Recently, before a short trip to Hong Kong, I rang up a local friend of mine to ask him out to dinner. “Let’s go to Wagyu Kaiseki Den,” he suggested. “I’ll have them prepare my box.” He promptly hung up. Did he mean a regular table? Or perhaps his personal sake imbiber? I was intrigued.
Wagyu Kaiseki Den, as the name suggests, specialises in wagyu beef and the art of Japanese multicourse dining (kaiseki). It sits on buzzy Hollywood Road – the Sheung Wan end. An elegant door opens onto a small entranceway, with a large black-bull sculpture and an illuminated horn chandelier. The restaurant is a dimly lit space with only 34 seats (first picture); ours were at the bar, facing the kitchen – a bright industrial area where chief executive chef Hiroyuki Saotome and his crew work away. Behind them is a wall of sleek brown boxes.
The boxes, it turns out, are lockers for the beef, which customers can purchase and store on site. Dark metallic and tinted glass, these lockers are owned by the great and good of Hong Kong. Some of them are named, alongside the more discreet (the curious “KA” and “STSB”).
First up of the 11 courses (10 is standard and costs HK$1,880 – about £144 – per person, plus 10 per cent service charge, but ours was a special with “our” beef) was a scallop, lobster, caviar and egg-yolk julienne, arranged in a chic gold bowl, its impressive presentation setting the scene for what was to come. Here, production is as centre stage as the ingredients, and this sweet opening course was followed by a three-part creation of deep-fried eel with egg roll, hotaru squid and wagyu with radish julienne, and tofu with a rich sesame sauce – each one placed in individual ceramic holders, a cherry-blossom stem laid in the centre.
The über-fresh chef selection of sashimi (with seaweed jelly) and sushi (topped with soy-sauce foam) were the mid-meal show-stoppers – or should I say show-starters, as they preceded the first beef dish: that of a miniature shabu-shabu spread, complete with two traditional dipping sauces (our extra course). Then it was grilled sakura trout and a Taraba crabmeat dumpling with sticky rice before the second meat dish: charcoal-grilled Nozaki wagyu sirloin, tenderloin and one piece of pork, served with a dab of wasabi, sea salt and black truffle sauce. Each bite, clichéd as it sounds, literally melted in the mouth, leaving not a trace of doubt that Wagyu Kaiseki Den rightfully earned its Michelin star, the first Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong to do so.
The extensiveness of the menu might mean you’d think that fitting in the aromatic sea-urchin truffle rice (second picture; it was so good that I had a second serving), or the dessert of a very moreish soya-milk pudding might be a problem, but both capped off the meal well.
I left feeling perfectly full… if not a little envious. When the waiter mentioned that my friend had about 2kg of beef remaining, my friend mused that it meant future visits “about once a week for the next month or so”. I couldn’t help asking if he fancied starting that countdown, with me, say, tomorrow…?