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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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