While its concept may seem deceptively simple, there is a lot more to the art of fusion cooking than just throwing random ingredients from different cultures together. Fine fusion food is a careful balancing act that requires extreme precision from the chef not just in the flavours and textures, but also in indulging their creativity while paying homage to the cuisines being showcased. And what two cuisines embody luxury dining and long-held traditions as much as French and Japanese food?
To understand the finesse that goes into producing fusion haute cuisine, we’ve spoken to the experts at fine-dining restaurant Le Rêve about some unusual French-Japanese flavour pairings that you may not have heard of.
As an ultimate luxury ingredient with a long history in haute cuisine, there are quite a few rules about the “traditional” ways to eat caviar—i.e. directly from the tin (with a non-metal spoon!), as a spread on toast, or spooned onto other dishes in teeny-tiny portions to add a little salinity. For a creative and indulgent modern way of eating caviar, try combining it with sweet, nutty Japanese pumpkin purée, which provides a nice contrast to the saline pop of the briny black eggs without overpowering them.
Often called the “diamond of the kitchen,” truffle is yet another uber-luxurious ingredient that is often served in haute cuisine in all of its forms; black, white, winter, or summer—people love it all. While truffles are technically tubers, not mushrooms, they are still a match made in heaven with their spore-bearing counterparts. Put a Japanese spin on the classic European combination of truffles and porcini mushrooms by replacing the latter with matsutake mushrooms. These Japanese mushrooms are known for their earthy, forest-like aroma of pine and cinnamon, which complement the naturally oaky, musky scent of truffle.
Another prized seafood ingredient that lends itself surprisingly well to fusion cuisine is abalone. This meaty marine snail is considered a premium ingredient in Chinese and Japanese cooking, with one popular preparation in high-end sushi restaurants comprising umami (旨味; savoury) abalone sauce mixed in with short-grain rice. While delicious, this preparation is extremely rich, and is often served in portions no larger than a sake cup. To enjoy the flavour of abalone rice in a lighter way, try it in a risotto made from healthy, protein- and fibre-rich pearl barley. This ancient grain’s naturally al dente texture and creaminess when added to stocks and sauces makes it a perfect base for the deeply savoury and moreish abalone sauce.
Sushi fans will know this one—saba, or mackerel, is a hugely popular fish used throughout Japanese cooking, with a strong, rich fish flavour that lingers on the palate. It’s a versatile ingredient that lends itself well to grilling, braising, and steaming, but one of our favourite ways to consume saba is in the form of sashimi. The fish, which is naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids, has a decadent and oily texture that comes through most when eaten raw, and is delightful when contrasted with bright, acidic flavours—like tomatoes! Instead of pairing your saba with the conventional spring onion and ginger, try eating it with a salsa of flavourful cherry tomatoes.
This one may not be too surprising to regular drinkers of matcha lattes, but with the meteoric rise in matcha’s popularity as an ingredient, a number of odd and slightly discordant matcha mash-ups have emerged (i.e. matcha with cotton candy, ramen in matcha soup, etc). To enjoy the same balance of bitterness and creaminess as you would get in a matcha latte—but with a fun twist—try pairing the tea with vanilla. The vegetal, green flavours of matcha bounce off the fragrant and rich sweetness of vanilla without one overpowering the other.
Get a taste of all the above and more at Le Rêve, a hidden gem of a restaurant in Causeway Bay perched high above the city. Meaning “the dream,” Le Rêve combines superb Japanese ingredients with fine French techniques to create fusion food that tastes out of this world.
The restaurant, which is celebrating its five-year anniversary, has recently brought on a new head chef, Ken Kwok, who has over 15 years of experience working in Japanese, French, and Italian fine dining restaurants, including the two Michelin-starred Wagyu Takumi. Kwok’s flair for experiential dining and refined fusion is evident in his new menu, which includes signatures such as the caviar “secret,” made with layers of French osetra caviar, Spanish carabinero prawn tartare, DOP Italian burrata, and Japanese greenhouse pumpkin. Presented in a round caviar tin on a bed of marine crystals and shells, this gorgeous dish is designed to evoke the feeling of digging for treasure.
The French and Japanese inspiration is also evident throughout Le Rêve’s brand-new bar menu, which features delectable concoctions such as the Sakura Land, which features sake, sakura, lima, cloves, and yuzu salt, and the Green Tea Lover, which combines Japanese green tea with vanilla, cream, and homemade honey water.
Of course, reading about fine food and drink is nothing compared to tasting it—and now that we can dine in for dinner and in groups again, why not head down to Le Rêve for your next date, celebration, or business lunch to try it for yourself? If the weather allows, make sure to have a drink on their beautiful roof terrace for its sky-high views of the Happy Valley racecourse!