There’s long been a special place in the heart of many of Hong Kong’s most discerning diners for one particular dish – sushi. Indeed, the city’s culinary landscape is dotted with a plethora of establishments serving up this uniquely Japanese cuisine at pretty much every imaginable price point. When it comes to Michelin-starred sushi standouts, however, the Fragrant Harbour boasts just three – three-starred Sushi Saikon, two-starred Sushi Saito and one-starred Sushi Wadatsumi.
Change, though, is in the air, with Mitsuhiro Araki – the only Japanese chef to ever attain much coveted Michelin treble-star status in both London and Tokyo – having now opened an outpost in Asia’s World City. His bold new venture – The Araki – is an exclusive 12-seat restaurant and can be found tucked in to the old stablery, part of Tsim Sha Tsui’s refurbished Heritage 1881 compound.
Discreet by design, Chef Araki’s Hong Kong debut dinery was conceived as a homage to Edomae sushi, a style developed in Tokyo-some 200 year ago as a means of keeping seafood fresh long before the invention of refrigeration. This saw the canny cooks of the day resorting to infusions of salt, miso and soy sauce as a way of ensuring their fine produce remained perfectly edible long after it had been caught. It’s a time-honoured tradition and one said to yield far more in terms of texture, flavour and sheer melt-in-the-mouth satisfaction than the solely raw seafood-on-rice approach favoured by many contemporary establishments.
Accordingly, when dining at The Araki, guests should expect a multi-course omakase menu, one continuously customised to make best use of the day’s finest freshly-caught ingredients. In one telling break with tradition, however, Araki personally oversees the inventorying, visiting the wet markets daily to source the best local seafood and specifying regular deliveries of certain fish found solely in Japanese waters.
Outlining his culinary philosophy, he said: “While people always assume the best quality seafood must come from Japan, that is not the case for every ingredient. As the ocean doesn’t recognise national boundaries, it is important to build relationships with local fisherman wherever you are in the world, whether that’s Japan, the UK or Hong Kong. That is the only way to ensure you always get the very best seafood.”
Eager to see how his approach pans out in practice, we pretty much pounced on our tasting fingers as soon as they appeared. To be fair, we were only following orders as we had been briefed that every item of sushi would be served directly onto the wooden countertop – with the requisite wasabi and sauce already applied – and should be consumed (using one hand only) within seconds of its arrival.
Appropriately enough, the first to be table-topped was the Tuna. As Araki is a world-renowned tuna master, our expectations were high. Fortunately, his truly delicious nigiri more than delivered – all melt-in-the-mouth morsels of tuna carved lovingly from the fish’s exquisitely tasty neck region.
Next to tempt our taste buds was Young Snapper, sourced fresh from the local wet markets and beautifully tender thanks to its relative infancy. Creamy yet firm, its flavours were enhanced with a dash of Thai lime, giving it a refreshingly citrusy aftertaste.
Barely had we completed this memorable course when the next locally-sourced sushi offering – Mantis Shrimp – took its on-table turn. Rather than being served raw, it was instead lightly poached, with only a dash of soy sauce to enhance its inherent sweetness. Boasting a somewhat crunchy texture, its cooked flesh was wonderfully counterpointed by the subtly tangy rice and came in sharp contrast to its raw counterpart.
Perhaps the most stunning course of all, though, was the Ebi Oboro with Prawn Crumb. Another cooked dish, here the ebi prawn came wrapped in oboro, a surprisingly soft, crumbly shrimp paste created by grinding prawns for hours on end. Together, they form a delectably cohesive whole, with the sweet crunch of the prawn and smoothness of the oboro merging synergistically before serenading your taste buds with their joyous unity.
From start to finish, Chef Araki’s passion and mastery over his craft was never less than wholly evident. From the undeniably high quality of the ingredients – “I check the eyes, gills and firmness to make sure each fish is perfect. If it’s not 100 percent, it’s not going to make the cut” – and flawlessly precise seasonings to the intimate atmosphere of the dining experience, every aspect of The Araki’s omakase tasting is exceptionally well orchestrated, with each individual dish striking a deliciously different note. Small wonder, then, that you currently have to book several months in advance should you want to check out Chef Araki for yourself.
Text: Tenzing Thondup
Images: The Araki