“Nagao’s comfort with East-meets-West ingredients results in confident starters of complex taste but simple layering”
Anointed by the Peninsula to launch Felix back in 1996, Bryan Nagao was arguably Hong Kong’s first celebrity chef. Despite his célèbre status, however, over a two-decade career, the Japanese-Hawaiian never played the superstar chef game. Case in point – he’s never put his name in a restaurant title.
Today, he’s the executive chef and owner of Town. Open for two years, the Causeway Bay eatery doesn’t attract the fanfare or buzz of the Philippe Stark-designed restaurant on the Peninsula’s top floor. But here, Nagao is free to explore the creativity and finesse hinted at during his Felix reign.
Town’s culinary mandate is broader and less restricted than Nagao’s previous postings, which include Kokage, D Diamond, Chez Moi and Zelo. He calls the cuisine “urban casual,” delivering a modern twist on what others might call fusion cooking. Make no mistake; Nagao is enthusiastically exploring the full range of his disparate repertoire of Japanese, Mediterranean, French and Hawaiian flavours.
The flair is evident even in his antipasto lunch buffet. Rather than bland filler salads of green leaves and common dressings, Nagao’s restaurant serves up a variety of enticing platters. Highlights include Israeli couscous with feta cheese, dried apricot, cucumber, parsley and tomatoes in a yuzu dressing, as well as substantial trays like smoked tuna with green beans, capers, olives, egg and cherry tomatoes with sherry vinaigrette. With a main course added, it’s still a very reasonably priced set lunch – probably one of the best deals in the city.
Nagao’s comfort with East-meets-West ingredients also results in confident starters of complex taste but simple layering. The beautifully arranged warm Spanish prawn with wasabi gnocchi, braised endive and tomato kanzuri (a fermented product of chilli and red rice) is a masterful blend of contrasts in a warm savoury and spicy sauce served with fresh seafood. Equally appealing is the exquisite sashimi Hokkaido scallop, enhanced with uni, a little nori and black truffle in tamari soy vinaigrette.
More than ever, the surfer dude turned chef is putting his personality onto his plates. The spaghetti with veal shoulder is a decadent bolognese that reaches moreish heights with a toss of butter, bone marrow, parmesan and a touch of dashi. The Japanese stock provides an unexpected but satisfying extra hint of umami.
The same fusion surprise arrives with the pea ‘porridge.’ The sophisticated soup includes a subtly flavoured piece of unagi (eel), some burrata cheese and, for that extra je ne sais quoi, slivers of 5J Iberico ham. Good thing it is on Town’s Valentine’s Day menu because it’s a course to fall in love with.
For the main, the Brandt Farm striploin is a well-seasoned piece of tender protein, augmented with shitake mushrooms, Toulouse sausage and wasabi-pineapple jus. The sausage and mushrooms are delectable and really pile on the savoury punches. The wasabi-pineapple could have been zestier for a brighter contrast to the beef, its jus lacks the proper kick to stand up and be noticed.
The sea bass Suzuki with pickled peach palm hearts, sauce Japonaise and shiso verde is exactly what French fine dining in Japan tastes like; the dish is additionally decorated with edible flower petals. The sea bass is pleasant and the palm hearts are crunchy, but it also feels like the safest dish of the day.
When it comes to dessert in Town, safety is certainly guaranteed. Flat-bottomed teardrops of caramel chocolate mousse are placed on a pistachio tuile, which sit above carmelised pieces of pineapple in a final gentle nod to Nagao’s home state of Hawaii. It makes me wonder how much fun it would be if Nagao went all out with a modern Hawaiian joint. Food for thought, perhaps?
TOWN by Bryan Nagao
Cubus, 10/F, 1 Hoi Ping Rd, Causeway Bay
Written by Andrew Sun