REVIEW

Ryu Gin

Ryu Gin opened in March 2012 on the 101st floor of Kowloon’s ICC building. Like Sushi Shikon, it is a new, very expensive, two Michelin star outpost in Hong Kong of a restaurant in Tokyo with three Michelin stars. It serves extremely high quality modern Kaiseki cuisine composed of pristine ingredients, flawlessly executed and beautifully presented.

The core of Kaiseki, an ancient art form that is the Japanese counterpart to Western haute cuisine, is balance – of flavors, textures, colors, aromas, temperatures. It originated in the Zen monasteries of ancient Kyoto, evolved to an accompaniment to the Japanese tea ceremonies served at ryokan and eventually to the elaborately choreographed multicourse tasting menus that were served to Kyoto’s emperors. Kaiseki meals typically involve 7-9 seasonal courses and follow a highly ritualized progression involving an appetizer, a lidded dish (typically, a clear soup), sashimi, a simmered dish, a grilled dish and a steamed course. They are always served on elaborate, beautiful servingware meant to complement the visual beauty of the intricately composed dishes. The dictates of Kaiseki are quite strict and chef Seiji Yamamoto, while clearly respecting the tradition, also takes some creative liberties with it; when you hone your craft to this level, you are not really bound by rules and can more or less do whatever you want.

The two things that most stood out to me about Ryu Gin’s cuisine were the freshness of the ingredients, most of which are sourced from Japan, and the purity and balance of the preparations. The fresh figs, for instance, balance the rich creaminess of foie gras with the fruitiness of the fig and porto in near perfect equilibrium. The ichibandashi soup came with a wonderfully smoky kinki (a rockfish from Hokkaido similar to snapper) that was grilled over binchō-tan charcoal. Similarly, a charcoal grilled adamai fish served with crispy scales and a dash of salt and Japanese lime was brilliantly conceived and executed. A kind of reimagined sukiyaki of wagyu sirloin and porcini mushrooms had very fine depth of flavor and heartiness. And, of course, there is the restaurant’s signature avant-garde dessert, the -196°C “Candy Apple” and +99°C “Apple Jam” (this dessert has appeared in several variations, such as with strawberries, apples, pears and peaches). It is a playful mixture of temperatures and textures: a liquid nitrogen-frozen shell encases flash frozen apple powder; you are instructed to break open the sphere with your spoon, and then warm apple jam is drizzled on top. Mix it together, and voilà – an innovative and technically virtuosic dish that is also delicious. In case you want to make it at home, it’s really quite easy, just follow these steps.

Ryu Gin means singing dragon, and you are greeted on your arrival by a place setting of a swirling black dragon (it appears to be a replica of the large painting by the Japanese artist Sasaki that is on the wall of the Tokyo branch). Dragons have a great symbolic resonance in both Japanese and Chinese culture, so the transplanted concept works well here. In our view, the modest, understated interior design (wooden chairs and slatted screens and dividers juxtaposed with a deep purple motif) is a mistake. Japanese minimalism can be breathtakingly beautiful – take Kikunoi or Masa, for instance, which are two illustrative poles of the same basic style – but this has neither the organic simplicity of traditional design nor the sleek, contemporary look of modern design. It looks, rather, more or less undecorated (the private dining room with its dragon ceiling being a notable exception). The likely intention is to direct the focus of attention to the cuisine (and to the views), which is a legitimate choice, but still suboptimally executed. The décor also amplifies sound, a problem when the dinner guests are composed not of invariably polite and hushed Japanese clientele but of a rather more boisterous sort. Needless to say though, the views from the 101st floor of West Kowloon and Victoria Harbour are stunning. They are actually better in daylight and at sunset, so opt for an earlier seating, if possible.

The beauty of the servingware, however, is above reproach, with several of the dishes and plates being among the most beautiful we’ve seen. You are given a choice of sake glasses at the start – cut-crystal, porcelain, rustic earthenware, etc. Regrettably, there are no bottles of sake available on the obscenely priced list for less than $200USD, but you should get one anyway to complement the flavors of the pure, subtle cuisine that is to follow.

For a restaurant of this quality and expensiveness, the service was somewhat mixed. The staff was very pleasant and friendly, but often inattentive. In contrast to Sushi Shikon or Sushi Ta-Ke, where my diminutive sake glass was refilled probably 100 times over the course of the evening, my glass at Ryu Gin was only refilled once or twice by the staff. It happens that I don’t particularly care about that, but it’s merely an illustrative example and the disparity is revealing. And while the servers seemed to be well-informed about the dishes and manner of preparation, most of the explanations were lost in translation due to heavily-accented English.

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INFORMATION

Kowloon
101/F, ICC, 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon
+852 2302-0222
Mon-Sun, noon-3pm, 6pm-9:30pm
    Seiji Yamamoto, Chef
    Hideaki Sato, Chef de Cuisine
    Hidemichi Seki, Sous Chef

    TAGS

    • Hong Kong
    • Kaiseki
    • Japanese
    • Best View
    • BYOB Corkage Fee: $500HKD ($1000 Champagne)
    • Private Dining Room Private Dining Room 1: 12 seated Private Dining Room 2: 4 seated

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