Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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Comestibles and Cars at Mercedes Me

I admit, I was a little confused at first. Why was Mercedes, the luxury car brand, suddenly serving food? Was this a new tactic? Ply customers with copious quantities of food and drink and before you know it, hey presto you’ve accidentally bought a Merc, (it could happen). Regretably, none of my friends have unexpectedly left Mercedes Me with a car, (my dreams of getting a free ride have been scuppered), but most of them have reported delicious things happening within the store. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a car lover to appreciate the high quality food that’s on offer and if dishes influenced by Peruvian, Japanese and Spanish cuisines sound like your kind of thing, then you won’t be disappointed.

Boozy Sunday brunch is somewhat of a rarity these days for my friends and I, and the Sunday I visited Mercedes Me for the first time (by kind invitation), was no exception, with me balking at the thought of more alcohol following a Saturday night of a delightful combination of whisky, G&Ts and beers that tasted as awful as its name (The Brown Note). However, gluttony was the order of the day, and what a feast we had in store for us: you can choose from their buffet stations of salad/ bakery/ cold selections, interactive stations of cheese/ eggs/ fish, before choosing a main and dessert which are served in a sharing style for the table. If you want the booze, there’s free flow Champagne Perrier-Jouet, Red and White wine, Bloody Mary and Beer that will get you rapidly merry on a Sunday afternoon.

I opted for the mocktail version of the Bloody Mary which was lovely- nicely balanced, not too fiery nor too tart and was enough to rev my appetite. Greed got to me as I piled my plate high with a wonderful selection of cold meats, salad and tasty morsels such as miso eggplant and fried artichoke hearts, and our table enjoyed the extensive cheese offerings and the gorgeous pain au chocolat and bread. I liked the “interactive stations” where you can ask for sous-vide egg with a variety of toppings and sauces- I asked for a sous-vide egg with salmon – and the fish station which was essentially sashimi and dressing of your choice.

For mains we noshed on Sobrassada Slow Cooked Chicken Thighs with sweetcorn stew and red wine jus that was tender and rich. I am a big sweetcorn fan, and loved the creamy texture of the stew. The Sobrassada and Mozzarella Bikini were tasty cheesy bites but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Broccolini fried with chilli, garlic and sesame, which were especially moreish and flavourful.

If you don’t wear stretchy pants, you might find tucking into their desserts difficult. Their serving of Catalan Cream Foam is generous, and it was creamy yet light. The Dulce de Leche with Coffee Sponge and Whisky Curd is decadent but if you’re a a Ferrero Rocher obsessive then their Chocolate and Hazelnut Delice will be right up your street.

At midday the Mercedes Me store was very quiet but by 1pm, it was buzzing and completely transformed the atmosphere, so if you want to attack the buffet selection without fighting others, the earlier your reservation the better! Service was good, with very attentive staff. Price-wise $490 for the food is really quite reasonable, but the additional $280 for the free flow may not seem so appealing to some. However, given the location, the quality of the dishes, the guaranteed food coma, plus the chance to ogle some flashy cars, I’d say it’s definitely a lovely alternative to the hotel Sunday brunches that are on offer.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

Mercedes Me, Shop C-D, G/F, Entertainment Building, 30 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Central, Hong Kong/ Tel: +852 28957398 / https://www.mercedes-benz.com/hk/mercedes-me/st

This was by kind invitation. 

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Going Loco for Koko

So, first of all, happy new year! Ok, I’m a bit late…but it’s still the first quarter of the 2016 so I think I can just about get away with it! Secondly, whilst the blog has been a little quiet, alright, yes yes, very quiet, I’d like to let you know that I have definitely been taking one for the team and leaving several lifetimes on the hips for you all. I have definitely overdone it with the eating since Christmas. I love you HK, but you really need to slow down with the constant restaurant openings, so much to try, so little time, only one digestive tract!

There seems to be no end to the growing number of Japanese restaurants popping up. One of the latest is KOKO, a contemporary izakaya which is the result of a partnership between KEE club and the Hidetoshi Nakata, world-renowned footballer and fashion icon turned sake ambassador. I confess, he was perhaps the only other reason, (aside from Beckham) for my being vaguely interested enough to watch the World Cup back in the day.  So I was quite surprised to learn that Nakata has his own sake company- Japan Craft Sake Company. In efforts to promote sake internationally, this collaboration sees KOKO’s sake list showcase a variety of rare and vintage sakes shipped directly from Japan, most of which you’d be hard pressed to find in HK.

The CrazyHashtagfoodies crew and I were invited to try out KOKO early last month and as I stumbled into the restaurant flustered from what was frankly, a completely horrendous day compounded by the downpour, I was greeted by the rest of the gang all nestled on cool patio sofas on the spacious terrace surrounded by palm tree fronds.koko

We started off with some truly excellent appetisers, (we were all impressed by the starters and I would have been quite happy to nosh on several refills for the rest of the evening), and my favourite by far was the Tuna Tartare ($88)- a gorgeous little heap of tuna topped with half a quail’s egg and its quivering runny yolk on top of some sort of delightful crunchy wonton? skin. Another treat was the Chicken tsukune with soft egg and nori ($98). I’ve no idea what else was in that dipping sauce but something made it especially addictive and hit my umami hot-spot.

Tuna Tartare

Chicken Tsukune

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Red Mullet Escabeche

We relocated inside and found ourselves ensconced in a comfy corner of KOKO. The next round of food included Rock Shrimp tempura ($128) which I could easily munch on like popcorn, Hokkaido scallops ($168) which were expertly sliced into thin slivers and Clams steamed in sake ($168) which the crew enjoyed immensely. I personally enjoyed the Spicy Seafood Soup ($128) which contained generous chunks of seafood and had a good kick of spice. This and the following two rounds of dishes were washed down with three different sakes. I’m no sake expert so I won’t even attempt to comment except to say that out of the three sampled, I liked the Azuma Ichi the best but the rest of the group had their own preferences so there is something on the list for everyone!

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Clams in Sake

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Spicy Seafood soup

Other highlights were the Baby Back Pork Ribs ($188), a must for meat-lovers, (other meat dishes include the Australian Black Angus beef ($230) and Lamb chops ($228)) and the beautiful King Crab and Uni Hot Pot ($268) which generated a fair number of oohhs and “yummy” comments.

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Baby back pork ribs

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King Crab and Uni Hot Pot

For the sweet-toothed amongst you, I attacked the Almond and Yogurt Cake ($88) with much gusto, which had some pretty interesting flavours going on and is a good, light finish for the meal. I also quite enjoyed the Green Tea and Banana baked cream ($78) which sounds like an odd combination and looks like a piece of cotton wool has a green rash (my attempts to photograph it in a flattering light failed sadly), but was fluffy and quite scrumptious. Chocolate affectionados will find comfort in the Dark Chocolate Green Tea fondant ($98) and vanilla ice-cream.

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Almond and Yogurt Cake

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Dark Chocolate Green Tea fondant

We had a cracking time at KOKO, and I must say that there is quite a lot going for it- good location, an awesome selection of dishes, a variety of interesting sakes for those interested and palm trees on the terrace (I jest, but actually it’s nice to see a plant in this concrete jungle). Am already planning my next visit.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

KOKO, 5/F, 77 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2109 1777, www.kokohk.com, open Mondays to Saturdays from 5pm till late, closed Sundays


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Rockin’ Ramen at Kanada-ya

I keep meaning to write up my thoughts on a few ramen joints about town, but these places have been springing up like some sort of noodle infestation and I just kind of gave up. In short, Ramen Jo in Causeway Bay is my usual go-to, I loooove that place and I am also partial to a bowl of Ippudo ramen.

So when I was invited with a group of ramen-chasers to the opening of Kanada-ya in Causeway Bay for a Foodie Club event, my first thought was, ‘Another one?!’ This was swiftly replaced by,’Ooohhh ramen!’ (So easily distracted)

Kanaday-ya was first opened in Yukuhashi in Fukuoka, Japan, by renowned Chef Kanada Kazuhiro and now we get to taste his award-winning tonkotsu ramen in Hong Kong. Like most ramen places, the space is small and cosy and the focus is all on that steaming bowl of delicious pork broth and swirling noodles.Kanada-ya

As much as I enjoy lots of options on a menu, it is a relief to only be given three choices here: classic, lite and supreme. The pork broth takes 15 hours of boiling and toiling to make it into the smooth, creamy consistency that it is and they use a funky piece of equipment that is calibrated so they can achieve a concentration of 10 out of something. I have no clue. All I know is that the broth was thick but not dense and so full of flavour that really you could add any old noodle and all sorts of ingredients to it and it would still be delicious. The classic bowl ($78) is topped with three slices of pork belly, the lite ($85) gets the pork belly but is finished off with tonnes of beansprouts (cos you know, these veggies make this ramen very light and healthy) and the supreme ($98) is topped with slices of pork shoulder instead.

Handy little info sheet

Handy little info sheet

Care is clearly taken over all the ingredients, with the flour flown in from Japan before the noodles are made in HK and the pork is cooked for 2-4 hours after an 8-10 hour marination process. We were all given a bowl of the classic, with the option to add an extra soft boiled egg- yes please, or spring onions. You are also asked to choose your noodle texture from soft to hard.

Serious ramen magic

Serious ramen magic

Kanada-ya

I loved my bowl of ramen, positively salivated at the sight of it and breathed in the gorgeous broth fumes. The pork belly was tender but it was the egg that we were really wowed by. I have no idea how they did it, but the egg was perfection. The yolk was beautiful and the egg had a lovely sweetness to it. Top marks. As extra, we were able to try some of their pork shoulder slices which normally belongs to the supreme bowl. This was very rich and fatty and frankly too much for my tastes, but when soaked in the broth it was rather heavenly. But I think I will stick to the classic.

Classic ramen

Classic ramen

Amazing egg

Amazing egg

Pork shoulder hand model- thanks D! :)

Pork shoulder hand model- thanks D! 🙂

If it seems there aren’t enough noodles to fill you up, don’t worry, you can always order more. We were told at the event that soggy noodles are a big no no, so the bowls aren’t filled to the brim with noodles. Just leave behind enough broth for extra carbs if you so need.

So Kanada-ya was quite the hit the night we went and I definitely see myself going back there on a regular basis. For a satisfying meal under $100, it joins the ranks of Ramen Jo and Ippudo for my quick, lip-smacking ramen fix.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

 

$$$$$$$$$$

Kanada-ya, G/F, 34 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay, 2889 3355

This was by kind invite- thank you Foodie!


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Japanese Tapas at Tabibito

I seem to have serious issues pronouncing the name of this place- Tabibibi, Tabito, Tabibibito, TabEEbitto?! The name needs to be enunciated in small, staccato, mono-syllabic portions, much like how their food is served up as small, quick bites. The name Tabibito mean ‘traveller’ in Japanese, and boy did I travel to get there.

Tabibito

Tabibito

Situated in the land of I have no idea where I am, at the end of Po Hing Fong in Sheung Wan, just up from Po’s Atelier, is this compact establishment, specialising in Okazu, or ‘side dish’. The Asian tapas scene seems to be growing in Hong Kong and I actually quite like this trend. Leisurely grazing through a variety of little plates is appealing to those not content with just a couple of large dishes. One thing that is less attractive is probably the bill, which can quickly spiral out of control if you aren’t keeping a beady eye on things.

The restaurant is split into two sections- a long wooden bar space and a few small tables in the main area. The bar looks like a great spot for a private party as you can spill out onto the pavement with a drink in hand and mouthfuls of okazu. My friend and I had made a reservation for the second seating at 8.30pm and were settled in the main dining area.

The menu is divided into four sections- Raw, Sea, Land and Soil. Everything looked extremely tasty and we had trouble deciding what to go for so we got a few recommendations from the very friendly and enthusiastic manager who was more than happy to help.Tabibito

We started with the Spicy Wagyu Tartar from the Raw section. The mixture of raw minced up tenderloin, spicy miso, egg yolk, white sesame and capers was quite good but it would have been better if the flavours were pared down a little. There was almost too much going on and too much spicy miso which overwhelmed the beef.

Spicy Wagyu Tartar

Spicy Wagyu Tartar

Next, were the Brussel Sprouts from the Soil section. These were served with chestnuts, black vinegar, bacon and hazelnut oil. I am not a Brussel sprout girl. In fact I avoid this particular vegetable as I dislike the bitter aftertaste. Every Christmas as a child, my mother would say I had to have at least one sprout, (I think she was hoping that I would eventually love them if she did this every year) . Needless to say, this tiny green nugget had to be dealt with quickly- buried in mashed potato and drowned in gravy. So when my friend suggested the Brussel Sprouts I did wrinkle my nose. But I was surprised. They were actually quite delicious. The bacon bits helped, and the flavours came together very nicely with the vinegar and chestnuts masking the bitter edge. The sprouts themselves were rather sweet. I think I might have been converted.

Brussel Sprouts

Brussel Sprouts

A Sloppy Joe isn’t what I would expect to find on the menu of a Japanese restaurant, but Tabibito’s mini-slider version naturally has a Japanese twist. The buns were soft and covered in poppy seeds and the pulled roast pork leg, BBQ sauce, pickled onions, slaw and the all important Japanese Kewpie mayo, which lent a bit of sweetness,  was a moreish combination.

Sloppy Joe

Sloppy Joe

My favourite of the night was the Hitochino Fish and Chips. Hitochino pale ale is used in the batter for the fish which gave the batter a light, faintly citrus tang. The fish was fresh, the batter airy and I loved the accompanying curry aioli. If this was available on tap I could see myself quite easily eating this non-stop as the fish are snack-sized!

Hitochino Fish and Chips

Hitochino Fish and Chips

Our last main was the stuffed Baby Squid with chorizo, gingko and mint. This was surprisingly heavy as the very tender squid were densely packed with chorizo (no complaints though!). I enjoyed the gingko nuts, but I wasn’t sure if they really added anything to the dish. The chorizo flavours gave the dish a lively kick and more of a Spanish taste than Japanese.

Stuffed Baby Squid

Stuffed Baby Squid

To end we had a rather unusual dessert- a creme brulee made with miso. We weren’t able to make up our minds about this one, but I appreciated the smooth texture of the pudding. The miso was perhaps a bit too much to actually make this a winning dessert.

Miso Creme Brulee

Miso Creme Brulee

Overall, we had a fun, easy-going evening. The service was great, the staff friendly and accommodating and I truly enjoyed most of the dishes and would definitely go back. Ronin, as a similar Japanese tapas joint, is probably the more elegant and suave of the two with an edgier menu, but Tabibito holds its own as a more comfortable eatery and a crowd-pleaser. Most of their dishes hover between $98- 178 each, but I think the quality is there to justify those prices.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

$$$-$$$$$$$$$$

Tabibito 20 Po Hing Fong, Sheung Wan, 2547 2833 facebook.com/tabibitohk


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Sensational Sushi Shikon

Some gastronomy experiences are so fantastic that it would be rather futile to try and put into words exactly what made them sublime. This is the case for my meal at Sushi Shin, where frankly, I don’t know enough adjectives that would fully capture and describe each morsel.

Formerly Sushi Yoshitake, Sushi Shikon has now been awarded three Michelin stars, just like the original Sushi Yoshitake in Tokyo. However, there is a sticking point to this sushi experience- the price. My eyeballs almost popped out of their sockets to see only two prices- $2,000 per person for the Lunch Menu and $3,500 for the Omakase Dinner Menu. No choices in what you order, you get what you are given, and at that price tag, you hope you get given something good. And it is more than good. A superb offering of 12 nigiri sushi pieces, followed by soup and dessert in the most intimate of settings. Sushi Shin has only 8 seats at their sushi counter and a 6 seat private room at its home in the unassuming Mercer Hotel in Sheung Wan, so the entire experience feels as though you could be in Japan, shut away from the outside world, with nothing but the rhythmic sound of fresh wasabi being grated on a sharkskin grater in front of you.

Sushi Shikon counter

Sushi Shikon counter

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I sat down and perused the Sushi Etiquette page I’d been given, and after two minutes of etiquette cramming, had a bit of a worry over how to take photos swiftly and look elegant whilst eating, when I read that the sushi should ideally be eaten within 30 seconds of being served and not in little bites if the portion is too large for one’s mouth, (you ask the chef if this is the case and he will cut them up for you). We were also told by Chef Yoshiharu Kakinuma that we should use our hands to eat the sushi as we would have a greater sensory experience and he could also serve the “Shari” sushi rice at a softer consistency. Some of us already knew not to mix the wasabi in with the soy sauce (I imagined us being death-stared by the staff if we did this), and I was interested to see they had mentioned that soft drinks are not served as they “overwhelm the delicate flavours of sushi and disturb the ambience”.

Lunch menu

Lunch menu

Fresh wasabi

Fresh wasabi

All that aside, once everyone had settled in at the sushi counter, Chef Kakinuma began to weave his magic. We started with the outstanding steamed abalone, which was nothing like abalone I had had before. Smooth and tender, and almost steak-like, the succulence of the abalone went so well with its accompanying velvety liver sauce that I felt I needed to chew extra slowly to prevent the inevitable end of this mouthful. I can only describe this as a complete umami taste. Chef Kakinuma then brought a smile to my face by giving us a blob of their signature red vinegar sushi rice to mop up the remaining sauce.

Preparing the steamed abalone

Preparing the steamed abalone

Abalone

Abalone liver sauce

Abalone liver sauce

Steamed abalone

Steamed abalone

The ‘tender octopus’ should have been renamed ‘exquisitely tender’. My brain grappled with something to compare the taste to, and came up with pork belly. Who knew that octopus massaged and braised in sea salt could be this incredible?

Tender octopus

Tender octopus

As each sushi piece arrived, we each of us became more excited. The Marinated Medium Tuna was wonderful, but trumped by the outstanding Fatty Tuna, which by just one glance, I knew was going to be sublimely melty. The Seasonal Sushi Roll of mackerel, ginger, shiso and  braised Japanese squash skin was delightful and I loved the burst of shiso and contrasting texture of the pickled ginger. Sea Urchin is one item I am not overly keen on usually, but this was so ridiculously fresh and chilled that it was almost like cool, fresh water with a delicate nutty flavour and no overpowering smell. By far the best I have ever had.Chef Kakinuma

Medium Tuna

Medium Tuna

Fatty Tuna

Fatty Tuna

Seasonal Sushi Roll

Seasonal Sushi Roll

Sea urchin

Sea Urchin

Sea Urchin

The salmon roe with Chef Kakinuma’s secret special sauce marinade and yuzu zest was a balance of subtle flavours and I thoroughly enjoyed the sensory experience of eating the Tiger Prawn with my fingers and being attuned to its bouncy texture. The Golden Eye snapper was beautiful and the Conger eel exuded its wonderful charcoal, smoky flavour, a testament to its stint on the bamboo leaf grill.

Conger Eel

Conger Eel

Tiger Prawn

Tiger Prawn

Salmon Roe

Salmon Roe

Golden Eye Snapper

Golden Eye Snapper

The meal ended sweetly with a sponge-cake textured Tokyo traditional Castella egg, soup and a light, fruity dessert.

Castella Egg

Castella Egg

Miso soup

Miso soup

Fruity Dessert

Fruity Dessert

This was absolutely the finest Japanese meal I have had in Hong Kong, but I’m not sure if I can bring myself to repeat the experience at such a price, even though it can be explained by daily deliveries of the freshest fish from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market. I’m sure you can think of better uses for $2,000, but maybe the lure of world-class sushi without getting on a plane to Japan is too attractive to pass up. In any case, if you decide to bite the bullet, you won’t leave Sushi Shikon feeling cheated.

Chopstixfix rating: 4.5/5

$$$$$$$$$$

Sushi Shikon, Ground Floor, The Mercer Hotel, 29 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. http://www.sushi-shikon.com Tel: 2643 6800

This was by kind invite. The review can also be seen on Sassy Hong Kong.


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Kyoto Joe Revisited

When you’re not clawing your way up Lan Kwai Fong in your heels to grab drinks in the evenings or weekends or if you’re a man, getting lairy with the lads(!), I do recommend occasionally taking your appetite before drinks to a couple of other establishments around that tiny area that tend to get overshadowed by the likes of Brickhouse down the road.

One is Kyoto Joe. The last time I visited this place was back in 2011 and after two years of making my way round all the other restaurants in HK, I finally found myself back there again by the kind invitation of LKF Entertainments which also owns Tokio Joe, Whiskey Priest and Lux Bar and Tapas. Being back in Kyoto Joe reminded me of actually how lovely it is. Considering its location, it is surprisingly quiet and the food, more importantly is good. When I previously reviewed it, it was just after the tsunami in Japan and everyone was wary of sushi and I mentioned that Kyoto Joe sources most of its produce from other countries, which is still the case. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal then and I had another fantastic lunch again, but this time I sampled some new dishes.

Kyoto Joe
Kyoto Joe

The simplistic decor interwoven with Japanese art and the restaurant’s tranquil ambience are two elements that make dining at Kyoto Joe particularly pleasant. On weekdays, the seats are occupied by the work crowd and businessmen, but I imagine it being a great spot on the weekends to take a breather over a good meal. Their menu has something for everyone, with sushi, sashimi, tempura, hot dishes, robatayaki, rolls and cones, salads, rice and noodles and now a vegetarian menu, which I think is brilliant, as Japanese establishments so rarely have enough on their menus to cater to vegetarians.

Tea service was exemplary as before, you’ll never go thirsty here! My first dish was a special- the Tuna Egg White, a softly steamed egg white and tofu topped with shredded tuna with a touch of spicy sauce. The bite of the shredded tuna and the fluffy, light egg white was lovely and the spicy sauce really jazzed up the dish.

Tuna Egg White
Tuna Egg White

The Ebi Nori roll with grilled king prawn was excellent. Plump, fresh prawn and well dressed in their homemade seaweed sauce.

Ebi Nori roll
Ebi Nori roll

Their Sweet and Spicy Vegetables of slightly fried cauliflower, asparagus and  mushrooms were served with sesame and sweet and spicy sauce. The vegetables were fried perfectly but I would have preferred the sauce to be served on the side rather than already coated on them as some may find the sauce a bit too sweet and piquant for their liking.

Sweet and Spicy Vegetables
Sweet and Spicy Vegetables

Their next dish is a very new edition to their now quite expansive menu and my favourite of the meal. The Angel Salmon Tartar, chopped salmon with spicy mayonnaise served on seaweed rice crackers was lip-smackingly delicious. I love mayonnaise anyway, but the spicy mayo with salmon was just addictive. Seaweed crackers may make you think, ‘so what?’, but somehow Kyoto Joe’s made their crackers sexy especially in that combo. I will have to hog all 4 pieces to myself on my next lunch.

Angel Salmon Tartar
Angel Salmon Tartar

For mains I revisited their Karubi grilled beef ribs with teriyaki sauce, which was perfectly prepared, sizzling on their hot stones. After 2 years, I can definitely say that consistency is Kyoto Joe’s strongest point, a bit of rarity in HK!

Karubi
Karubi

Dessert was the Trio of crème brulee (green tea, sesame and coffee) which I also had before, and again, nom nom nom. Yummy. They just needed a minute more of caramelisation on top to give that satisfying crack with your spoon.

Trio of crème brulee
Trio of crème brulee

So there it is, my second visit in a nutshell. I think Kyoto Joe is often overlooked outside of work hours and I think it needs to come out of its shadow more and showcase its dishes, because the food is really very good. The service is excellent, prices reasonable, the manager very knowledgeable and personable and that Angel Salmon Tartar..mmm, I’ll fight you for them.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5 (It keeps its 4 chopsticks!)

$$-$$$$$$$$$$

Kyoto Joe, 2/F-3/F, 1 Lan Kwai Fong, Central, HK. Tel: 2804 6800

This lunch was by invitation. Interior photo courtesy of Lan Kwai Fong Entertainments.


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Ronin- Carving out its own identity

Matt Abergel and Lindsay Jang’s Izakaya sequel to Yardbird, Ronin, is too cool for school. So cool in fact, that I couldn’t find it. My friend and I stood there like muppets in the pouring rain looking at the general vicinity of 8 Wo On Lane and wondering, “Where the hell is this place?!”. It was only after we spotted someone mysteriously glide through a grey door at the bottom of the stairs on the street that we edged up to it and with ears pricked, heard music wafting through. Trepidatiously, (we didn’t want to perpetuate our cluelessness), I slid open the padded door and like Alice in Wonderland, stepped into the edgy confines of Ronin. Looking like two lost girls, we stood there awkwardly for a moment as we drank in the narrow space, the pickles lining the top shelves and the welcoming sight of booze at the bar.

Ronin Ronin barRonin

I like Ronin’s front door, even though its grey hue and padded exterior made me think of a high security mental asylum. But perhaps that is the idea. To ensure we never leave, or never want to! Ronin’s urban cool, minimalistic design and the small number of seats at the bar, around 14, (the back wall is for standing room only) makes it more of a watering-hole than restaurant, a place to unwind with an Old-fashioned and snack on some spectacularly good nibbles. Speaking of drinks, their Maple Old-fashioned packs a punch. I had heard good things about this tipple and the honey-golden liquid with its boulder of ice, was a sight for sore eyes. The strong and smooth maple syrup blends lovingly with the baked apple bitters but does not mask the explosive character of the Nikka from the Barrel whiskey which, after my first gulp after a long day, hit me square between the eyes and kept me merry for the rest of the evening.

Maple Old-Fashioned

Maple Old-Fashioned

The atmosphere at Ronin is casual but lively. Service was fairly slow, and our waiter forgot our order a couple of times and mixed up our order. This was almost, but not completely overlooked by his banter and a game of ‘guess where I am from’.

Market freshness dictates the daily changes to the menu, although of course, there are regular fixtures. As stated on their menu, “sharing is caring”, so if you are an only child like me, this could be difficult especially as one of their dishes in particular is enough to induce a compulsive eating disorder. Split into three sections- Raw, Smaller and Bigger, it is recommended, though it is fairly obvious, that you start with the Raw, then progress to the Smaller nibbles and triumphantly finish your meal with a Bigger dish. We were brought tender goose neck barnacle as a taster of things to come and soon our Saba Mackerel Sashimi with Persimmon arrived. This was good. The pickle and persimmon vinegar infused mackerel was a subtle and dainty and contrasted with the crunch of the pickle.

Goose-neck barnacle

Goose-neck barnacle

Saba mackerel sashimi

Saba mackerel sashimi

From the Smaller bites, our Okinawa market chips (sweet potato, yam and bamboo) with black sugar kept our hunger in check, like munching on popcorn during trailers, as we had a bit of a wait before that compulsive eating disorder dish came along. The Smoked Silver Beltfish Tempura with black sugar mayo blew my mind. These were like a fancy and exquisite version of that Brit tea-time favourite, fish fingers, and honestly, the mayo was ridonkulously kick-ass. My friend and I were very civilised and split our serving in half, though it was tempting to wrestle the last tempura from her fingertips.

Silver beltfish tempura

Silver beltfish tempura

Market chips

Market chips

Onto the Bigger dishes and we ordered the Fried Quail with an orange rind and sansho pepper marinade which was finger-licking good though the skin was more greasy than crispy. The meat was tender and juicy and I enjoyed the citrusy tang followed by a burst of fat.

Fried Quail

Fried Quail

The second stand-out dish of the night was the Udon with smoked onion, onsen egg and dried shrimp. I could have licked the bowl clean. After gleefully smashing up the onsen egg, the smoked caramelised onion, peas and salty shrimp combination made the thick udon deliciously gunky and oh-so addictive. Halfway through and I wanted another bowl.Udon with smoked onion, onsen egg and salted shrimp

Disappointingly, there are no desserts. I suppose an alcoholic beverage could be counted as dessert, but I really craved a sweet ending to the fried and salty dishes. But it did not matter, we relaxed and nursed our drinks, patiently waiting for the ice to melt and dilute the fire in our glasses.

I love the apparent isolation of Ronin with its Aladdin’s cave feel, and the air of mystery. It makes me think that one needs a secret door knock to get in. Whilst there are some stellar, mouth-watering dishes and an impressive selection of drinks, the service was not as smooth or efficient as it could be, considering Ronin’s size. In addition, prices are not entirely wallet-friendly, with the bill coming to $815 for two, for five dishes and one Old-fashioned each. That being said, the tempura and the udon are definite draws for me, and I will be visiting again, though I may wimp out of ordering a whiskey.

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

$$$$-$$$$$$$$$$

8 On Wo Lane, Sheung Wan, 2547 5263; roninhk.com. Mon-Sat 6pm-midnight. Closed Sun.

You can make reservations up to 7 days in advance by emailing: seats@roninhk.com