JiangHu Edo – an exquisite 10-course Japanese fine dining experience in George Town
JiangHu Edo offers a tantalising culinary experience using quality ingredients to accentuate flavours and textures that celebrate fine cuisine. The visual presentation of the courses was a masterful eye-arresting feast. Nothing was left to chance and everything was skilfully curated into an art form.
The name of the restaurant "JiangHu" means "Edo" in Japanese. Thus, "JiangHu Edo" literally means "Edo Edo". "Edo" is both the name of a particularly character-defining period in Japanese history as well as the former name for Tokyo.
The Edo period, beginning in the 17th century encompassing 260 years and 15 shoguns, was hailed as one of the most versatile periods in the history of Japan. Stability, undisturbed by war or uprising, allowed the flourishing of Japanese culture, art and food. It was the birthplace of modern Japanese food, including sushi – small pods of hand-pressed rice, each topped with a single slice of the harvest of neighbouring seas or fields. This is called edomae sushi (literally, “in front of Edo” sushi), evolving to what is known today as nigiri sushi. It is this exact versatile spirit I see prevalent in the creative cuisine offered at JiangHu Edo.
I was all excited to discover JiangHu Edo, an ideal venue to celebrate my dear friend, Cindy Lee's birthday. To accompany the dinner, the birthday girl brought along a bottle of premium sake from the snowy mountain terrain of Niigata Prefecture in Honshu.
Producing high-quality sake requires two main things – good rice and pure spring water and Niigata has plenty of both. This rice country has fields stretching as far as the eye can see. It produces the highest-class brand of rice called "Koshihikari". Also within Niigata Prefecture, there are 427 mountains capturing abundant snowfall, the source of clear running streams.
Most breweries in Niigata use time-honoured methods, selecting only rice that is locally cultivated and water sourced directly from mountains to ensure the utmost freshness and quality of the sake. Thus, sake from Niigata is much sought after for its delicate and refined qualities.
"Sake" means "alcohol" in Japanese. The Japanese word for what we think of as sake is "nihonshu", which means "Japanese alcohol", made from fermented rice. Premium sake uses rice that has been polished until only 23 per cent of each rice grain remains, giving it an extremely pure and fruity aroma and flavour. With a bottle of premium sake, we were all ready to begin our culinary journey.
The first course was an oyster dish topped with a generous helping of ikura (salmon roe) and black caviar. The luxurious offering was divine and the oyster was fresh, plump and "lemak" (creamy and rich). The flavours were balanced and harmonised well to accentuate the natural umami flavours of the ocean. It was such a decadent way to begin a truly enlightening evening.
Pushing the boundaries of conventional Japanese cuisine, the next course borrowed a leaf from Spain's popular tapas culture. Artistically presented, the dish of both fresh and smoked salmon rolls, topped with ikura, stood on a crusty toast. Each translucent orange ikura droplet was like a miniature water balloon that burst in your mouth, enhancing the dining experience in every bite.
The third course was eye candy, a beautiful scene of a Zen-like painting with food. The duo offerings were indeed scrumptious – a warm miniature maguro tart served with wasabi crumbs and pan-seared maguro with goma dressing ("goma" means "sesame" in Japanese).
Bluefin tuna, also known as maguro in Japanese, is a priced ingredient used brilliantly in this course. The lightly seared maguro, paired with a sesame seed dressing, offered an alluring aroma that was especially palatable. This dish displayed the chef's culinary prowess in using a single ingredient to conjure up two very distinct creations of varied textures and tastes.
Next was an unagi (freshwater eel) dish served with thin slices of charcoal-roasted ladies' fingers and mushrooms. Unagi has a rich, fatty flavour that lends itself well to grilling. The smoky aroma of the vegetables enhanced the grilled unagi that was smothered with a sweet caramelised sauce. The plating was creatively presented as well.
An uni dumpling, served with a slice of cured mullet roe, was next. A sweet and sour sauce was placed in a petite plastic dropper for us to decide the quantity we desired. Cutting the dumpling into halves, I realised that the entire unit was filled with the golden-coloured uni. Though typically called sea urchin roe, uni is actually the sex organ that produces the roe, sometimes referred to as the gonads or corals. I enjoyed this dish very much, chiefly because of the creamy, custard filling of the uni.
Arriving next to the table was a cerulean blue bowl. Carefully curated within was a delicious combination of buttery foie gras, served with smoked duck breast and crispy sweet potato chips. The tender duck slices and foie gras were a match made in heaven. I almost heard a heavenly choir singing as I closed my eyes to indulge and savour the moment.
The procession of courses continued, this time with a warm miso soup. The soup bowl was covered with a translucent rice paper skin to retain the temperature of the dish. Breaking through the skin, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that inside the soup were a sweet, juicy scallop, crab meat and a shiitake mushroom. The comforting soup was delicious and served on the side were thin, crispy slices of bread.
Digressing a little, do you know that scallops can swim across the ocean floor – quite quickly if I might add – by clapping their shells together. Do you also know that scallops have about fifty to a hundred bright blue eyes? Yes, you read that right! The bead-like blue eyes are located along the edge of their shell’s opening to detect darkness, light and motion. Like their human counterparts, they use their retinas to focus on light. Now back to the dinner.
The next serving was a single scoop of homemade lemon sorbet to cleanse our palate before the main course. For extra oomph, some lemon juice was placed in a little dropper, enabling us to drizzle over the extra fine, powdery soft sorbet. A bowl of crushed ice beneath ensured that the sorbet was kept chilled while we took our time to enjoy it. I appreciate all the fine details that went into presenting each course.
For our main course, we had a selection of three choices – A1 Wagyu beef, duck confit or Iberico pork. I opted for the beef. The generous serving consisted of two slim tender cuts, complimented well with JiangHu Edo's signature sauce. On the side were some poached green asparagus.
We had the option to upgrade the main course to an A5 Wagyu beef, a top of its class grade. It would have been a well-marbled steak that would cut like butter. Although tempted, we declined. This was already a 10-course affair with plenty to eat. I would return when maybe opting for fewer courses, I would go for the priced cut.
My good friend Dorothy Wang had the duck confit. For this classic French preparation, duck legs are usually cured with herbs and spices overnight before being submerged in duck fat, then gently cooked until silky and tender in low heat. It takes skill, patience and a long cooking process to prepare a good duck confit. The best duck confit I had was in Paris. The golden skin was crispy and the flavourful meat was so tender, it fell off the bone with hardly any resistance. Such a strong impression remained with me and is quite difficult to match.
Between A1 Wagyu beef or Iberico pork, I should have known better and ordered the latter. Since none of us considered the Iberico pork, I am unable to comment which could have easily been a winner.
Filled to the brim, we ended the satisfying culinary adventure with a dark chocolate mousse served with a frozen medallion of mixed berry compote. The sharp compote flavours balanced out the sweet creamy chocolate mouse beautifully. It was such a fitting end to a memorable birthday dinner for Cindy.
Before we drank our last drop of sake, we sang a birthday song for Cindy as she made a birthday wish and blew off the candle. The red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese filling were decorated with specially handcrafted flowers made from imported Korean white beans. The beans were cooked and pureed to a desired consistency for sculpting. Laborious and painstakingly time-consuming to craft, the skilful cake maker Brenda Lim, a good friend of Dorothy's, created a colourful bouquet that was simply too pretty to eat. She used quality ingredients in her cake making repertoire including natural colouring from fruits and vegetables for the flowers. It was such a masterpiece!
A big thank you to Howard who was on hand to see to all our needs and to the creative team at JiangHu Edo for a master class in fine dining. Thanks also go to Cyrus for all his assistance. They have all made a lasting impression on me and I will return for more encounters.
Besides the 10-course dinner, there are some a la carte items on the menu that change with the season. JiangHu Edo is located along Magazine Road, right in the heart of George Town. The minimalist dining hall is elegant, awash with white and beachwood tones and adorned with six Japanese art pieces. To secure a table, please make reservations as limited seats are available.
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
© All rights reserved
11 April 2021
69, Jalan Magazine, 10100 George Town, Penang
JiangHu Edo closed its doors on 30 November 2021