Omakase (お任せ) – 'I'll leave it up to you' – is the ultimate experience in Japanese fine dining. A true omakase meal entices all your senses: the glistening jet-fresh fish from Tsukiji, the buttery scent of grilled Wagyu, the easy banter of an amiable chef. It's not just a meal, it's an experience.
But what is involved in the overall creation of a omakase menu? We asked Chef Michael, executive chef at Hanabi in TST, to fill us in on what makes an omakase meal special.
It all comes down to the chef’s experience and style – an omakase meal is, after all, largely dictated by the chef serving you. Having worked at Chinese and Italian restaurants before working under the tutelage of Mr Toshio Matsudo, who has personally served Prime Minister Hashimoto and President Bush, Chef Michael incorporates different cooking methods into his meal to create innovative dishes using traditional ingredients.
Seared fatty tuna topped with caviar (Hanabi)
Despite the seemingly free-form menu, there are certain ingredients that must be included. For Chef Michael, it is toro, white fish, hikarimono (meaning 'shiny things', such as sardines and mackerel) and shrimp. 'Toro and white fish are must haves for any true omakase restaurant, and hikarimono and shrimp are two of the biggest fish groups, so I can explore different kinds of seasonal fish.'
Seasonal ingredients include sakura shrimp, Hokkaido sea urchin, sanma … the list goes on. No matter what ingredient Chef Michael uses, he balances the meal with his 60:40 rule: 60 per cent kaiseki and 40 per cent fusion. Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner that follows a set order of dishes, usually comprising an appetiser, sashimi, a grilled dish and a steamed course. The 40 per cent fusion is achieved by the use of unusual ingredients such as Danish caviar, French foie gras, Italian balsamic vinegar and more. Dishware also plays a big role, and Chef Michael personally picks every dish in the restaurant, in a wide variety of styles from Arita to French.
Varieties of daily fresh fish (Hanabi)
Of course, we also can’t forget sake at an omakase meal! Sake are usually characterised as dry or smooth and by their alcohol content. In a sake pairing dinner, smooth sake, with their sweet notes, are first paired with light appetiser dishes. Higher alcoholic sake are more suitable for thicker sashimi slices as they help to cut through the fattiness of the fish. Finally, dry sake are served with grilled items or Wagyu because of their strong and spicy flavour profile.
In short, the art of omakase is to showcase creativity within a strict set of rules. Given how much of the chef’s personality transcends into each dish, it is no wonder that customers tend to follow chefs wherever they go.
Chef Michael is the executive chef at Hanabi. He has worked under the tutelage of famed sushi master Toshio Matsudo, where he perfected the art of crafting traditional nigiri rolls. Once back in Hong Kong, he was at NOBU InterContinental Hong Kong and Masu before opening Hanabi in 2014.