One of the things I really missed nowadays because of the COVID lockdown & quarantine rules worldwide is international travel - I missed how we could just hop onto a plane and fly somewhere to explore an exciting new food destination.
Japan was one of the countries where I’ll usually carefully plan a proper time in the year to visit, to take advantage of its seasonal offerings, for Japanese chefs have elevated the use of seasonal ingredients in cooking to an artform. Despite having made numerous visits to Japan in the past decades, one can never tire of its markets, its eateries, bakeries, even its small French-style cafes, with their impossibly perfect renderings of croissants or tartelettes, for most Japanese bakers & pâtissier seemed to possess that little bit of OCD so inherent in their society, to do everything faultlessly well.
Well, for the time being, I just had to be content with eating Japanese where I am. Not ideal, but perhaps the best that we can hope for. And my fave Japanese spot in Penang is Miraku at the G Hotel, overlooking Gurney Drive, Penang’s premier sea-fronting boulevard.
Miraku’s Executive Chef and General Manager are both from Tokyo, but they chose to source much of their raw produce from Hokkaido. There, up north, the weather gets chillier than Tokyo at this time of the year so, by October, some species of the fishes there would have thicker layers of fat, and some would have firmer flesh.
Tokyo-born Executive Chef, Shingo Iijima, has helmed Miraku for the past couple of years, and has helped the restaurant maintain its perch at the top of a phalanx of very competitive Japanese restaurants in the city.
Our omakase dinner consisted of:
Marinated mustard leaf, grilled maitake mushroom and chrysanthemum, served with seared Hokkaido scallop - the myriad of flavours and textures were brought together perfectly. Particularly enjoyed the plump, bouncy grilled scallop. It was the first time I tasted pickled chrysanthemum flower petals - their subtle acidity complementing the sweet taste of the scallop, whilst the aromatic maitake mushroom provided the firm texture.
Blue fin tuna, hirame (flounder) sashimi & ankimo (monkfish liver) - the tuna and flounder were both buttery-rich and virtually melt in one’s mouth. But the revelation was the monkfish liver - practically foie gras from the ocean: deey, earthy pâté-like flavours.
Steamed egg custard, topped with grilled “unagi” (eel) and Hokkaido sea-urchin - I’d always liked Japanese savoury custards, and this chawan-mushi-like concoction was no less seductive: you have a raft of perfectly-grilled eel (and no one does eel as well as the Japanese, really), gently brushed with sweet teriyaki dressing, floating on a Lilliputian pond of golden, creamy egg custard bursting with umami flavours, topped off with some decadently-rich sea urchin. The whole construct was then lightly glazed with a translucent, viscous broth, with a tiny dollop of freshly-grated wasabi delicately perched on one side of it.
It was the kind of dish I’d want to let linger on my palate for as long as possible.
Saikyo miso “kanpachi” (amberjack), served with jumbo shitake, grilled chestnut, and finely-shredded sweet potato crisps - the centrepiece of this dish was the fat, luscious cut of the firm-fleshed amberjack, plus the impossibly luxuriant Hokkaido shitake - a virtual elven pillow of deliciousness.
But my favourite component in the carefully curated ensemble was actually the bursts of sweetness provided by the gem-like little chestnuts - I’m not sure what kind of treatment was given to the impossibly sweet chestnuts: slow-baked till the sugars inside were drawn out?
Australian wagyu beef with “beinasu” (two-tone) eggplant, gingko nut, “mukago” (yam) and egg-miso paste - I truly laud Chef Shingo’s brilliance in pairing meltingly-soft slivers of grilled wagyu beef with the sweet-creamy classic combination of egg-miso-mirin-dashi that dressed the carefully-grilled, hollowed-out eggplant vessel.
Little gingko nut and mukago (yam) baubles provided the the faintest hints of bitterness, and added an extra textural dimension to the dish.
“Kanpachi hara zuke” (amberjack belly), “engawa” sole fish, and “ttoro” blue fin tuna belly - this was the penultimate course to our omakase meal: traditionally, rice was served at the end, before the dessert makes its curtain call appearance. Here, the rice came in the form of sushi, hidden underneath some very choice cuts of fish: rich amberjack belly, even richer tuna belly, and toothsome sole fish. Each delicate morsel was expertly formed by Chef Shingo himself right in front of each diner.
Dessert: Black sesame curd on whipped cream, topped with gold leaf - truth be told, I’m not one for traditional Japanese desserts, much preferring Western-style cakes & pastries.
But this luxuriant take on a junket-like dessert was quite impressive, at least visually, if not for the taste.
Chef Shingo applying the finishing touches: topping the sesame curd with delicate feather-light gold leaves.
Chilled gold-flecked sake - I’m not too sure about this - it all seemed a bit ostentatious and over-the-top. I mean, we don’t ingest gold anyway.
With Chef Shingo’s inventive creations, and faultless service by its service crew, Miraku is definitely at the top of its game. We only paid US$95/£71 per person for this meal.
Miraku at the G Hotel
168A, Gurney Drive, 10350 George Town, Penang
Tel: +604-229 8702
Opening hours: 12 noon-2pm, 6pm-10pm.