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Chef Hatch brings unadulterated Japanese to Sri Lanka


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Saturday, 12 May 2018 00:05


By Madushka Balasuriya

The past two evenings saw Sri Lankan diners treated to a masterclass in Japanese cuisine, as world renowned Chef Kenjiro ‘Hatch’ Hashida hosted two exclusive dining experiences at the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo.

The events, which were made possible by the Colombo Supper Club, were sold out well in advance with Chef Hatch notorious for his policy of limited seating – his restaurants seat no more than 25 people in a sitting! – and as such a select few members of the media were offered the chance to sample some of Chef Hatch’s specialties earlier this week. 

Now when it comes to Japanese cuisine, it is my firm belief that in Colombo we are fairly spoilt for choice, with a Japanese restaurant seemingly popping up around every corner over the last 10 years. This has unsurprisingly resulted in several of these restaurants looking to accommodate the Lankan palate, resulting in a majority of our experiences with regard to Japanese cuisine being far removed from the authentic fair you’re likely to get in Japan itself.

Suffice to say that was not the case with Chef Hatch. Every element of the meal was planned, right down to smallest details; the seafood was flown down from Japan, several of the dishes in which we were served too were brought down personally by the chef, while the experience was rounded out with customised paper napkins with the Hashida family emblem stamped on them.

The meal itself was served ‘omakase’, which is Japanese for ‘a type of meal consisting of dishes selected by the chef’. Not knowing what to expect, we were treated to an eight course meal, each dish at once surprising yet familiar – five of which were raw seafood. 

Having said that, when reviewing sushi, the normal rules tend to go out the window. What makes good sushi is more than just the skill of the chef; it’s the quality of ingredients, it’s the timing, it’s the variety, it’s the experience. A dish must be tasted as a whole – there are no bites when enjoying sushi – and therefore my review will consist of the less heralded elements which makes truly great sushi.

Variety

It doesn’t hit you at first, but having completed Chef Hatch’s entire course, you would have tried a host of different animals from the sea. Not only that, there will have been variations on the same fish, offering a completely separate take each time.

Having had tuna, fatty tuna belly, and octopus ‘sashimi’ as part of our third course, we were then served up freshly sliced fatty tuna belly ‘nigiri’ as a surprisingly filling seventh and final savoury course. Serving various cuts of tuna was inspired, where lean, medium fatty, and very fatty cuts have varying flavours and textures.

The sashimi meanwhile was served with soy sauce, freshly-made wasabi, delightfully sweet seaweed and, unexpectedly, a thinly-sliced edible cherry blossom – a flower flown down especially for these events. It was clear with this dish that the diners were given leeway in how they chose to enjoy the dish.

However for the nigiri platter – the fourth course – where there were expected selections such as tuna and cuttlefish, and rare delicacies such as the golden-eyed snapper, we were expected to eat each in one mouthful. Duly obliging, the combination of the exquisitely salted rice, hit of wasabi, and outright flavour of the seafood, it was unlike any other sushi this writer has tried.

Rice

A word of commendation needs to go towards the calibre of the rice as well throughout our meal. Its temperature, acidity, texture, and consistency of pieces were beyond reproach. Japanese cuisine avoids excess at all costs, and the rice exemplified this philosophy. 

A sea urchin dish served on a bed of rice, brings this point into perfect focus. Served alongside urchin roe (fish eggs), the rice was the ideal textural accompaniment to the flavour of the urchin and saltiness of the roe, without ever overstaying its welcome on your palate.

Timing

Finally it was the timing of each course that ensured we left satisfied and not ‘stuffed’. Eight courses were served over an hour and a half, with each being served roughly 10-12 minutes apart.

Enjoying good sushi requires a good rhythm, and Chef Hatch understands this better than most. It is also why he insists on serving as few people as possible at his restaurants – which can go as high $ 250 per plate – so as to ensure that customers are served the freshest sushi, that he himself personally creates.

As Chef Hatch explains: “I cannot serve 100 people every day. We make sushi with our hands. My father always said that when you make it with your own hands, you put your soul into it.”

- Pix by Kushan Pathiraja

 


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