Review: Japanese gardens and edible art at the new Tate Dining Room & Bar

Updated on March 22 2017

There are chefs who cook as a means to support their way of life, and chefs for whom cooking is a way of life. Vicky Lau falls firmly in the latter camp, a cook whose connection to the food, the plate and the surrounding environment is felt deeply by any diner with the pleasure of enjoying a meal at her Michelin-starred Tate Dining Room & Bar.

A new mother, lover of art and design, unstoppable creative force in the kitchen, and proud owner of the title of Asia’s Best Female Chef 2015, chef Vicky has undergone a personal and transformative journey, both in and out of the kitchen, since setting up Tate in 2012. Her new, reimagined space on Hollywood Road is a direct reflection of the road she’s travelled up to this point.

Ambience

Frequent visitors of the old Tate will feel plenty at home in the newly unveiled space on Hollywood Road, imbued with the same feminine quality and elegance as the original dining room. Located up a short flight of stairs, the main dining area features a colour palette of soft taupe, grey and pink, accented by brushed gold surfaces, plush banquette seating and contemporary lighting fixtures.

The dining room resembles a Japanese garden, with living plants adorning the walls and tables.

The space is a Pinterest-ready dream, from the soft, pink suede seats to the white marble staircase and the intricate details on the table, including white napkins bound by light-pink belt buckles, precious granite stone plates for holding silverware, and delicate plants acting as the centrepieces. The latter, we find out, are plants grown from kitchen scraps such as sweet potatoes, evidence of the kitchen’s ongoing dedication to sustainability (the restaurant also filters their own still and sparkling water).

Tate’s private dining room can accommodate up to 12 guests for dinner.

Practically speaking, the new Tate has grown to 3,800 square feet and can accommodate up to 30 guests, plus a private room seating 12, an intimate chef’s table in the kitchen, and a bar/lounge area for enjoying cocktails. Downstairs, Poem Patisserie is a takeaway dessert bar set to open later this month.

Food and Drink

It’s tasting menu-only at Tate, with two prix-fixe menus plus a vegetarian option which will be available starting mid-March. The eight-course menu is priced at HK$1,580 per person (additional wine pairing is HK$580). Currently, the restaurant is not serving alcohol, although the bar is expected to launch for full service later this month.

Chef Vicky aims to tell “edible stories” with her food, and the theme of the current menu is “All The Odes”, with each course representing a different chapter that pays homage to a specific ingredient or cooking philosophy. The menu is thus presented to diners hidden within a thick, gold-rimmed book, tying the theme together from the start with the idea of different chapters unfolding throughout the meal.

The dishes are a reflection of Tate’s inherent ideology to respect Mother Nature and its bounty, paying tribute to the freshest, most seasonal ingredients and displaying a Japanese-like sensibility towards the four seasons. Since completing a stint at Kyoto’s three-Michelin-starred Kitcho in 2015, Lau has been inspired by the art of kaiseki, with recurring themes of nature, respect for ingredients and seasonality, and measured restraint popping up in a minimalist menu.

The “Ode to Silver Skin” sings of spring, with fresh Japanese fish wreathed in edible flowers and gold leaf.

Our journey begins with Chapter I, the “Ode to Silver Skin”. This refreshing palate-cleanser features Shima Aji fish (or striped horse mackerel) marinated in tomato juice for a light pink hue, and served atop a layer of umami-filled bonito jelly. The fish is interspersed with dots of avocado and almond cream; a trail of micro greens, edible flowers and gold leaf trails off the plate, creating a visually stunning masterpiece.

Next come two seafood starters: scallop ceviche topped with scallop foam, and fried Menuke fish in a silver needle tea-infused broth. The ceviche evokes the ocean, with varying textures from the light foam, briny caviar and topping of crunchy shoestring potatoes. The bowl is draped with a wisp of edible art — a wafer-thin rice cracker studded with baby sakura shrimp and a dusting of chilli peppers. It’s incredibly fragile and a delight to eat, shattering at the bite with a pop of crustacean flavour from the sakura shrimp.

Rare silver needle tea from the Fujian province of China is highlighted in the “Ode to Tea”.

Light and flaky, the fried Menuke fish is chef Vicky’s “Ode to Tea”, with a silver needle tea broth poured at the table to infuse the fish with flavour. Like the rest of the menu, presentation is key: This particular dish arrives on a wooden tray, decorated with a scoop of dried tea leaves and a glass of cold silver needle tea to reinforce the flavours in the broth. It’s aesthetically clean and as pleasing to look at as it is refreshing on the palate, again reinforcing chef Vicky’s passion for the Japanese art form.

Between courses, there are two wonderful breads from the kitchen to enjoy. The first is a rustic sourdough paired with two types of butter: plain unsalted and a kombu seaweed butter, which is intensely savoury and addictive when slathered on the soft and chewy bread. The second, a perfect cube of brioche, is fried to a light golden brown and served with silky cubes of tofu butter on the side.

The brioche is light and buttery, served with symmetrical cubes of tofu butter.

After seafood, we move on to the meatier portion of the menu, starting with the “Ode to Hong Kong”, which spotlights premium Dai Lin abalone. Chef Lau coats the abalone in a luxurious tuna jus, taking an unexpected dip in Southeast Asia with the addition of a lemongrass foam, which adds a floral and fragrant note to the rich and meaty mollusk. Dotted around the plate are pools of liver purée, plus vegetable ribbons to add colour and balance out the flavours.

The next dish is perhaps our favourite of the meal — “Ode to a Chiu Chow Classic”, which takes traditional marinated goose and pairs it with a silky foie gras, soft and bathed in a Chiu Chow marinade, almost like a smooth tofu pudding. Crispy tofu strips on top add a necessary crunchy element. It’s a lighter, more elegant and refined version of foie gras unlike anything we’ve tried before — we only wish we could find this on every fine dining menu in town.

The “Ode to a Chiu Chow Classic” is inspired by chef Vicky’s family heritage.

Make sure you leave some room, as the final two dishes before dessert are worth savouring every last bite. First comes lobster tagliolini, with the long, al dente strands swimming in an intensely flavoured shellfish sauce; more of the crispy sakura shrimp acts as the main ingredient for the pasta, with a frothy white-wine foam creating a blissful cloud over the top. The pairing of textures and flavours is sensational.

Finally, we end the savoury parade with strips of tender Kagoshima beef tenderloin paired with a potato-truffle sauce and crispy Jerusalem artichokes. It’s all about the supreme quality of the meat here, fork-tender to the point that you can almost cut into it like a cake, yet packed full of flavour and delicious fat marbling.

Our only slight disappointment of the night is the first dessert — passionfruit jelly wrapped around a mango mousse filling, sitting above a rectangle of banana cake. We find the cake to be on the dry side, and somewhat disconnected from the roll of mango mousse on top — although the mango sorbet served on the side is a refreshing palate cleanser.

The final course puts us back on track, and the table buzzes with delight as we set our sights on chef Lau’s signature “Zen Garden”. This is one of the most picturesque creations we’ve ever seen on a plate, with sugar substituting for sand on a plate of white marble, and assorted mignardises composing the rocks of a typical Japanese zen garden. Once you’ve soaked in the beauty and elegance of the plate, indulge in the bite-sized chocolates, marshmallows and green tea cakes propped up in the sand. The miniature wooden garden rake on the side will make you want to twirl lazy circles around the rock sugar, as you reflect on the chef’s imagination and creativity.

Verdict

There’s no denying that chef Vicky Lau has set forth with a new agenda at Tate Dining Room & Bar. When you sit down for a meal here, you’re no longer a patron of the restaurant, but a part of her vision, a participant in the journey that involves everything: a walk through nature, a look back in history, a twist of perceptions to envision familiar plates in a new way, and a flight across borders, picking up inspiration from the most unlikely sources along the way. It’s pure elegance and beauty at Tate. Prepare yourself for a whirlwind journey, and you’ll be surprised and delighted at every turn.

Opening Hours: Mon–Sat, 7–11pm 
Recommended Dishes:
 Foie gras with marinated goose, Shima Aji fish marinated in tomato with bonito jelly, Kagoshima beef tenderloin, lobster tagliolini; menu changes seasonally.
Price: HK$1,580 plus 10% surcharge per person; additional HK$580 for wine pairing.
Noise Level: Quiet, serene and zen-like ambience.
Service: Respectful and knowledgeable.

Tate Dining Room & Bar, 210 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong; +852 2555 2172, tate.com.hk