It is said that a good chef is not restricted to one kind of cuisine, so it should not come as a surprise to learn that Jacky Yu Kin-chi, founder of Chinese restaurant Xi Yan and host of multiple TV programmes, feels right at home on his regular visits to Tomokazu Japanese Restaurant in Causeway Bay.
"The essence of Japanese cuisine is its freshness. The dishes in Tomokazu are definitely fresh as they airfreight ingredients from Japan directly almost every day," Yu says.
"I love the sushi by their chef, who's been creating Japanese cuisine for more than 20 years. Dining in Tomokazu makes me feel like I'm in Japan and tasting the most original flavours."
Yu says he orders pin mackerel and sea urchin sushi during every visit. "Making sushi is not as easy as it may seem," he says. "Every piece has to be of [a] similar size and has [a] similar amount of rice grains.
"It's not like you knead a handful of rice casually. In addition, the sushi cannot fall off when you pick it up with chopsticks. It requires the chef to be very skilful. The sushi here attains all these standards."
Yu adds that in Japan, when making sushi, chefs mix an amount of wasabi which they think is the best proportion with the rice, so that diners don't have to add additional spices. He says he has only seen Hong Kong diners use extra wasabi. "If chefs see you add wasabi, they would think that you doubt their skills, which can be disrespectful," he says.
Abalone is another signature dish at Tomokazu. Yu says it is very different from traditional braised abalone one finds in other restaurants. "The abalone here is braised with turnips, katsuobushi (dried skipjack tuna), shiitake, celery and sake," he says.
Different types of sugar are used in the process, including yellow sugar, crystal sugar, brown sugar and granulated sugar. After all the seasoning, the abalone is placed in a refrigerator and left to marinate for three months to one year. "When you eat this dish, you can feel the sweetness coming in layers," Yu says. "It is simply an enjoyment."
Yu also recommends the grilled tuna fins. "This dish is simple. The fins are grilled and seasoned with lemon juice and vinegar," he says. "Fins are where fish exercise most, and the texture is very different from the rest of the body. It is chewy and delicate."
Yu became interested in cooking when he was in the advertising industry, more than 20 years ago. He had to fly to different cities and would visit local markets and eateries to search for good food. He soon started trying to cook for himself back in Hong Kong.
"I love the joy of sharing when it comes to cooking," he says. "I think there's no point in cooking for myself only. Before starting up Xi Yan, I used to invite friends and relatives over to my place and share my dishes with them. I enjoy chatting with friends and catching up over dinner." It was that passion for food that encouraged him to set up Xi Yan in 2000. The restaurant was popular with diners and since then, he has opened two more branches in Hong Kong and expanded to Shanghai and Singapore.
Yu believes the reason for Xi Yan's success is its ability to keep coming up with new dishes that appeal to customers. "Hongkongers are adventurous and like to try new things. It is important to keep inspired and surprise them," he says. "I fly around a lot because I am often invited as a judge to cooking events and programmes everywhere. That helps me to keep up with the market and get inspiration."
Whenever he wants an authentic taste of Hong Kong dishes, Yu heads to Tim Ho Wan, the Dim-Sum Specialists, which serve some of the best dim sum in town. He also recommends Ho Hung Kee Congee & Noodle Wantun Shop in Hysan Place, Causeway Bay for local fare.
Having previously hosted TV cook shows such as Gourmet Power Zoom on TVB, Yu can still be seen on camera as a guest in a variety of shows. He also posts food reviews and secret recipes on his own food blog.
Yu has plans to open a cooking studio in Wong Chuk Hang for food lovers who want to learn how to cook different cuisines. "I have invited a lot of good chefs as guests to teach [people] how to cook different cuisines. This will cover Chinese, Western and European cuisines, in addition to desserts and cakes," he says. "The site is under renovation, but should be ready to open by the end of the year."