HAKU: Modern Japanese cuisine by Chef Hideaki Matsuo & Agustin Balbi

Recently opened HAKU is bringing its Kappo-style kitchen experience to Harbor City. The concept of HAKU was inspired by Chef Hideaki Matsuo of 3-Michelin starred restaurant Kashiwaya in Osaka, in collaboration with Chef Agustin Balbi (formerly of The Ocean). The intimate kitchen gives diners an interactive experience with the chef and the food. Expect a set menu of incredibly thoughtful Japanese cuisine with a European twist, using the finest ingredients.

Vibe at HAKU

HAKU’s understated exterior (a black curtain with a large white outline of a triangle) is also present inside the restaurant. The design is minimalist with the focus of the restaurant on the open kitchen. The kitchen seats 11 and I would highly recommend sitting here as you can interact with the chef and see how each course is meticulously plated. There are a handful of tables just to the side of the kitchen as well as a private room in the back if you’re wanting to dine with a larger group. As would be expected, the staff are incredibly welcoming and attentive, ensuring you have the best possible dining experience. Chef Agustin Balbi also came around to explain the ingredients in each dish and was open to any questions we had.

Amuse-bouche

Kibinago (黍魚子/Silver-stripe Round Herring) & Isaki (伊佐木/Chicken Grunt)
Tomorokoshi Tart
Pickled Beetroot

Shortly after we took our seats at the kitchen bar, we were presented with four different bite-sized snacks akin to an aumse-bouche. The first two were the Kibinago (黍魚子/Silver-stripe Round Herring) and Isaki (伊佐木/Chicken Grunt). The herring was incredible and we saw the chef cooking them using a blow torch before they arrived. Don’t let the name fool you: chicken grunt is actually a type of fish. The smooth fish and the crunchy seaweed made a lovely pairing. We weren’t sure if we were meant to eat the whole Tomorokoshi Tart, as the “crust” didn’t actually look edible at first. Though this was personally the least exciting amuse-bouche for me, it was still quite tasty. Naturally, we were all quite captivated by the Pickled Beetroot that was delicately placed inside a red rose. The beetroot was tangy and acidic, cleansing my palate of the previous small bites.

Japanese Oyster

Japanese Oyster/Green Apple Granita

After sitting down and having a glance at the menu, a fleeting moment of panic came across my face as I read the first course: oysters. I have never enjoyed oysters (it’s a love/hate thing, right?), but was happy to give them a try after I saw the other ingredients. Turns out, I absolutely loved this Japanese Oyster. The addition of yuzukoshō and green apple granita added such a varying degree of complexity to the otherwise ocean-flavored taste of the oyster that I was really taken aback (and wanted more of!).

Tomato & Bellota Ham

Tomato Variety/Bellota Ham

Although it sounded relatively simple, the Tomato Variety with Bellota ham was full of other carefully chosen ingredients to heighten the taste of this dish. There were pieces of small fish and onion throughout, and kombu on top. When Chef Agustin came over he sprinkled sake kasu (the lees left over from making sake) over the dish,  which really added that umami flavor.

Foie Gras & Lotus Root

Foie Gras/Black Cherry Jam/Lotus Root Chips

While I thoroughly enjoyed each dish that was presented at HAKU, the Foie Gras with Lotus Root Chips was my absolute favorite. I was really excited about the lotus root chips when I saw them on the menu (they’re one of my favorite vegetables), but I was not excepting them to be black when they arrived at our table! The chef explained that they used squid ink tempura for the lotus root, which were unbelievably delicious. On top of the delicately smooth foie gras were black cherry jam, slices of cherry, and a pinch of citrus salt. The pairing of lotus root and the foie gras was genius: rich yet slightly sweet, creamy yet crunchy.

Hokkaido Uni on Brioche

Hokkaido Uni/Eggplant Puree/Brioche

While I don’t love uni like most people in Hong Kong, I immediately gave big points to the presentation of this dish. The Hokkaido Uni sat atop a layer of eggplant puree on a thick piece of slightly toasted brioche. I loved how the tiny edible Japanese flowers matched the plate, ’cause it’s all about the little things, right? For those like me who don’t really like uni, you’ll likely be surprised at how good this dish is thanks to the fresh and high quality uni used.

Ox Tail

Ox Tail/Katsuobushi

Moving back to meat once again (I found it interesting that Chef Agustin flipped between seafood and meat for many of the courses), this fried Ox Tail cube was delicate and tender on the inside with a crispy fried exterior. There was meant to be citrus zest used, but unfortunately we couldn’t taste any. The ox tail was garnished with katsuobushi – dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna. Overall, it was the texture of this dish that I enjoyed more than the flavor.

Nagasaki Tuna & Caviar

Nagasaki Tuna/Caviar

I loved the way Chef Agustin talked about this dish and how it may look simple, but the magic is truly in the ingredients and “the chef is the bridge between.” The Chūtoro (a medium fatty tuna) and Kristal caviar with gold flakes on top was paired with delicate rice tuile for a well-balanced and delicious bite.

Kagoshima A4 Wagyu

Kagoshima A4 Wagyu/Mushroom/Cow Bone & Truffle Sauce

I was blown away by how tender and buttery the Kagoshima A4 Wagyu was, so much so that I think if you were to leave the beef in your mouth it would dissolve within a few minutes. We watched as the beef was cooked over binchotan charcoal before it was sliced and served with mushroom, and a cow bone and truffle sauce (which I honestly didn’t even think it needed).

White Peach & Granita

White Peach/Panna Cotta/Granita

We were all incredibly excited about this seasonal White Peach dessert because a) peaches are hard to come by in Hong Kong (and they cost about a million dollars when you do find them) and b) who doesn’t love peaches?! The dessert was beautifully presented: the whole peach was filled with peach chunks, panna cotta, Hokkaido milk foam, and granita made from the peach juice. After we scooped everything out of the peach, we decided to be a little less civilized and got our hands messy while eating the whole peach.

Petit Four

Cotton Candy

To finish our 8-course meal at HAKU, we were served this super cute and nostalgic box of cotton candy. Though the cotton candy itself didn’t have much taste, the whole idea behind this send off dish is to put a smile on your face when it arrives and that it’s something positive you remember when you leave the restaurant. How simple yet genius is that?!

Verdict

If you haven’t already figured it out by now, I loved my dining experience at HAKU. Everything from the service to the ambiance to the food has clearly been meticulously thought-out. Chef Agustin cooks with a passionate flare and you can really see the art in each dish; not only in his cooking, but also in the carefully chosen ingredients. Though this is no cheap experience (this 8-course menu was HK$1380), if you appreciate fine dining then a meal at HAKU is a must.

HAKU
Shop OT G04B, Ground Floor
Ocean Terminal, Harbour City
Tsim Sha Tsui

Tel: 2115 9965

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