Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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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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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


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In It To Wynn It- a day in Macau Part 2- Mizumi

After a short tour of the Wynn’s gorgeous suites and spa, a quick drink at Cinnebar, a peek at the Tree of Prosperity and Dragon of Fortune ‘show’ in the atrium and finally watching the Performance Lake, it was time for dinner at the Japanese restaurant Mizumi.

The fact that Mizumi is right in the middle of one of the gambling halls, (incidentally, it took me ages to find because all the gambling areas and machines look the same and it’s a bit of a maze in there!), didn’t exactly fill me with a lot of enthusiasm as I was expecting it to be some kind of pit-stop for the weary gambler. I am however, pleased to report that this establishment is nothing of the sort and comes with a masterful chef with a wealth of experience. Chef Hiroshi Kagata hails from Yonago and enchants diners with creative presentations of classical Japanese dishes.

There are seasonal appetisers every month and my appetiser for the evening was a fascinating arrangement of small dishes in these beautiful bowls. I sampled simmered sweet fish with roe, boiled edible chrysanthemum flower, deep fried minced prawn topped with roasted ginkgo nuts which was fabulous, duck with matsutake mushroom, also excellent, and ark shell with mustard vinegar miso. It’s clear that Chef Hiroshi is a man who prides himself on blending cuisine with art and his careful execution of dishes is a testament to his Kaiseki cooking skills.

The Sashimi course was a sight to behold with the uni sashimi lovingly placed on top of its shell in a martini glass and the toro and geoduck nestled in a daikon flower. I appreciated the little detail of the sprigs of shiso flowers and shiso leaf in the arrangement which made this dish so visually appealing. I confess I’m not a huge fan of uni sashimi as I struggle slightly with the texture and the intense ocean tang but this was amazingly fresh and rich. The toro was wonderfully fresh and marbly too (I’m told Mizumi’s finest ingredients are flown in from Japan twice a week).

The sushi dish with tuna roll, red snapper, shrimp and abalone was accomplished and I particularly enjoyed the red snapper.

The grilled lobster with sea urchin was the standout dish of the night, and not just because of the vivid blue dish it came in. The deliciously meaty lobster piece  was grilled to perfection and was topped with a good amount of sea urchin to intensify the lobster’s flavour. Towards the end of mouthfuls of lobster, it took on the creaminess of salty egg yolk- delectable.

The wagyu beef shabu-shabu was such a fun course. I love hot pots, no matter the size, and I gain an immense amount of satisfaction from doing a bit of DIY cooking at the table. Taking care to cook it only slightly, the  gorgeous marbled wagyu beef positively melted in my mouth.

I loved the dessert. The tofu cheescake was just divine. The calmness of the tofu was very nicely offset by the sweetness of the peeled Kyoho grape. I left the pieces of melon till last to end on a refreshing note.

Mizumi’s service was, like Wing Lei, very smooth and I was drawn to the design of the interior- a nice combination of contemporary with traditional styles with interwoven bamboo slats and clean lines. If you enjoy watching the chefs at work, there is a well-situated sushi bar in the centre of the restaurant, as well as three teppanyaki sections and a robatayaki station. Mizumi is not lacking in features!

I thoroughly enjoyed my day trip to the Wynn and I was definitely impressed by the quality of the food at Wing Lei and Mizumi. These restaurants would hold their own in Hong Kong, so if you ever pop over to Macau, do make time to visit these restaurants as they are both fantastic value for money for such high standards.

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Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

Mizumi, G/F, Wynn Macau, Rua Cidade de Sintra, NAPE, Macau. Tel: +853 8986 3668

Many thanks to Wynn Macau and Weber Shandwick for the generous invite and for organising the day.