Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hairy experience

One Bangsar
63B, Jalan Ara
Bangsar Baru
Kuala Lumpur
Tel: (03) 2282 1111
Openi daily: noon-2.30pm and 6.30pm - 10.30pm

Hokkaido hairy crabs make their appearance at Fukuya Japanese restaurant.

You’re doing a food review just on crabs? What about the other kinds of food at the restaurant?” asks a friend, who thinks food reviewers have one of the best jobs in the world.

Irresistible stuff: Crab leg sushi

Well, that can be true some of the time. At Fukuya, a Japanese eatery in the bustling dining and entertainment enclave known as One Bangsar, I certainly had my fill of crabs. And they weren’t any ordinary crustaceans, by the way.

The kegani or hairy crabs, which are air-flown from Hokkaido, Japan are a seasonal delicacy. Priced at RM38 for 100 grams, they don’t come cheap, either.

Fukuya’s executive chef Takao Ando certainly knows how to prepare his crabs. Originally from Hokkaido but trained in Tokyo, Chef Ando whips up a special hairy crab menu. According to him, the fresh, sweet flavours of steamed or charcoal-grilled Hokkaido crabs are best enjoyed when dipped in vinegar sauce.

I’m not much of a crab lover, and I encountered some trouble prising the meat from the shells. But before I had a chance to get a bit crabby, Chef Ando gave me a quick and simple lesson on how to flick the meat out.

“They’re best enjoyed boiled. The taste is gone when the crabs are over-grilled,” explained the friendly master chef. I asked him why the hairy crabs were popular during winter in Japan, and not summer.

“In winter, the crabs taste better. The meat is sweeter compared to during the summer when the sea temperatures were higher. The crab meat is less sweet then,” he informed me with a logic I simply couldn’t dispute.

This sweetness is amplified in the Crab Hot Pot with vegetables that come in three sizes (small, RM45; medium, RM90; large, RM180). Fortified with flavour, the soup packed a subtle punch when it came to taste. The cabbage and tofu were well cooked. But it’s the stars of the pot, the hairy crabs that came into their own.

Swirling in a light miso stock, the meat was tender, and not stringy. Everything ended up being a rubbery mess on occasions, though, when the seafood is over-cooked.

Thankfully, the crab leg sushi (RM45) was anything but rubbery. In fact, Chef Ando’s undoubted sushi-crafting skills made the dish a thoroughly authentic one. The three sushi items were delicate little morsels that looked too good to eat. Then again, I was hungry. But I did feel a tad guilty for scoffing down a near work-of-art with a speedy pop in the mouth!

The Hokkaido crab special menu features traditional recipes, but Chef Ando has also created a special dish: Japanese-style Chilli Crab (RM90).

“We’ve added chilli crabs for a more localised flavour,” he explained. Tangy and spicy, the dish is made for the local palate. Japanese cuisine purists might shake their heads disapprovingly, but the crabs speak for themselves. In fact, they can probably be considered haute cuisine chilli crabs. The dishes can be ordered a la carte during the month of March.

Appetising crab hot pot with vegetables

Interestingly, Chef Ando is also renowned for his Kaiseiki sets – 10 course degustation menus similar to the classic French style of cuisine presentation. By some accounts, they’re the epitome of Japanese dining. But the famed kaiseiki has to be tasted to be believed.

Design-wise, Fukuya (which means “house of happiness”) is a celebration of the clean, uncluttered minimalist style.

A concrete and grass courtyard leads to a cool and cosy interior. Modern but not achingly hip, Fukuya doesn’t intimidate would-be diners, as some other trend-aware places do. As part of the One Bangsar development, which resembles a mini-resort minus accommodation facilities and a swimming pool, the restaurant is part of an array of eateries with decidedly international flavours. Amble down stone-covered interconnecting pathways, and you are confronted with a United Nations’ representation of restaurants - Vietnamese, Italian and even a Rick’s CafĂ©, inspired no doubt by the movie Casablanca. However, do note that parking may prove to be a bit of a problem especially at night.

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