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A culinary melting pot like Hong Kong is hardly a stranger to Japanese fine dining concepts, but when a legendary three-Michelin-star kaiseki master teams up with a chef who has perfected his craft at some of the world’s finest establishments, heads are bound to turn. Such is the story at HAKU, an interactive Japanese chef’s counter which comes close to the ideal modern Kappo-style restaurant.

Spelt out on the discreet door, tucked away in Tsim Sha Tsui’s labyrinthine Harbour City mall, is the name Hideaki Matsuo: chef of three-Michelin-star Kashiwaya in Osaka. He has appointed acclaimed chef, Agustin Balbi, formerly of The Ocean, to lead up the intimate omakase tasting counter at HAKU. With no rules and an ever-changing menu, an evening at HAKU is led by thrills and surprises, underscored by cross-border experimental fare made with top-shelf ingredients.

The 12-seat wraparound chef’s counter puts guests within arm’s reach of Agustin and his team of sous chefs who move with a silent synergy, putting the final touches on dishes before sliding them under the bright spotlight for full visual effect. The Zen-like traditionalist decor from the natural wood tones to the high-backed leather chairs sets the parameters for the formal arrangement between diner and chef – although don’t be fooled into expecting a traditional Japanese meal.

Not to be confused with omakase or kaiseki, the kappo style of dining focuses on ‘cut’ foods with a knife and ‘cooked’ foods fuelled by flame. Over a few hours, the different courses and ingredients work together in a highly choreographed dance.

The amuse-bouches are the first indication of Agustin’s culinary whimsy: there’s skewered kibinago fish emerging from a pot of smooth pebbles, a beautiful bowl of smooth, white bark with folds of pickled beetroot masquerading as red rose petals, and sweet Hokkaido corn kernels popping from a delicate squid ink tart.

Then comes a decadent gift from the sea: plump oysters under a pile of green apple granita, followed by puffy tongues of sea urchin, their sweetness and creaminess reinforced by rounds of buttery brioche. The menu comes to a crescendo with the Chu Toro and Polmard beef tartare: a neat, purple-hued cylindrical stack merging land and sea, bearing a regal crown of expensive caviar and gold leaf.

Finally, there’s perfectly cooked A4 Kagoshima Wagyu beef, infused with smoke over binchotan charcoals with a rounded umami flavour from mushroom and truffle sauce. To refresh your palate at the end, Agustin’s white peach granita should do the trick, sweetened with Hokkaido milk foam and served in a hollowed-out peach.

The playful creativity is summed up in the final bow: a petit four of candy floss, the twirl of glistening spun sugar giving you license – if ever so briefly – to indulge your inner child despite the fine dining surrounds. The effort and intense preparation behind every dish is tangible – and while Agustin may not look like your typical Japanese kitchen master, it’s clear he lives and breathes the art of the cuisine, making a meal at HAKU enthralling from start to finish.

Locate HAKU

Shop OT G04B, G/F, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui Hong Kong


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