Rice Rhapsody: In a city where rice is life, Sushi Haru’s Chef Hirokuni Shiga orchestrates a masterful omakase
As Asians, we tend to gravitate to a bowl of piping hot rice to satisfy our hunger at any time of the day. But there’s the undeniable draw of something more, for which sushi, Japan’s heart of culinary offerings, sparks an entirely new love affair. The presence of countless establishments paying homage to the intricacies and revelations of Japan’s heart of culinary offerings underscores the Hong Kong craving for raw fish atop vinegared rice.
Taking over the hinoki wood dining counter of just exactly eight seats, Chef Hirokuni Shiga is flexing his faultless sense of taste at the intimate setting of Sushi Haru, at the top of Wyndham Street in Central. This humble master of Edomae sushi began his career at his family’s kappo-style restaurant and it wasn’t until he was in his early 20s that, at the invitation of his father’s friend, he had his first encounter with omakase sushi. He began an apprenticeship, and from then on, his imaginative culinary creations have captivated diners.
”What I think makes us stand out is that I am able to incorporate everything I have learned in kappo and kaiseki dining into the dishes I serve,” says Shiga, who doesn’t shy from sharing his own story from behind the counter. “For example, depending on the piece of fish I am serving, I use different types of rice and details like this help to shape the guest’s experience.”
Both Hong Kong and Japan are known for wearing their history as a badge of honour. Although it may seem that tradition and modernity are forever in flux, Sushi Haru manages to pay homage to the past while expressing a contemporary vibe. The Zen aesthetic is further enhanced by a display of minimal-themed, charcoal- based framed drawings and a grey and brown colour combination – the only two hues evident throughout the restaurant.
But of course, there’s the sushi, the main star of the show, as well as the chef showing off his knife skills while finely slicing a selection of seafood. His kitchen balances flavour and subtlety without coming off at all gimmicky and then splashes of vivid, varied colour are served dish after dish. Think akami (lean red tuna), shiromi (white fish), nimono (simmered fish), kai (shellfish), ika (squid), tako (octopus), ebi (shrimp), kani (crab) and gyoran (fish roe).
But of all these sensational toppings, it’s the hikarimono (silver-skinned fish) that Shiga names as his personal favourite. “I am most proud of our kohada [gizzard shad] and kasugo [young sea bream] because, although they are the most labour- intensive, the hard work can be tasted in the result,” he says. “Oftentimes, in the world of sushi, a true test of a sushi chef is in how they prepare kohada.”
There’s also good news for newcomers to East Asia who have yet to master chopsticks. “You can eat with your fingers or you can use chopsticks,” he adds, smiling. The dexterous chef also beguiles his audience with his step-by-step method of assembling a perfectly shaped sushi, which involves gently pressing the fish onto the rice.
In between exquisite bites, sake and beer add a smooth, subtle sweetness to the night’s bouquet of flavours. Shiga, who is often caught raising a glass or two with his audience, also brings a citrusy kick via a fruit-infused sake to the table.
“Sushi, if you are to just look at it, is not too complicated, but the amount of care that is put into it should always be reflected on the faces of your guests,” he emphasises. “That is when you know you have succeeded.”
The looks of joyous satisfaction around the table as our omakase feast concludes is a testament to both Sushi Haru and Chef Hirokuni Shiga’s triumph. Rice will always be appealing anywhere on this side of the world, but Sushi Haru truly goes far beyond satisfying a craving.
Sushi Haru, Mezzanine, 33 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2111 1450
Photos: Jack Fontanilla / Sushi Haru Video: Jack Fontanilla