At new Japanese restaurant Artifact, caviar is celebrated in all its forms, with head chef Kiyoshi Sato honouring the history and diversity of this luxurious ingredient.
Caviar has long been a byword for luxury, just like champagne, and this decadent food is a perfect pairing for the bubbly stuff, with bars and restaurants globally dedicated to this iconic coupling. Rarity, high demand and labour-intensive production all contribute to caviar’s high price, with the much sought-after Beluga costing more than US$200 per ounce and Kaluga priced between US$60-80 per ounce. Served very cold and traditionally eaten with a mother-of-pearl or gold spoon to avoid any metallic taste, it’s served atop blinis or toast and with classic accompaniments including lemon wedges, sour cream and crème fraiche.
Caviar isn’t just an hors d’oeuvre or canape, of course, but is frequently utilised by chefs. Artifact, a new 14-seater counter dining experience at Central’s Basehall 02 in Jardine House, aims to introduce caviar to a wider audience, with the salty black pearls paired with jet-fresh ingredients from Japan. Head chef Kiyoshi Sato presents an intricate chef’s degustation menu based on shun, the Japanese philosophy of seasonality, with dishes like Carabineros-smoked miso cream and Baerii caviar; and namerou (minced fish) with goma (sesame) and Kaluga delivering a distinctive take on this coveted ingredient. Dishes are paired with smoky, vibrant champagnes such at R.H Coutier’s Brut Tradition Grand Cru, and the fruity Michel Gonet Blanc de Noir.
Sato, who’s worked in kitchens in Tokyo, Sydney, Singapore and London, oversaw all Japanese concepts for Pirata Group, including Honjo and TMK, before pushing the boundaries of modern Japanese cuisine as executive chef of modern Japanese izakaya concept Silencio (now closed). Now, he’s poised to do it all again at Artifact.
Artifact celebrates caviar. What’s your favourite caviar dish, and what would you pair it with?
It would have to be Ebisu oysters with yuzu snow, which I’d pair with a 2002 Krug.
What prompted the decision to set up a restaurant dedicated to caviar and what were some of the challenges you faced along the way?
We are dedicated to championing artisanal producers: caviar is just fish eggs, after all, plus time, attention and care. I source respectfully grown produce and see myself as providing a canvas to showcase the tremendous skill and craftsmanship of those I admire and respect.
Caviar is an expensive ingredient; some diners may feel they can’t afford it. How are you seeking to challenge this?
Generosity – we’re doing away with the scales and measly portions. Yes, it’s not cheap, but it certainly makes it accessible to more people. And by not restricting it to a stuffy or pretentious setting we offer a fun, surprising dining experience. We’re not here to educate or lecture, just to bring pleasure and hopefully a gratifying moment to guests.
Caviar and champagne are considered a classic, decadent pairing. Why does the pairing work so well?
Yeah, I’m quite old school and would go with a glass of bubbly or a shot of vodka with my caviar. Both make great bedfellows, as they cut through the fat and acidity of the caviar.
You’ve worked in hospitality for more than 15 years. What’s unique about the Hong Kong dining scene?
I love the energy of Hong Kong and the slightly rough, straight-shooting attitude.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I’d say it’s simple and ingredient-driven, with a little bit of heart. Cooking is a craft, not an art, and we shouldn’t be afraid to put in the work.
A speakeasy bar adjacent to the counter dining space will open in March 2023. Tell us about that
It will remain ingredient-focused and offer a bit of fun, plus some bolder flavours. I’ll use the bar as a test tube for ideas that will make their way to the chef’s counter. As a bar, the flavours will pop more and provide a databank for future menus. We’re thinking dishes like Wagyu croquettes, miso cheese akami, and oysters with sanbaizu (rice vinegar) granita.
When you’re off duty, where do you like to dine in Hong Kong?
When it’s just me dining on my own, I’m pretty simple with food – I love tucking into a plate of steak and fries. There are a couple of places of note that I’ve enjoyed recently including [bistro]Vivant and [coffee/wine concept] mato.
What do you like about being a chef in Hong Kong?
I love the limitless opportunities that are open to me as a chef here in Hong Kong. I’m already looking at curating my own private parties or collaborating with others to do the same.
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