There are a few sushi restaurants in town that had been called ‘impossible to book’. And Sushi Kumogaku is one of them. Since dinner service was re-opened, I had tried for so many times that I simply lost count. Already half given up, couple of weeks ago I browsed the booking site again, and could not believe my eyes to see there was an opening for two! So in the fastest possible way I made reservation and paid the deposit to secure the seats.
Located in H Code on Pottinger Street Central, the restaurant was led by Executive Chef Kin, who had worked under the famous Mori Tomoaki for many years before starting his business. Seated at the far end of the beautiful hinoki 12-seat counter, there was an elegant traditional Japanese ambience, from the sliding doors, art pieces, to the wooden ceiling, creating a cozy and comfortable dining experience.
There was only one Omakase Menu ($2,500) and I also ordered a bottle of sake to pair. The Sharaku Junmai-ginjo Natsugin-Usunigori 冩樂 純米吟醸 夏吟うすにごり ($880) was the limited edition for summer season, freshly made last month. I liked the delicate taste and refreshing fruity note, with also acidity to lighten the palate.
For the starter we were served the Murasaki-Uni 紫雲丹 and Junsai 莼菜. The purple sea urchin was very good, with a clean and mild taste while the watershield was a type of crunchy water vegetable, coated with unique slippery, gelatinous substance, with light flavours. Together with the vinegar sauce, it was very refreshing and a great appetizer to start the meal.
The second course was Madai 真鯛, paired with a sour sauce added with some small pieces of the fish skin. The Japanese sea bream came from Awaji Island in Seto Inland Sea, arriving HK just that morning so super fresh. Chef Kin cut the sashimi very thin, translucent to the light, and recommended us to put a piece of the fish skin inside before rolling up to dip in the vinegar sauce. It had a great bite, while delicate, it did not mean lacking of flavours by any means.
The third course was Shako 蝦蛄. The chefs took some charcoals from the kitchen to put into the tabletop ceramic grill, before putting the Hokkaido mantis shrimps to lightly reheat the shell, giving out great aromas that started our mouths watering. The restaurant also only picked the female ones to serve. Removing the shell and then cutting in halves, the mantis shrimp had a sweet taste, with plenty of roes as well. Enjoying all its original flavours, it was a fantastic piece.
Beginning with the first sushi, the Meichidai 目一鯛 was a first-time experience. The gray large-eye bream got its name because of a dark strip from the eye down to the mouth. A rare fish even for restaurants in Japan, it was best in summer season, with a sweet taste with refined texture. I also liked how the chef prepared the shari, with the slight acidity of the sushi rice highly appealing to the palate. A must-try if having the opportunity.
The second sushi was Aka-Ika 赤烏賊. Chef Kin had meticulously cut on the flesh of the neon flying squid to break the fibre, but without cutting it through. A treat to see his knife skill in the process. The squid as a result was very tender and soft, almost to the point of melting in the mouth. With a sweet taste, this might not be an expensive ingredient but he transformed it into a prized piece.
The third sushi was Shima-Aji 縞鯵. The wild, in-season striped jack mackerel had been marinated in soy sauce for a while, infusing the flesh with nice umami characters on top of its delicate taste, as well as having good fat content, making it much rounder and plump on the palate than the farmed ones I had tried in many other restaurants.
The fourth course was Tako 章魚, with the chefs taking out a bowl with a few tentacles of octopus that had been nicely braised. Cutting out a few sections to serve, on the bite it was so tender and soft you would not believe it was tentacles, with some Japanese pepper powder dusted on top to give a bit of spicy fragrance to the nice umami taste infused into the tentacles from the broth. Another wonderful piece.
While we were enjoying, Chef Kin's assistant was busy trimming a piece of Katsuo 鰹 before skewering it. Chef Kin then took over, bringing the fillet to the kitchen to smoke over hay. Through the glass partition we could see how he controlled the degree of smokiness, covering the fillet with lid for a while to increase the aromas but avoid over-burning it.
The result was another fantastic course. Chef Kin then cut a few slices from the skipjack tuna and added some freshly chopped menegi on top, brushing with some ginger soy sauce. The harmony of fragrance between the spring onion sprouts and the smoky fumes was amazing, and I was also impressed he could maintain the smokiness and other flavours in such perfect balance. Very good indeed.
The fifth course was Chawanmushi 茶碗蒸, with the silky soft steamed egg having nice umami notes from the dashi mixed into the egg. Inside the egg custard was also plenty of Kegani 毛蟹, with the delicate and sweet horsehair crab meat adding to the flavours, so good that we scooped to the last drop of egg.
Returning to the sushi, the fourth piece was Kasugo 春子鯛. The young sea bream was always my favourite because of its wonderfully soft texture, with its leaner mouthfeel not feeling dry in any way because of the abundance of fish oil. A piece I would like to encore for sure.
The fifth sushi was Tokishirazu 時不知, with the wild chum salmon a seasonal delicacy in May/Jun that we were glad to see showing up in more restaurants in HK nowadays. On the appearance, it had a nice shiny sheen. On the bite, it was soft and tender, without any fishy note often found in other types of salmon. Another wonderful piece.
Then the chefs took out a large bowl which contained several Awabi 鮑, with the black abalone still steaming hot. Cutting some thick pieces, Chef Kin added some special abalone liver sauce on top. The abalone was very tender, biting through without effort, seeping with its great flavours. The sauce made the abalone even more appealing with its creamy, rich umami taste. And we all asked the chef to provide a bit of shari so we could finish all the sauce.
Serving the seventh course now, in fact we had been looking at the dried Sawara 鰆 being grilled in the kitchen for a while before they were brought out to cut into pieces. Chef Kin explained that the fish was marinated with a sake sauce prepared with the innards of the small Japanese Spanish mackerel to strengthen the umami taste. Nicely grilled, a perfect companion for beer and sake.
After preparing the different cuts of the tuna, Chef Kin neatly put them on the wooden board to show us. The tuna came from Hokkaido Uchiura Bay, and I was particularly interested in the Akami Zuke 赤身. The chef had used hot water to lightly blanch the surface of the lean tuna, allowing the surface to contract to retain the flavours and juice inside better, before marinated in soy sauce. I found that the tuna as a result was not as salty and dominated by the soy sauce flavours, with the original taste of the tuna more pronounced. An interesting and clever technique, it was the first time I heard of that.
The second part of the tuna trio was Chutoro 中とろ. My favourite cut of the tuna, this medium fatty tuna had the perfect mix of lean and fat proportion in my opinion, and the amount of fish oil not too dominant to overwhelm the other flavours including the umami taste from the soy sauce. A rewarding piece.
Finishing the trio with Otoro 大とろ, it was a wonder especially for fans who like the aromatic and intense fish oil seeping when biting through the silky soft, melt-in-the-mouth fatty tuna. I liked that it was not so extreme like eating a piece of fat, testimony again to the effort Chef Kin spent picking the best ingredients to serve his customers.
Already having eight pieces of sushi, we were served Akamutsu 赤鯥. The prized rosy seabass was beautifully grilled, with the heat vitalizing the abundance of fish oil. Even after the otoro, this fish was holding up with its fat content, and the chef had paired with some nagaimo, marinated with wasabi, to freshen up and help to balance the palate.
Seeing Chef Kin took out the torigai and cutting off the adductor muscle and skirt portion, he then shredded some cucumber before making a Kabashira 貝柱 Roll. The muscle of the Japanese cockle was crunchy and sweet, matching well with the cucumber, and this roll was a good way to cleanse our palate before transitioning to the other courses.
Then came another of my all-time favourite sushi, Kuruma-Ebi 車海老. The Japanese tiger prawn was just poached and while still steaming hot, so when the assistant removed the shell, it was truly painful to see how his hands need to withstand the heat. However, the results were fantastic, with the prawn so sweet and having a nice, firm bite. A candidate to encore for sure.
Returning to Torigai 鳥貝, Chef Kin further trimmed the pieces of the Japanese cockle, then smashing it onto the board to loosen the muscle before making the sushi. The clean taste and sweetness, coupled with the crunchy texture on the bite made this seasonal ingredient one of my picks for clams.
Next was a signature for the restaurant. Taking out some puffs from the kitchen, they were toasted lightly to warm it up, before filling with mashed Ankimo 鮟肝. The creamy and savoury monkfish liver had been added with some finely chopped takuan, to give some crunchy pieces to increase the complexity on texture. Great in flavours, the contrast of the cold filling with the warm puff also brought in additional enjoyment. No wonder a few of the other customers immediately asked for an encore before even finishing the piece.
Coming to the twelfth sushi, the chef showed us the Bafun-Uni 馬糞雲丹, coming from Hokkaido Rishiri. Instead of using the nori sheet to wrap a gunkan, Chef Kin directly prepared the sea urchin on shari with a perfect shape, another example of his sushi skills. The sea urchin was creamy and sweet in taste as well.
Coming to the end of the sushi, the Anago 穴子, or conger eel, was very soft and truly melted in the mouth even before biting. With the sweetness and savoury of the thick eel sauce adding the flavours, the feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction was remarkable.
The Tamago 卵 was fluffy, with the note from a delicate dashi used to mix with the egg, aiming to highlight the original flavours of the egg but avoid the umami of the broth overpowering the overall taste.
But wait, how could I skip some of the other ingredients? Asking Chef Kin what he got which we did not yet try, I picked three additional pieces. Starting with Nishin 鯑 ($140), the Pacific herring was not commonly served in sushi. Chef Kin explained that this were smaller ones, similar in size with sardines. With a rather unique, but pleasant taste, the fish had quite fatty taste which was worth trying out if you happen to come across.
The second additional piece was Shiro-Ebi 白海老 ($160). The baby white shrimps were very soft on the bite, but unfortunately lacking the sweetness I would expect from this delicacy. Not sure whether it was not in season or other reason, but apparently this was also why the chef did not serve this on the night.
The last piece added was Kanpyo Maki 干瓢巻 ($120). The classic dried gourd roll was prepared with shreds of marinated gourd and shari on a piece of nori sheet, before rolling and cutting into sections. A way to fill out the stomach but also to help cleanse the palate, the chef had warned us beforehand that he would put a bit more wasabi and was in fact quite spicy. But still a nice one for wrapping up the meal.
Finishing all the sushi it was time for the soup. The Red Miso Soup was tasty, with the stronger flavours of the red miso permeating through the dashi broth, offering nice umami notes and warming the stomach, with the large clam and kombu nicely complementary.
The dessert included a slice of Melon and Warabi Mochi, with the melon very juicy and sweet, and the mochi chewy. By this time, the customer sitting next to me was already drunk and could not even finish the dessert, as he had been trying different sakes throughout the night and consumed quite a lot.
The overall atmosphere was great, with the staff and the chefs interacting with us frequently to explain the ingredients and having casual conversations. We inevitably chatted about how difficult to make reservation, and they shared with us the secrets to make booking. The bill was $6,570 including all the additional sushi and sake, and considering the overall experience, it is definitely one of the sushi restaurant I would recommend. I just hope it would not be as difficult to book as winning Mark 6.