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    【Shanghai】The Revival of a French Restaurant by a Japanese Chef from Nagasaki

    Author: Jocelyn Chen

    Interview: Saya Deng

    Photo: OSTRA Official /Jocelyn Chen

    Shanghai never lacks any luxurious restaurants but sometimes tiny and low-key restaurants are even more charming to me with its unexpected delicacies and talented chef. OSTRA recently welcomed a new Japanese executive chef Hirata Hiroki and relaunched with a brand-new concept.

    Located directly opposite to the Jing An Shangri-La Hotel, West Shanghai, OSTRA opened in 2017 and was focused on seafood, old-school Chinese-style Western cuisine before. At that time, I felt completely in the dark about the future of this restaurant.

    OSTRA Outside View

    OSTRA Executive Chef Hirata Hiroki

    Not long ago, the restauranteur told me they are going to invite a new Japanese chef, suddenly I felt it would be a ray of light to the restaurant as Japanese chef doing westering cuisine is very rare in China. In addition, there are many outstanding showcases of Japanese chefs cooking French cuisine in France, Japan and other places. This might be a good chance for the restaurant.

    With restauranteur, Tom Ma’s invitation, Chef Hirata Hiroki came to Shanghai in this February. Out of my surprise, the restaurant turned a new leaf from inner to out.

    Chef Hiroki’s cuisine owns strong Japanese style. He merges delicate Japanese cooking techniques into authentic French cuisine. For example, he cooked abalone and octopus via sous-vide with sake to make the flesh more tender and sweeter and season them with soy sauce, mirin, kelp and sake. He also adopts some Chinese flavors, such as steaming abalone with sake and Chinese yellow wine as the base, perfectly blending Chinese flavor into Japanese taste.

    Abalone, White Asparagus, Chinese Yellow Wine Sauce

    My favorite dish is the eggplant mousse, caviar, and king crab jelly. The eggplant is grilled with the most traditional Japanese way, then the chef mashed it and placed it under the crab flesh. The strong barbecue flavor elicits the natural and sweet taste of the crab, full of summer memories in Japan. A truly touching dish.

    Eggplant Mousse, Caviar, King Crab Jelly

    Somehow when mentioned about summer in Japan, the warm and sweet movie Kikujiro by Kitano Takeshi always comes in my mind. That’s my memory connection between grilled eggplant and summer in Japan.

    Grilled Eggplant with Traditional Japanese Way

    The pigeon is cooked with Hatcho Miso originated from central of Japan. It’s sweeter and makes a combo with corn sauce to create a tender taste. The sauce also contains mild pigeon broth and butter.

    Pigeon, Corn, Akamiso Sauce

    For the appetizer, Chef Hiroki combines different ingredients thoughtfully, like he puts sea urchin, pumpkin, and macadamia together through different cooking techniques to well-balanced different tastes. The traditional homemade brioche is produced every day, he changes the formula with different proportion of salt/ sugar/butter from traditional ones. The delicate pumpkin puree embodies chef’s ingenuity – carefully heated to keep the most appropriate proportion of water to reserve perfect sweetness.

    Sea Urchin, Pumpkin, Brioche

    The spring dish, Hokkaido scallop, fukinotou, and celeriac, is inspired by the chef’s childhood memory. Chef loves fukinotou because his grandfather used to plant fuki. The freshly picked seasonal fuki is very delicious with a special bitter taste. When he was little, they always fried the fuki as tempura. The scallop and fuki are both from Japan.

    Hokkaido Scallop, Fukinotou, Celeriac

    Chef Hiroki is solid in basic skills and comes from Iki island in Nagasaki, same as Chef Ryohei Hieda from two-Michelin-starred restaurant Taipei RyuGin. His hometown is rich in tuna, sea urchins and many other types of seafood. And his ancestors were also professional fisherman and farmers, who specialized in catching sea bream and production of top-level rice and wagyu. Therefore, the chef is proud of being surrounded by top natural ingredients at an early age.

    At the age of 20, he had worked at the famous La Table de Provence in Fukuoka for more than 5 years. After that, he traveled to Paris to work in the Japanese-style French Restaurant, two-Michelin starred Passage 53 for one year by working-holiday visa.Later, he was invited by Chef Hideaki Sato as the sous-chef of Hong Kong’s Ta Vie, the acclaimed Japanese and French fusion restaurant since its opening.

    During his two and a half years’ stay, Ta Vie was awarded one Michelin star after one year’s opening and later received two Michelin stars. Besides the cooking techniques, Hiroki said that the most rewarding part of his previous experience is he has learnt the way how these admired chefs thinking and processing all the projects.

    From his previous work, the chef-owner of Ta Vie, Hideaki Sato also appreciated his efforts and he even left a message to me to support him.

    No doubt, Chef Hiroki shows his ability through his highly respect to top ingredients and with a broad vision and solid culinary foundation. He successfully brings the cuisine of OSTRA to a different level. The owner of OSTRA also owns the top sushi restaurant Shoku-tei Sushi, in Shenzhen, hence it makes it easy for OSTRA to get the best seafood on the market.

    Chef Francisco Javier Araya from NAPA (Second from Left), Author (Third from Left)

    Overall, OSTRA is above the standard in terms of top modern cuisine with its complicated techniques, minimal presentation, and top ingredients. Although the restaurant is not very spacious, it contains everything a good restaurant required. Japanese chefs are used to narrow space; therefore, they could manage this kind of restaurant well. The interior design of this two-storied building is elegant and the private dining rooms with large windows on the second floor are picturesque with the green scenery in summer.

    In Hong Kong, the restaurant has to import ingredients but Mainland China is a different story. Though OSTRA adapts large amount of ingredients from all over the world, as a newcomer, chef Hiroki has to learn how to use local ingredients still. Frankly speaking, there’s still room for improvement to the restaurant – the allocation of the staff and the struggling that old customers cannot get used to their new concept immediately. It takes time for the team to adopt the change and to make every aspect better.

    However, besides the controlling of the plate temperature, I like the manner of this restaurant, and the completion of their dishes is very nice.The presentation of OSTRA’s cuisine is restricted due to the insufficient kitchen staffs. If you are impatient then I might not suggest you to visit. Chef Hiroki insists that he only starts to make dishes once guests arrive. But if you are compulsive perfect timing person, just like me, that’s the place to be!In French cuisine, the appetizer Amuse Bouche refers to ‘amusement for mouth’, some delicate snacks prepared by chef before official meal. Strictly speaking, OSTRA does not offer Amuse Bouche now, as the snacks in the menu, such as sea urchin, pumpkin brioche or edamame ham korokke are all freshly made, so waiting is a must.

    It is said that Chef Hiroki has not taken a day off since the launch of July menu. He is truly devoted himself to Shanghai. Since Japanese-style French cuisine is kind of unique in Shanghai, he has a chance to stand out.

    Chef Hiroki told me he has a wide range of interests and he likes to hang around. Wherever he goes, he is always thinking about cooking innovation. Before going to bed, he always prepares paper and pens beside, as he usually gets inspirations when he wakes up at 5 or 6 in the morning and he likes to write down his thoughts immediately.

    I’ve asked Chef Hiroki about his culinary philosophy, he advocates the use of seasonal harvest and prosperity, and he tries very hard to present the best of every ingredient. The menu of OSTRA will be adjusted according to daily ingredients. What is in the menu is what is in season.
    He hopes customers can enjoy his dishes from the bottom of their heart. He also expects OSTRA could bring a warm and pleasant dining experience to diners.

    In 2020, under the leadership of Chef Hiroki, OSTRA has taken on an entirely new look. It is an exquisite yet beautiful restaurant that attracts you to visit again and again. OSTRA team chose to relaunch under the pandemic, it’s a very brave decision and I believe the restaurant will be eventually deeply loved by the public with its beautiful cuisine.

    OSTRA

    Address: No. 68, Tongren Road, Jing’an District, Shanghai

    TEL: 021-62886831;18116376831

    Opening hours: Tue – Sun; Lunch 11:30-14:00; Dinner 17:00-22:00

     All Rights Reserved.


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