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The best cheesecake you’ve never had is made with sake

KIOSK by Sake Central uses sake kasu to bring a wave of umami goodness to every slice.

I’m a sucker for a good cheesecake. It’s a family trait.

Twice a year, every year — first on Mother’s Day and again for her birthday — my mom is the lucky recipient of a handmade classic plain with the graham cracker crust from Eileen’s, a New York City institution. Although I’m a little farther from home these days, it remains a shared joy for us both; each bite brings her back to her first trip to the Big Apple in the 1970’s, mine to my ten years in the city.

I’ve had, and enjoyed, plenty of other cheesecakes since then — some baked, some not; some sauced, some syrupy. Personally, I find too many toppings is a crutch for a crummy cake. But I digress.

The Burnt Basque Cheesecake has seemingly been the go-to for sweet-toothed Hongkongers and the chefs tasked with feeding them in recent years. And can you blame them? That golden brown exterior with the jiggly centre is tough to resist, even for a professed not-a-big-dessert-guy like myself. It’s a frequent special on the wall at MOYO; Rubia’s blue cheese rendition is one for the books. The Twins Kitchen boys sell it by the slice over at Interval.

But little did I expect that a stall pushing sandos and sake would have the BBC to upend my beloved Eileen’s.

KIOSK by Sake Central is the latest opening from Sake Central co-founder Elliot Faber and head chef Vincent Ladislao. Open through 20 September, it’s the spiritual sequel to July’s #OnigiriForLove initiative, which paired chef Richard Ekkebus of Amber and RŌNIN’s Matt Abergel alongside Faber and Ladislao to support the work of Feeding Hong Kong and Impact Hong Kong.

Inspired by Japanese grab-and-go snack stalls, KIOSK perfectly complements its surroundings inside Landmark’s Belowground, the Central hub for cool kids in music, art and fashion. It offers up a variety of tasty Japanese sandos (HK$88), as well as Sunday’s Spirits, canned cocktails and resto merch, but that’s all window dressing for the cheesecake that changed everything.

“I’m just obsessed with kasu,” says Faber. “It has so much flavour and so many uses, but I always wanted to try putting it into something like this. So that’s what we did.”

Kasu, for the uninitiated, is a by-product (also known as the “lees”) of sake production. The Japanese, never big fans of waste, have found myriad uses for the stuff, from marinades to skincare products. It also turns out to be one hell of a cheesecake ingredient.

KIOSK’s Basque Umami Cheesecake (HK$188) delivers on its name, taking you on a flavour journey of sweet, savoury and umami along a bed of creamy goodness beneath the burnt top. Made from the kasu of Sake Central’s own NOTO 88 sake, the recipe was developed with Tetsuya Matsuoka of CAFÉ LIFE.

And if the rich and tart tenderness of a New York City slice is a craving you can’t shake, Chef Ladislao’s own New York Umami Cheesecake (HK$188) breaks out the graham cracker crust and a drizzle of kasu caramel for an encore worthy of Carnegie Hall.

Our recommendation? Get both. Thank us later. And run, don’t walk, because these cakes move fast.

KIOSK by Sake Central, Belowground, BG/F, Landmark, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong

Nathan Erickson
Editor-in-Chief
Made in Seoul and based in Hong Kong, Nathan has covered food, drinks, fashion and more from New York to Paris to Oaxaca. He enjoys street photography, buying too many hooded sweatshirts and he'll never turn down a tequila soda. Catch him on weekends hiking trails all over Hong Kong in hopes of finding his idol, Chow Yun-fat.