Musings of a bon vivant in 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!)

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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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Robata-san

Riding the Robatayaki craze that has gripped Hong Kong, is Sakesan, which is quietly nestled off Shelley Street by the Mid-levels escalators. Its unassuming entrance meant that I almost missed my stop and had to do a quick side-step Gene Kelly style off the stairs.As I strolled in, I was immediately struck by its open plan layout and high ceilings which gave the illusion of a much bigger interior; a nice contrast to the cramped and built up Soho area. The bar is the first section that greets you and the funky large mural lights in red, purple, blue hues create a chilled out ambiance. As with any Robatayaki, the centrepiece is the robata grill which is set at the back and draws you in.I’m not sure if it’s just me, but these past six months have literally rocketed by and I couldn’t believe that Sakesan, opened as far back as December, let alone the fact that it has taken me half a year to get round to checking it out. Having said that, I firmly believe all new restaurants need a few months to settle into their ‘groove’ and iron out any kinks, regardless of whether everything is seemingly smooth from the beginning.

The menu is quite extensive and reflects the experience of their executive Chef Andre L’Herminier. As per usual, I was starving, but as I was lunching with the two media ladies A and C, I didn’t want to ‘unleash the foodie monster’ on them. Luckily they appeared to sense that I’m an unnaturally greedy person and ordered eight dishes for me to try, (not ALL on my own of course!).

To start was the Seared tuna salad, served with a citrus wafu dressing. I loved the presentation- tiny tuna parcels of goodness, the dressing was refreshing and light, with the citrus cutting through the fish to give a delicate texture. One of the highlights of the meal.The Wagyu beef tataki, (seared wagyu beef with pickles and truffle dressing) was excellent and similarly small and neatly packaged. The pickles gave a good crunchy contrast to the tender beef.There were three seafood dishes up next- the tiger prawn tempura, the lobster dumplings and the scallops with wasabi, apple and sweet soya sauce dressing. The tempura was extremely crispy, the batter thin and most importantly not drenched in oil. The tiger prawn meat, succulent and sweet. The dumplings were generously packed and the scallops fat and beautifully presented. The scallops’ dressing was moreish and I enjoyed the wasabi kick that tickled my tastebuds.A and C insisted on me trying the baby back ribs, which are apparently marinated for 30 hours in a Korean spicy paste. While the meat was tender and aromatic, I couldn’t really taste the spice or feel any heat from the ribs, though it might just mean that my internal chilli sensor is busted from all the Sichuan food I’ve eaten since moving to Hong Kong.I was probably most excited about the pork belly skewers, which were simply prepared with salt and pepper but so scrumptious and FAT. I love fatty pork belly, and when I confessed this to the girls, I thought I noticed a flicker of disgust across their faces. I’m not one to shy away from tasty blubber so I cracked on and scoffed the lot.The last savoury delight before dessert was the Black cod wrapped in a hoba leaf and marinated in Saykio miso sauce. This was a solid dish, great flavours and perfectly cooked cod that flaked off and melted in the mouth.Surprisingly I still had plenty of room for dessert which came in the form of Sake compressed Nashi- a white peach sake sorbet with matcha tea crumble and puffed rice, and the Frozen lemongrass mousse.

The Sake compressed nashi was lovely. The sorbet itself was incredibly subtle in flavour and completely cleansed my palate of all the heavier flavours from the mains. The lemongrass mousse had less of an impact on me than the nashi but was nonetheless an interesting Japanese dessert offering.After lunch, I was given a tour of Sakesan’s private room which sits up to fourteen people and even has a comfy sofa and karaoke. They also offer a weekend Wagashi, (Japanese confectionery/ afternoon tea set), comprised of eleven pastries created by their pastry chef Tracy Wei which is available every Saturday and Sunday between 2.30-6pm. If A la carte doesn’t take your fancy at lunchtime, you can have their set lunch.

Sakesan is a fun addition to the Soho scene and if you haven’t as yet caught the robata fever, this is a good place to have a Japanese influenced shochu cocktail over dinner before continuing the rest of your night in LKF.

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

Sakesan, G/F 18 Shelley Street, Soho, Central. Tel: 2525 1660

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You can read the review on Sassy HK too!


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Part 2: Relishing the Robatayaki

The best part of my interview with Chef Patrick was, of course, the eating! Here’s what we had:

To start, we had the sashimi served on ice.

“The freshness comes out and is much cleaner when served on ice. You get the wow factor and it’s visually more attractive.”

I’m pretty sure I’ve been eating sashimi and sushi incorrectly…. I just dump all my wasabi into the soya-sauce and dunk the sashimi in!

You should put the amount of wasabi you want, on top of the sashimi or sushi and then put it in the soya-sauce. You mix the flavours in your mouth rather than in the soya-sauce”.

Hmmmm…whoops. What’s this?

“This is the butterfish. It is very difficult for us to attain, but it’s beautiful. Here, the butterfish has a citrus dressing- yuzu (Japanese lemon) with ginger and garlic, served with white asparagus on top of a pesto type dressing (shiso leaf paste mixed with rapeseed oil). The acidic taste brings out the delicate texture of the fish.”

Do you have a favourite fish?

“ I don’t have a favourite fish. And even if I do, I will convince mnyself that I don’t have one. I like to be fair and open-minded and to keep things neutral. If you believe one fish is better than the other, then you will never want to try the other fish, even if it is prepared in a different way!”

After that divine first ‘course’, next up were the Foie gras in plum wine and King Crab Tempura. Both were exquisite!

“The foie gras is marinated in plum wine and poached in its own liquor. Then it is served with seaweed and a squid ink bread. The Red king crab is harder to find than normal crab but has a sweeter texture. Here we serve the tempura with tensu sauce and green tea salt which is the traditional way of serving tempura.”At this point, Chef Patrick orders the house sake and explained how they are working on developing the Shoju they make in-house and how they want to create a bigger and more fun variety of shoju for the customers. At the moment, he says, shoju is not as popular as sake, but he is working on that!

Third course; and he’s ordered the Roka signature Black cod and prawn dumplings and the grilled Hokkaido scallops. There are 3 types of dumplings on the menu, pork and scallop, beef and kimchi and black cod and prawn. The black cod and prawn is more popular in Hong Kong and is therefore not available at their London branches.Last up, before dessert, we had the spicy lamb chops marinated in coriander pepper and served with a cucumber and red onion cleanser. The lamb is from Australia and therefore “milder” to cater for those who aren’t big fans of lamb. Amazingly tender meat, and just the right amount of ‘zing’ for the palate.The classic miso eggplant was delicious but what was utterly incredible was the Black cod in sweet miso sauce. Chef Patrick told me it takes 3 days to prepare this dish, which involves soaking the cod in salt water for 12 hours, drying it out then marinating it for 24 hours. All that work clearly pays off!To end, a sumptuous dessert platter on shaved ice was produced in which was nestled sesame and green tea sorbets and two desserts- the valrhona chocolate cake and the jasmine sundae with yuzu-granite. The jasmine sundae was my favourite, gorgeously refreshing. The whipped jelly cream with layers of orange jelly, strawberry and orange coulis topped with yuzu shaved ice and jasmine icecream (made from jasmine flowers) was a perfect balance of fruitiness, acidic bite and crunchiness.

As you can imagine, I was completely and utterly stuffed after that sumptuous feast, and so very grateful for the opportunity to dine and learn, not just about Roka itself but also about Japanese cuisine, from such a passionate and innovative chef.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

Roka, Pacific Place, Level LG1, Shop 002, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong. Tel: 3960 5988, info@rokarestaurant.com.hk

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Rockin’ out at Roka: An Interview with Chef Patrick Zepho

If you haven’t already read it on Sassy Hong Kong, here’s another chance to read my interview with Chef Patrick at Roka.

Continuing the success of the original in London, Roka first opened its doors to the Hong Kong public in Pacific Place, Admiralty, two years ago and quickly established itself as a cut above the rest in contemporary Japanese Robatayaki cuisine. Having undergone a slight revamp, Sassy was curious to find out what was different and to reawaken our taste bud memories.

The man behind the inspired culinary creations, Executive Chef Patrick Zepho, was generous enough to take some time out from his busy schedule to guide me through a selection of Roka’s finest dishes and to chat about how a French (Bordeaux to be exact) native becomes a Japanese chef, why Hong Kong is so cool yet overwhelming and how I should eat sashimi…properly.

What was different about opening Roka in Hong Kong versus Roka in London?

At the beginning (2 years ago), we had a simple menu to give us a chance to understand the Hong Kong crowd. As time went on, the menu extended and we found that the Hong Kong palate enjoys more salty and sweet flavours than the London crowd. Hong Kong is a challenge; in London we have no lunch sets on the menu, but over here, everyone loves lunch sets, so we had to adapt and add those in!

What was the biggest challenge you encountered in Hong Kong?

The biggest challenge was identifying the crowd and marketing Roka as a different product- robatayaki versus other types of Japanese cuisine. Establishing Roka as a brand, finding a niche and getting the outside world to come into Pacific Place was challenging. We also wanted our prices to cover the middle to high market and not just cater to the high end. The quality of our food is high end but our prices reflect the type of customers we get. This is why we have the business lunch sets as well as the normal sets we have on offer. On Thursdays we usually get the executive crowd, and on Fridays we have customers having their last lunch before the weekend. We have a mixture- the shoppers, the families, the workers and businessmen and then the younger crowd. So we have something for everyone.

How did you become a Japanese chef?

I studied commerce and marketing in France, and after that started working in Italian and French restaurants. I then travelled around in Japan and discovered the Japanese philosophy. The Japanese have a mind blowing open understanding of what food is about and about the different chemistry of food. I fell in love with Japan. Food was not food anymore. I love the simplicity of Japanese cuisine, yet the evolution of Japanese food is tremendous compared to European cuisine.

Where do you get your ingredients from?

All our raw ingredients come from Japan, the fish, the Wagyu beef. We make our own robatayaki sauces here. The  regular beef comes from Australia.

What’s the concept behind Roka?

We have a sharing concept at Roka. Eating is the whole experience, the whole package- dining with friends, enjoying the atmosphere, not just filling up your stomach because you are hungry. At Roka, we have the robata grill in the middle of the restaurants, a centrepiece recreating the sharing experiences of the fishermen many years ago, who used to cook, grill and then share their catch with their friends. That is the concept. All our dishes are created for sharing.

Can you explain the decor and the interior design of Roka?

Roka’s interior was designed by Noriyoshi Muramatsu and is about constant movement. Everything is made of natural materials, so the diners have a visual impression of movement. For example, we have the case iron wall which is constantly rusting, therefore demonstrating “movement”. We want to move away from the formality of fine dining and add a friendly touch. We recently added a lounge/ bar area so people have a choice between dining and having a drink with their food in the lounge area.

What don’t you like about Hong Kong?

There’s too much choice! How can anyone’s judgement be fair? A good restaurant on a bad day can have unfair treatment. The Hong Kong people are very demanding and many restaurants lose their identity trying to adapt. I find it scary! And where do you find the chefs?!

Finally… when was the last time you cooked for yourself?

A year ago! I like to cook for others.

Roka, Pacific Place, Level LG1, Shop 002, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong, 3960 5988, info@rokarestaurant.com.hk