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The Japanese phrase hakurai hin, which translates to “things from abroad”, is the inspiration behind HAKU’s moniker. Since opening in 2017, the restaurant has offered Japanese dishes with refined, modern finesse, crafted by chefs from culinary disciplines outside traditional Japanese cuisine. The kappo-style restaurant prides itself on the cosy interactions between the chef and diners, with intimate, wrap-around counter seating that allows guests ringside views of the preparation behind each dish.
Executive Chef Rob Drennan began his journey with HAKU at the tail end of a tumultuous 2020, and he has recently unveiled a brand-new menu, drawing from both the freshest, most seasonal Japanese ingredients and his own culinary expertise. The Oklahoma native honed his skills at Japanese restaurant Uchiko in Austin, Texas, before moving to Oslo to three-Michelin-starred Maaemo as Research & Development Chef. In 2019, he relocated to Portland, Oregon, to fine-dining restaurant Castagna, before his move eastwards to Hong Kong.
We were excited to taste the newly revamped menu and see what the youthful, affable chef brings to the table. The 11-course tasting menu ($1,880/person) is definitely a treat and not for the faint of heart.
A teaser for what’s to come, the uni course features delicate saffron wafer cups stacked with sweet, creamy sea urchin. A few golden petals of marigold complete this vision in yellow. The sweetness of the sea urchin pairs well with the aromatic, earthy saffron.
The lobster and ikura course showcases plump morsels of shellfish on top of what can best be described as solidified lobster bisque. However, this description does not do justice to the umami-rich jelly enriched with lobster-head fat. Smoked fennel gelée, sweet black grapes and briny pops of salmon roe add flavour contrast and strike a fine balance between savoury and sweet.
Resembling beautiful potpourri, a bowl of colourful leaves and petals, slices of ruby-red radish and delicate white miso-infused tofu is made into a light, flavourful soup, with the collagen-rich milkfish soup poured tableside. We thoroughly enjoyed the tender, sweet crunch of asparagus alongside the cubes of yielding tofu, with yuzu kosho adding a touch of zing.
The trio of sashimi we sampled ranged from kinmedai under a blanket of shiso flowers, to white shrimp dressed in shrimp head oil, to tuna nestled on a bed of golden, peppery sauce.
We opted for the experimental wine-pairing accompaniment (+$580), because, heck, it’s go big or go home. We particularly enjoyed the refreshing bubbles in the sparkling sake and were intrigued by the Wakaze sake, which is produced in France and tastes curiously more like white wine than sake!
The silky chawanmushi is given instant star power with poached foie gras and caviar. We were advised to mash the spoonful of decadence into the steamed egg and were rewarded with creamy, buttery mouthfuls infused with the earthiness of foie gras and brininess of caviar. The tiny dice of mitsuba adds crunch and sharp grassiness.
The amadai, with its puffed-up scales, is a thing of beauty. Achieved only when the fish scales meet extremely hot oil, the puffy crunch of scales provide a delicious contrast to the soft, tender flesh. Paired with a creamy black garlic sauce and a disc of celeriac, this dish feels more French than Japanese, but it was delicious all the same.
It’s hard to resist Wagyu beef, especially when it’s a cut of Kagoshima A4 Wagyu. A tart tamarind sauce undercuts the richness of the very well-marbled beef, along with a rectangle of Okinawa sweet potato that resembles a bar of chocolate.
A lot of TLC goes into the Kurobuta pork belly, which undergoes a warm sous-vide bath for 20 hours to achieve its tender, buttery texture. The richness of the pork belly is balanced by palate-cleansing kabu (turnip) alongside a briny black olive sauce and black trumpet mushrooms. The herbal bouquet gives freshness to the rich dish.
This dish should really be called “black truffle with a little bit of rice” as the feature here is the mountain of shaved black truffle. The rice underneath has a risotto-like texture, punctuated by slippery morsels of mushroom. We particularly enjoyed the addition of lemon, acting as a refresher to the carb-heavy dish.
If a dessert could describe the flavours of our childhood, this strawberry with rose and Hokkaido milk pudding could be it. Sugary and cheerful, with a milky undertone and crunch of meringue, this dessert is an elevated representation of all our favourite childhood candy flavours.
The hojicha toffee ice cream, served over a base of hojicha biscuit crumble, is a sinfully addictive second dessert. We loved the contrast between the smokiness of the hojicha and the sweet and savoury toffee notes.
Just in case our sweet tooth hadn’t yet been satiated, in arrived the petits fours in the form of freshly fried doughnut, dark chocolate and Turkish delight, although the surprise here is definitely the white truffle, which we were advised to save for last. We soon understood why we were told to eat the white truffle whole – upon first bite, a burst of white truffle-infused syrup ignited on the palate. What a memorable way to wrap up our meal!
HAKU’s new menu by Chef Rob Drennan is a delicious way to enjoy the unique flavours of Japanese cuisine with a modern, international flair. Each dish has the refined balance and meticulous execution of fine dining yet comes with a Japanese undertone. This is a tasty foray away from the traditional confines of Japanese cuisine, giving diners a bit of fanciful fine-dining whimsy.
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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