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Some things are just meant to be — and that’s exactly how Chef Jun Tanaka, of Michelin-starred The Ninth restaurant in London, felt when he was asked to open Salisterra at The Upper House. At the brand-new space, which replaced iconic Café Gray Deluxe, Chef Jun’s fresh, vibrant Mediterranean-inspired cuisine pairs perfectly with reimagined interiors by renowned Hong Kong designer André Fu.

The Style Sheet caught up with Chef Jun to hear more about the new restaurant menu, his favourite dishes, sustainable touches — and how he brought the concept to life virtually due to pandemic restrictions.

Michelin-starred Chef Jun Tanaka is the brains behind the new dining concept Salisterra at The Upper House

The Style Sheet: Congrats on your first project in Asia! How did you get involved? 

Jun: I heard about the opportunity back in November 2019. The hotel invited me to visit and stay a night to have a look at the rooms and the restaurants — and I was blown away by the service, the design and just the quality of everything. Then I came up with the concept for Salisterra and pitched it. And luckily, they chose me!

Salisterra means ‘salt of the earth’ in Latin. Why this concept?

The idea takes inspiration from the coastal regions of France and Italy, along the Mediterranean. I felt this style of cuisine would make sense for The Upper House, because it’s all about sharing, family and bringing people together through food and wine. Mediterranean cuisine embodies this warm feeling, which I think reflects the familiar, friendly, engaging service that The Upper House is known for.

These are by no means traditional Italian or French recipes. We just draw inspiration from the Mediterranean area — the produce, the colours, the flavours. Our bold, vivid, vibrant dishes are elegantly simple, sometimes just three things on a plate.

How do the design and food go hand-in-hand? 

Actually, André comes into it as well. We worked separately on new concept ideas and we both came to ‘Mediterranean’ without even speaking. So it was always meant to be! André’s design transports our guests into this world of earthy, bold Mediterranean colours — burgundy, turquoise, terracotta orange, blue and caramel. There are also striking geometrical elements within the design, which represent the Hong Kong skyline. I think it's a perfect balance.

[2] The restaurant was designed by renowned architect and interior designer André Fu. The main dining room provides a sense of entrance and occasion
The Green Room continues the design theme of organic forms and tactile materials

You had to open the restaurant virtually due to travel restrictions. What was that like? 

We had to create a new way of working. We developed a presentation for each dish — the recipe, a photo of the finished dish, step-by-step instructions with photos, and even videos for more complicated recipes so the staff in Hong Kong could execute.

And then, for nearly five months before opening, we all practised the recipes over and over, regularly checking in on Zoom to provide feedback and talk through problems. Chris Czerwinski, Salisterra’s Chef de Cuisine, and I went through every single dish together to make sure they were just right.

You’re classically trained and have worked with top French chefs. Where does your technique shine? 

Sauces add depth of flavour and are the foundation of classic French cuisine; you can see this in our dishes too. Take our osso bucco tortellini: osso buco is a classic, hearty dish from Italy — usually, a big, braised piece of veal shin served with saffron risotto or tagliatelle.

We’ve braised the veal the French way, using chicken and veal stock with Madeira in there for sweetness and white wine for slight acidity. Then we take the osso bucco, add a brunoise of vegetables, and reduce the sauce down to intensify the flavour. Next, we use that mixture to fill tortellini, so you have all the flavours of the traditional dish packaged in each tiny parcel.

The osso bucco tortellini is one example of how Chef Jun uses his classical French training in a contemporary way

Which dish really pays homage to the name Salisterra?

The Patagonian toothfish is a perfect example. It's encased in a bright green salt crust that’s infused with four different herbs, salt and flour, then baked. While it’s cooking, the fish absorbs all the flavours of the herbs and the salt, and then we serve that with a very simple salad, pickled daikon and shredded asparagus.

How does Salisterra embrace sustainability?

The main thing is that we feature a lot of vegetables and seasonal produce. We actually have more plant-based, vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menu than we have fish or meat, which is important. Within the restaurant, we have a Belu water filtration system and we don’t use any plastic bottles. The hotel also has a fresh herb garden where we grow all our rosemary, mint, lemon balm, basil, dill and parsley, which all feature heavily on the menu.

Left: Langoustine ravioli, Chef Jun’s favourite dish. Right: Razor clam ceviche

If you could dine at Salisterra tonight, what would you order?

I’d definitely start with the homemade focaccia and the panisse — a chickpea fritter from the south of France — with anchovies. Next, I’d have the panzanella, which is a traditional Italian salad that’s normally made from leftover bread. We use fresh, crunchy focaccia croutons mixed with tomatoes, pickled cucumber and onions and finished with some fromage frais, like herb-flavoured creamy cheese.

For pasta, I’d choose the langoustine ravioli — my favourite dish on the menu. We marinate the langoustine in shio koji, fermented rice, for 24 hours. The sauce is made from langoustine shells and finished with fresh tomato juice, which brings out the freshness. And then we serve that with broad beans and dried Datterini tomatoes — it’s a bowl of umami flavours.

As a main, I’d have the grilled Te Mana lamb, which we marinate in black olive tapenade and serve with char-grilled, tender-stem broccolini. I also love our crispy FOMO potatoes (you can’t miss out on them!) and chargrilled cauliflower. And to finish I’d have the Brillat-Savarin cherry cheesecake with Sicilian pistachio and cherry sorbet. I’m a big fan of cheesecake!

And who would you take with you, assuming you’re willing to share?

I’d take my wife, for sure! I hope we can travel soon to experience the super elegant environment, incredible views, warm Mediterranean colours and famous Upper House service.

A finishing touch of Brillat-Savarin cherry cheesecake with Sicilian pistachio and cherry sorbet