CUI­SINE KING

Chef serves up au­then­tic Osaka-style de­lights

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Pauline D. Loh re­ports. Ju Chuan­jiang and Zhao Ruixue con­trib­uted to the story. Con­tact the writer at paulined@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

They say it takes three gen­er­a­tions of good liv­ing to de­velop taste. Sim­i­larly, cui­sine de­vel­ops along with his­tory. Many con­nois­seurs of Ja­panese cui­sine pre­fer the softer, more el­e­gant pre­sen­ta­tion of the old Osaka-Ky­oto school to the edgier, some­times brasher Tokyo style. Chef Ed­mund Liang cer­tainly thinks so.

Schooled in the tra­di­tional Western style of Ja­panese cui­sine, Liang be­lieves good cook­ing speaks for it­self, as does the fresh­est in­gre­di­ents. That was why he took the bold step of serv­ing oys­ters in sum­mer at the Miyabi at the Sher­a­ton Ji­nan Ho­tel. But th­ese are no or­di­nary oys­ters. They are farmed mol­lusks from Hiroshima raised ac­cord­ing to the strictest en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards, and flash frozen at their peak. The tech­nol­ogy al­lows them to be cap­tured at their best fla­vor, which the chef care­fully en­hances in a va­ri­ety of ways.

There is a clas­sic gratin, with a del­i­cate root veg­etable gre­mo­lata added for a con­trast of tex­tures. The oys­ter still shines through, though, and there is no mis­tak­ing the sweet salty tang of a good one on the half shell.

Liang also serves the oys­ters grilled with a coat­ing of soy sauce, breaded and deep-fried, as sashimi and cov­ered with a de­li­cious light miso which adds a depth that neuters the slightly metal­lic tang of salt­wa­ter.

The oys­ters were ob­vi­ously the main at­trac­tion of our meal, but look­ing at the rest of Liang’s menu, it is easy to un­der­stand why this quiet lit­tle Ja­panese restau­rant in the cap­i­tal of Shan­dong prov­ince has drawn a fol­low­ing of chic gourmets lo­cally, as well as many from the Sher­a­ton’s mainly busi­ness clien­tele.

With his sashimi of­fer­ings, the chef ’s em­pha­sis is on qual­ity over quan­tity. He served just three types, but each was mem­o­rable. We had slices of tight-fleshed salmon belly, lip­stick clam that was sugar sweet and fi­nally, snap­per that could just about bite back.

As a food critic, we are of­ten asked how you can tell fresh sashimi. There are some things you can­not fake, and that is how long the fish has been out of wa­ter.

More im­por­tantly, it al­ways shows how care­fully it has been stored or not, and how well the chef cuts it. If the salmon is flak­ing on the plate and break­ing apart, send it back.

Liang cer­tainly has no prob­lems in his kitchen. Ev­ery­thing is neat, clean and metic­u­lous, a throw­back to his strict train­ing in Osaka-style cui­sine.

That back­ground shows up again in his teapot seafood soup, which is so light that it may al­most be bland, un­til you calm your heart and con­cen­trate on the nu­ances of the fla­vors.

We were served Ja­panese buck­wheat noo­dles to end the meal and Liang un­know­ingly put him­self to the most cru­cial test.

I am some­thing of a cold soba fa­natic and while I can for­give lapses in other ar­eas, I like my soba … per­fect.

He must have sensed my un­spo­ken crit­i­cism, be­cause he quickly ex­plained.

“The Sher­a­ton ho­tels have a strict pol­icy that guests can­not be served raw eggs, so I’m afraid we had to skip the usual quail’s egg.” I ap­pre­ci­ated the chef’s hon­esty. Most Ja­panese restau­rants serve a lit­tle egg that comes topped off, along with the se­same seeds, spring onions and wasabi on the side. The egg is whisked into the bowl of soy sauce dip that comes with the soba.

Buck­wheat noo­dles have an un­usual tex­ture that makes it hard for any sauce to stick, and adding an egg to the sauce al­lows it to coat the soba bet­ter.

Still, even egg­less, Liang’s cold soba was prop­erly chilled and his sauce was tasty enough for me not to miss the egg too much.

It was not per­fect, but I do un­der­stand the Sher­a­ton’s con­cern for the health of its guests. Sal­mo­nella is not some­thing you want to give as a part­ing present.

Liang is a Can­tonese from Shen­zhen, al­though he has trained in Ja­panese cui­sine for the long­est time and had al­ready cut his teeth with ex­pe­ri­ence at a se­ries of in­ter­na­tional eater­ies. In fact, he is so re­spected in the trade that he is al­ready a mas­ter chef who can train novices in the art of cook­ing, Osaka-style. Some of his stu­dents are even Ja­panese.

He tells us he had a good mas­ter him­self, and that he wants to pass on the tra­di­tions he was taught. And as for the Kanto or Tokyo style of cui­sine? He’d rather not say, al­though his ex­pres­sion tells me plenty.

Liang is a pleas­ant dis­cov­ery in a place that is just be­gin­ning to stir from its time­honored rep­u­ta­tion as a city of spring wa­ters and morph into a com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial hub on China’s eastern board.

The signs are al­ready there in the in­creas­ingly busy traf­fic, a truly im­pres­sive high­speed rail sta­tion and the sky­scrapers go­ing up in the new busi­ness dis­trict where the Sher­a­ton stands. It also shows in the ho­tel’s high oc­cu­pancy rates, and that’s good for Liang, be­cause he will con­tinue to have an ap­pre­cia­tive au­di­ence.

PHO­TOS BY JU CHUAN­JIANG / CHINA DAILY

Miyabi’s sashimi of­fer­ings in­clude salmon, lip­stick clam and snap­per. Its grilled oys­ters (top), cov­ered with light miso, are also highly rec­om­mended.

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