S and I are currently in Hong Kong for a few days. One our first night in town, we revisited a restaurant that we really liked when we first tried it back in August 2005. At that time, Opia, located in the JIA hotel, was under the consultancy of Melbourne celeb chef Teage Ezard. And while it was obvious that Opia’s head chef Dane Clouston was talented, he was preparing and serving Teage’s food, not his own. Fast-forward two years and things have certainly changed. While Dane is still executive chef, Ezard is no longer working with JIA. The restaurant’s kitchens are now truly under the helm and influence of Chef Clouston.
Chef Clouston has just launched a new menu; it’s noteworthy because it is the first that is truly his own. And from the few dishes we tried, we were very impressed. We were glad to see that the new dishes are more strongly contemporary European, as opposed to the very Southeast Asian influenced cuisine that Ezard is famous for. While it would have been easy for Chef Clouston to litter his menu with such fusion items, critics and customers alike might have said that he was still living in Ezard’s shadow. With his new menu, Clouston has been able to prove that he has come into his own as a mature, smart and accomplished chef.
We started our meal with an amuse-bouche of Opia’s famous oyster shooters. These were paired with rolls of green tea soba wrapped in seaweed. As a first course, I had a seared Hokkaido scallop served with Yarra Valley salmon roe, pickled cherries, and a white chocolate mousse. This course was awesome. I’m a big sucker for salty-sweet combinations and for me, this dish was magic in my mouth. The savoriness of the roe, paired with the rich, sweetness of the mousse and the lovely tastes and textures crisp seared salmon was a unique but wonderful experience. S had a caulilflower soup with a blue cheese ravioli and poached egg. While good, I liked my dish a lot more.
My second course was a slice of seared foie gras (thank god I don’t live anywhere close to Chicago) with Oscetra caviar and chocolate mousse, topped with a potato crisp and sauced with a soy-mirin reduction. Again, this was a lovely, surprising, witty and delicious experience. S had a tortellini of crab topped with Oscetra caviar, served with a crab claw and plated with a butterscotch sauce. I was also, at this point, noting that Clouston’s new dishes and the way he’s presented them were much more refined than they have been on previous visits. While the food was always yummy and pretty, now it was refined and elegant — more fine-dining. It was inching closer to French Laundry than Teage Ezard.
My next course was a crispy skin mulloway fish, served with a truffle potato cake, pickled cucumber and wild Bhutanese honey. Again, this was a gorgeous dish that played with sweet and savory flavours. S had a lovely, small piece of slow-roasted wagyu beef, served with quenelles of beetroot sauce and another sauce that tasted like it has been made with creme fraiche. It was a light but satisfying dish. To me, it seemed like a very well-thought our deconstruction of the classic burger. Next, I was given dish of seared duck breast with a fig and abalone pie. While interesting and complex, this was my least favourite of the dishes I tasted. S, on the other hand, has the soy-lacquered wagyu beef cheek with coconut rice and Thai herbs and green mango salad. This is the one of the few Asian-influenced dishes that remain on Clouston’s menu but it would be a shame to ever take it off. This is a marvelous dish and one of my favourites at Opia. To end the meal, S and I shared a plated composition featuring Roquefort cheese as well as a dessert of chocolate souffle with vanilla ice cream and fresh berries.
It was a really surpising and impressive meal. I truly didn’t expect Chef Clouston’s dishes to be as intelligent and refined as they were. But I’m really happy that he’s moving in the direction that he’s moving in. And I think if he continues in this way, he will easily become noted as one of the region’s most exciting young chefs.
1-5 Irving Road
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 3196 9000