The folks at Chin-agiku generously invited me back for a second tasting over the weekend. It has been 3 months since our last visit.
Since then, several reviews from other media outlets have popped up. I’ve noticed that many of them have complained that prices are not infact affordable, but their review of the food always came through as good.
I think that people’s expectations need to be managed when they see the words ‘Affordable Luxury’. The folks are Chin-agiku certainly are not offering luxury at CHEAP prices, doing so would put them out of business. Instead they are offering the top notch luxurious ingredients and meals, at prices much cheaper than what you would pay for the equivalent elsewhere in the world, or Shanghai for that matter. The live horse-hair crabs and A5 Yonezawa Wagyu are a testament to that.
On with the 8 course review.
It is with great regret for me to say that Chin-agiku has shut its doors. It was good while it lasted. I wish the owner(s) all the best for their future endeavours.
First course, 天麻 a.k.a. Gastrodia Elata. I reckon quite a lot of people wouldn’t know what this is; It is considered a prized Chinese herb, that stands amongst the ranks of Cordyceps. I reckon in most culinary applications, it would have been a ‘secret ingredient’ in herbal soups, but that evening at Chin-agiku, we were served the thinly sliced root as an amuse bouche. What a wonder in taste and texture it was! Sweet, crisp, clean and refreshing. I had anticipated it to taste like Burdock, but no, it had a far classier taste and texture. We were told that the Gastrodia root was simply cleaned, sliced and soaked in water. It certainly opened up the palate and left us anticipating the next dish. Chin-agiku’s first course has amazed me yet again. 9/10
Second course, the japanese cheese-sticky cake. This tasted similar to before, lovely dry toasted texture on the outside, and just slightly rich gooey cheese floweth from within. The cheese is not a strong cheese, so even non-cheese lovers like my wife could enjoy it. 8/10
Third course, the Tom Yum Goong. Again, this tasted similar to our prior visit in November. However the difference on that day was instead of 2 large head prawns, we had instead 4 cocktail shrimps and a ton of mushrooms. I was informed by the chef that due to seasonal reasons, they did not manage to get the Thai river shrimps, and had to settle with the cocktail shrimps instead. That said, the shrimp were fresh and sweet, just a little on the small side.
The soup had the right richness from the coconut milk, and less spicy than before. I felt it could have had a bit more of a sour kick in the flavour. Otherwise, a very competent Tom Yum Goong. 8/10
Course 4 was a pleasant surprise (we had no idea what was on the menu prior to arriving), a whole horse-hair crab cooked japanese hot-pot style. It was a very large pot, and I’m guessing we were given a medium-large crab too. The crab came in 2 ways: with it’s carcase in the pot, and the shell containing all the crab paste/innards (what the westerners call brown meat) slowly simmering over a small charcoal grill.
We tasted the crab paste first. On first taste, I recognised the familiar umami of crab innards I always loved. They were cooked together in some broth/liquid, I’m guessing sake. So rich and satisfying. Two things unique about this preparation: The crab paste is hot/warm, due to it being slowly charcoal roasted. Normally when you eat any other crab prepared any way, you will not have the chance to eat the paste hot, it would have cooled down by the time you had pried the shell off.
Also, to be able to prepare this dish, you NEED to have live crabs to work with, so the innards are still fresh and juicy. I was informed that the horse-hair crabs at Chin-agiku are indeed imported LIVE from North Korea, killed upon order. These crabs on their own are already a speciality crab, considered rare in most parts of the world and more commonly sold pre-boiled, similar to Alaskan King Crabs. Unless you are eating at the source, it is very rare to be able to get hold of live horse-hair crabs, so consider that when you ponder over it’s 1000+rmb price tag.
We moved on to the pot and ate from it throughout the rest of the dinner, the crab legs were full of flesh, and well snipped/partly deshelled so you could pick out the meat with ease. Meat was as expected, firm, fresh and sweet. The pot came with an assortment of tofu, shitake and enoki mushrooms, chinese cabbage and certainly hit the spot for the cold evening. A pity was that I didn’t taste any crab flavour in the broth, as I believe the crab was cooked separately before being placed in the hotpot to simmer with the vegetables. 8/10
Course 5, A5 Wagyu. This is one of the highest grade of wagyu available, only to be out-competed by location of the cows. The 4 pieces of A5 wagyu were grilled table-side to medium, and were divine. As cliche as it sounds, they were really melt-in-the-mouth. Seriously, once you bit down, the piece of fatty meat simply melted off, the flavours explode and travelled from mouth to brain. There is nothing to fault with this ingredient, and a simple grill was the best way to present it. 2 slices per person was adequate, any more and the laws of diminishing returns would have kicked in. Sublime. 10/10
Course 6, giant scallop in secret sauce. This was the only disappointment for me for this dinner, even though I was told that this dish along with most of the other dishes tonight were the best sellers. There are 3 ways that I deem the best to eat/prepare scallops:
2) Lightly seasoned and steamed cantonese style
3) French method of quick searing to achieve a golden caramelised crust, whilst the interior remained tender but cooked.
Number 3 is my all time favourite because the scallops’ flavours are intensified on the crust upon first bite, and then the tender sweetness is enjoyed next.
This scallop dish at Chin-agiku came on a charcoal grill on the shell, doused with a fried-garlic soy-sauce mixture. I was encouraged by the server to eat this quickly lest it became overcooked. Unfortunately, it was already overcooked/well-done upon serving; The scallop already had a chewy texture. The garlic was overpowering, along with the sauce, masked any sweet delicate flavours the scallops would have had. So even if it wasn’t overcooked, I probably would have been disappointed with it. Just writing about this has me reminiscing of the lovely seared scallops I had at the Warldorf last year. 6/10
Course 7, mushroom udon. This was the same finisher we had on our last visit. I had remembered it to be under-seasoned and quite forgettable. This time round, I was pleasantly surprised to find it much improved. The broth is now more full-bodied and well seasoned. The addition of crisp fried garlic on the side which I emptied over the noodles added another dimension of flavour accent and texture. I actually finished the entire bowl despite being very full. 8/10
Course 8, desserts. We sampled the chocolate cake and a malt mousse cake. Both cakes were very expertly prepared, and lived up to the michelin standard which the restaurant claimed. The pastry chef personally came out to introduce the cakes to us. The chocolate cake had a nice chocolate glaze that wasn’t too heavy and balanced with the smooth raspberry filling very nicely. At the core had a lovely crisp layer which I had forgot what the pastry chef had described.
The malt mousse cake for the over-stuffed lady was light and barely sweetened. You balanced the sweetness by pairing each bite with the syrup jelly cubes on the top of the cake. The mousse was light and fluffy. The core of the cake had a icy jelly that gave a very delightful surprise and accent. Very highly recommended for the ladies. Both cakes deserved a 9/10. Unfortunately, the plating could have used more effort. Both cakes were served on the same saucers that were used on every other table, the same saucers that we discarded our prawn and crab shells on. The plates lowered the visual value of the delicate cakes by a great deal. Hopefully after our communication with the pastry chef, they will start using some nice clean looking plates that would contrast the colours of the cake, and bring more classiness to match their taste.
All in all, it was a very ambitious menu, one that I would recommend for business dinners to leave a lasting impression, and for that special anniversary to remember forever. For such intricate preparation and quality of ingredients, don’t expect to have a cheap meal, but be grateful that these offerings are available for the price, if at all. Having said that, Chin-agiku do have a wide range of lunch and dinner sets that start from as low as ¥100+ per person. They are definitely worth checking out.