Hoze, Gothenburg 2014
We generally don't write essays about restaurants from our home town of Gothenburg. Why? Because they're sadly not up to par. We've lacked innovation and soul in the Gothenburg food scene for a long time. However, something has been brewing as of lately.
For a long time we've read stories about José Cerdá and his almost "unknown" sushi restaurant Hoze. The word-of-mouth stories we heard witnessed of an extremely passionate chef that would soon blossom into something really big. When we first heard about it years ago, his webpage had no information, and we weren't even sure if it was possible to book a table. We were however intrigued, we knew we had to try it out— could Gothenburg finally have gotten a restaurant with a chef that's willing to go the extra miles to create something unique?
Today the Hoze webpage at least states needed information to make a reservation (though it lacks information that it's only possible to pay with cash...) and a very active facebook and instagram account. A lot of information were however still a mystery to us. How many dishes did the "omakase"-menu consists of? Were there any accompanied drinks to the food? What we knew was that the restaurant had 6 seats at a bar serving all food at a counter-style manner.
We had wanted to make a visit to Hoze for a long time, and we finally made the reservation and headed over to the "unknown" restaurant on a rainy Friday afternoon. As we entered the front door José greats us with a friendly "hello". We realise (just as we expected) that this will be a very intimate dining experience. It's us, 4 more diners, José and his charming helper Lina.
For many swedes, one of the most intimidating feeling is being placed among strangers in a non-familiar setting without outspoken social rules (we're a rather socially awkward people). It's evident from the start that none of the other diners have been here before and José feels the need to break the silence by stating "you are allowed to speak you know?" ;) It's a courageous setup. It's us 6 and he's in charge to provide comfort (and spectacle). A normal ice-breaker would be to provide the diners with some sort of alcohol, but there's only water. Few people would attempt this; but it's evident that José has no problem being in the spotlight and it seems to come natural to him— he immediately lightens the mood describing the ride we're in for and we're surely intrigued.
Straight up he creates a small snack of flatbread, beetroot, mackerel, dill and oyster cream. As soon as we taste it, we both know that yes, this is the spark we've been looking for. Punchy flavours with texture and creaminess. The next small dish of potato, butter, scallop and yuzu follows suit. The scallop has a soft texture that smelts in the mouth and together with the freshness of the yuzy it's a great bite.
It's a great experience watching José prepare each dish right in front of our eyes. We've been at many "open kitchens" before, but to be able to talk with the chef as he prepares each plate surely is an experience in itself. We're given the backstories to many of the creations and it's evident that José has a passion for ingredients (only the best is good enough), craftsmanship (it's hard to not be impressed by the Japanese "samurai-sword"-like knives used to precisely handle the ingredients) and the care for taste.
Gothenburg is famous for its fresh seafood— and we must say we're rather tired of the dozens of restaurants in the city serving the local catch straight up without much finesse at all. In all the dishes at Hoze there's exciting new flavours and refinements that makes the both of us smile as we're eating it.
The "omakase" tasting menu consists of an array of small (and larger) dishes accompanied by a segment of sushi. As José prepares the fish for the sushi-service, we're already saddened that all the great starter-dishes are over— we could've kept eating them all night long (seriously).
Almost as expected, José follows in the footsteps of his sushi-master and the art of sushi-making is as most of us know an important one (and one that's almost impossible to fully master). José is setting himself up to great things using soy sauce very few in the world is able to utilise; fresh wasabi, perfectly cooked rice and ginger that simply tastes amazing. As each sushi is prepared individual to each diner; we're ready to use the traditional cliché that he makes it look "effortless".
One of us has actually never eaten sushi before (patiently waiting for when we're traveling to Japan) , in the fear of eating "bad sushi" and getting the wrong impression from the start— at Hoze we're sure before even trying that this isn't the case, and we're correct. We won't state that we're sushi-experts by any means, but this showcases skill and makes the utilised Swedish fish taste better than we've ever tasted before. The highlight is the last bite of mackerel that tastes heavenly (with just the right amount of salt).
As we're big fans of well-composed snacks and dishes we must however say that the heights of the initial dishes made the sushi part of the menu feel less "exciting" (even though most people would say it's the main attraction of the night).
After the sushi it's time for deserts. Hozes desert-chef is 19-year old Sebastian from Stockholm (meaning José actually prepares the dishes on Sebastian's instructions). As José likes vegetables better than fruit the tastes are diverged from the sweet.
Even though we were so happily surprised by our experience-- there's still room to go from here. Even if there's no alcohol served— we feel there is a missed opportunity not having other options available (interesting juices and why not tea?). The ending coffee-service is great and shows that José has a fine palette for this, and we hope he'll take us on a beverage-journey as well when we return for more visits in the future.
As service ends and the other diners leave the restaurant, we're left alone with José and Lina. Finally we can start firing off the questions that we didn't feel comfortable discussing in front of our unfamiliar dinner-guests before. Our believes of a passionate chef with a strong personal vision is invigorated. As we've seen before, the best restaurants stem from a true chefs vision (and not when chefs are put in place of running "someone else's" restaurant). Hoze is an extremely personal experience on almost every level. If this experience doesn't describe José's heart on a plate, we don't know what is. It's his vision, his dreams and his diners tasting them a few feet away— honesty for food in its purest form.