A return to the past produces fresh surprises

Updated: 2012-07-22 09:58

By Pauline D.Loh (China Daily)

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A return to the past produces fresh surprises

A wise master once told me: "Nothing tastes better than the steak you had yesterday." What he means, of course, is that memory plays tricks.

So it was not without trepidation that I visited Unkai at the Hong Kong Sheraton again on a recent trip. This Japanese restaurant had been a favorite when I was working in Hong Kong more than 20 years ago.

At that time, the venerable Sheraton was a shining star at the tip of busy Nathan Road, and it had little competition except for the even more venerable Peninsula across the road.

Unkai was creating a lot of buzz with its chic business lunches and seasonal kaiseki dinners and it was a favorite meeting point for the media and advertising types.

For once, my memory served me well.

Unkai is still very elegant, and the kaiseki dinners are still amazingly detailed. There was one pleasant surprise, though. I had forgotten how good the service was, from the gracious smiles of the lady manager Shinri Ito to the young man named Dick assigned to serve our table.

He was very careful to help us through the more subtle offerings in our kaiseki set and I enjoyed his method of prompting our taste buds.

When the deep-fried tofu was set before us, Dick wanted me to take a good sniff. It was an unusual fragrance at once familiar yet puzzling. The young man then explained that the chef had used a powdered toasted rice to coat the tofu pieces.

Once explained, it became immediately obvious.

And so it was, as we were skillfully led through all the courses. Each was delicate, in manageable portions and all served in carefully choreographed sequence.

But it was the sashimi that made me award Unkai its full brownie points.

A return to the past produces fresh surprises

They were so fresh you can imagine the fish and prawns still palpating. Delicate slices of bass, bream and tuna were served with sakura prawns.

There was no salmon, which made me quite happy. I had always felt that the other fishes on the sashimi platter are often over-shadowed by salmon's unique taste and texture. As it was, our palates were gently massaged rather than assaulted.

The prawns, especially, were a rare treat for their fresh luminous sweetness.

Unkai is so appropriately named. It means "Sea of clouds" in Japanese, and dining at this restaurant, you can quite easily be transported into a soft, misty paradise of pleasure.

Don't forget to sample their selection of sake, one of the best in town.


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