding about quality and are always on the lookout for better ingredients to showcase an entire menu out of them.” Balbi is a devoted student in the Japanese tradition of
Showcasing his wealth of experience and talent, the Argentinean chef has created a gorgeously presented modern set menu worthy of serious acclaim. It’s absolutely magnificent food, some of the best in the city bar none. Be sure to request for a seat at the chef’s counter to watch the team as they work: they are artists.
For HKD800 + 10%, the menu can also be extended to an eight-course meal for HKD900 + 10%. Available exclusively for dinner, the tasting menu can also be arranged for lunch with advanced notice. In addition, all items can be made vegan upon request.
Shop OT G 04B, 17 Canton Road, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, +852 2115 9965, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images courtesy of HAKU and Green Queen.