1 Austin Road West, Kowloon,
Hong Kong, China
Tel. +852 2302 0222
Food type: Japanese – Kaiseki
Nearest tube: Kowloon
Website: Tenku Ryugin
For my birthday, I had booked a table at Tenku RyuGin located at the ICC. The term ‘tenku’ in Japanese means sky or heaven and is an apt name for the outpost of Seiji Yamamoto’s 3 star restaurant as it is located on the 101st floor of Hong Kong’s tallest building. The branch opened with Hideaki Sato, Yamamoto-san’s right hand man, at the helm and the restaurant was swiftly awarded 2 Michelin stars in 2013. Sato-san departed earlier this year to open up his own restaurant, Ta Vie (which was awarded a Michelin star in the 2016 guide) with Hidemichi Seki taking his place.
To get to the restaurant you will need to take the express elevator to floor 101. Make sure to pop your ears! You make your way through a discreet entrance before being greeted by one of the most amazing views. With its lofty location and floor to ceiling windows, the restaurant is designed to give diners a birds eye view of Hong Kong Island and its surroundings. This is definitely the place to take your date if you want a romantic setting.
Yamamoto-san’s cooking style is best described as Japanese Kaiseki based on ultra seasonal ingredients with some French influence as you will see later. In keeping with most Kaiseki-style restaurants, there is a no choice tasting menu. Guests are asked about any dislikes or food allergies when confirming their reservations but otherwise the menu is left to the discretion of the chef. Ingredients are flown in daily from Japan and this is reflected in the very fully priced menu – HKD$2,180 (£190).
After confirming that we were happy with the menu and that there were no allergies or dislikes, we began our meal with an excellent dish of cold somen noodles and abalone. The abalone had been steamed for the best part of 5 hours and subsequently scored in such a way to ensure maximum tenderness. This is accompanied by some shiro ebi (white shrimp) and caviar to provide a good umami hit. For me this was certainly the best dish of the night with the abalone itself some of the best I have eaten.
The next dish of foie gras was a bit of a let down not because it was bad but simply because it is a dish that I have had a lot of and often times done better. A small square of foie gras terrine is garnished with a singular slice of fig and dressed with a sesame cream sauce to provide a Japanese twist. While the East meets West idea worked well, and the execution was good, dare I say it – it was just completely boring. The foie gras terrine was fine, just not amazing when compared to some of the terrines that have come out of French kitchens. It just did not have the lusciousness and unctuousness that makes eating foie gras terrine so amazing.
Thankfully, the next course got us back on track. A nice seasonal piece of Alfonsino was served with an ichibandashi soup. We were advised to eat this dish slowly to experience the different flavours of the fish and soup as it cooled down. I could not wait however, given how delicious the fish and soup were.
Our next course was our sashimi consisting of 5 different items. I think it is here that the weakness of this restaurant is apparent because although the fish/ shellfish were very good (and I emphasise that they were very good), they were just no where near as good as what you can get from a top quality sushi restaurant. In particular, the ika (squid), akagai (surf clam) and Osaka-style mackerel sushi was significantly inferior to what we tried at Sushi Shikon a few days later. Dare I say it, the squid was rather chewy.
Next, we were served a fillet of amadai glazed with a miso-yuan sauce. I was very impressed with the little tuile accompanying the fish made from little anchovies which provided texture to contrast the soft silky fish and also was full of umami.
We were not to sure with the following course of cold egg custard with Kegani crab. I just found it very difficult to get my head around the fact I was eating a cold savoury egg custard. It just felt… weird.
Our meat course was a wagyu beef shabu-shabu with a thick, gloopy onion ponzu sauce. The beef was no doubt of excellent quality but I personally felt that the sauce completely overwhelmed the beef. Again, I just didn’t really enjoy this course. Some steamed rice topped with ikura (salmon roe), pickles and miso soup then followed signifying the end of our savoury courses.
The first dessert is a RyuGin signature with liquid nitrogen frozen pear hiding a pear flavoured ‘snow’. Our waiter then adds some hot pear jam to give the dish a hot-cold contrast. This was certainly a very accomplished dessert with technique used to enhance the eating experience. A final dessert of chestnut ice cream was fine but unexciting.
I have to say, we both came away from our meal at RyuGin disappointed. Not that there was technically anything wrong with the cooking. While the abalone and Alfonsino dish were definite highlights, for me there were too many courses which were ‘merely’ good, with better versions being had elsewhere. It was just missing that extra bit of magic, that je ne sais quoi. Perhaps it was our lofty expectations prior to our visit – the restaurant came very highly recommended by a couple of very knowledgeable foodie friends. Maybe I will have to fly to Japan to experience the ‘true’ RyuGin.
I had initially booked to dine at Pierre but changed my mind at the last minute. To be honest, I wish I hadn’t. At very least, I would have drunk some nice wine (I don’t really enjoy drinking wine with Japanese food) rather than £90 tea…
As a side note, while the setting is beautiful, this can work to its detriment. Although they have tried to maximise the number of tables next to the window, there are a couple of tables without this benefit. During our visit, one such table of very loud and obnoxious diners (from Mainland China judging by their accent) decided it would be a good idea to walk up to the window near where we were sitting to take some photographs. It is one thing to stand by a window with an empty table but the chap was literally next to us he might as well have joined us for dinner. The waiters didn’t make any discreet attempts to guide that person away from us.