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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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

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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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Please, sir, we want some more..Sake, sashimi, skewers, sushi & starch

The Easter food foraging continued yesterday with J making a reservation for 9 of us at another Japanese Izakaya called Sakaegawa.

This place is part of G’s ongoing Izakaya quest and I was surprised to find that it was also in Causeway Bay. I’m beginning to think Izakayas don’t exist anywhere else on the island except around Times Square, and I wonder if it’s because they like the fresh seafood from the fish market on Bowrington Road, or whether all the Japanese chefs just decided that they liked the bright lights of Times Square! Anyway, whatever the reason, I’m happy as it’s easy to get to and you can always do a spot of shopping or pet shop gazing after your dinner.

Unbeknownst to me (until after the meal),  Sakaegawa used to be the fine dining Japanese restaurant at the Ritz, and it took nearly a year after the hotel closed down before the restaurant reopened independently. It’s tucked away inside a building off Hennessy Road, which took our friend Q, J and I a bit of time to find, partly due to lack of sense of direction and trying to follow Google maps on the Blackberry.

When you enter Sakaegawa, you will be struck by the quaint and simple decoration; the Japanese maps on the wall and the curious planks of wood hanging from the ceiling which add to the charm. Everyone was starving as usual, so it was only natural that G and P ordered almost the entire menu for us. One thing that did raise a few eyebrows was the strange heading of “STARCH” on the menu. I mean, I know carbs are everyone’s weakness, but do you need to make us feel guilty by spelling it out so blatantly like that?!

Our friend Q was extremely excited when she spotted marinated squid.

When the squid came, it looked very nondescript in its tiny bowl but the taste woke me up with its saltiness and dried fish taste.

Q the marinated squid expert declared that this squid was good and salty and as she was enjoying it so much, we gave her the rest of the squid to munch on.

Next up was the most expensive item on the menu at $380, the sashimi platter.

My half of the table kidnapped it, so the other half had to order one for themselves.

The sashimi was lovely and fresh. I especially liked the salmon which was thickly cut and just the right kind of fatty.

Highlights were the dried blowfish– yummy and tasted like Bee Cheng Hiang’s baakwa (BBQ meat), dried minnow fish– addictive snack like dish, agedashi tofu, sliced pork with udon noodles in soup (the soup was quite moreish) and the soft shell crab  and california sushi rolls which I loved, but I suspect it’s because I am a mayo addict and I still had a sore throat, so the mayo was soothing!

The guys also loved the black cod, which J said was very good, and the grilled eel and ox tongue on skewers.

Krispy K selfishly ordered only 1 foie gras on toast which turned out to be the size of a mini doughnut so she just ate that one all on her own. Apparently it tasted very yummy.. (Thanks Krispy for sharing 😛 *joke*).

I have it on good authority from P that Sakaegawa missed out on one of the classic dishes called 出汁巻き卵 in japanese which means egg roll cooked with fish stock. Apparently most izakayas would have it and it is “soooooooo good”, so P was a bit sad that that wasn’t on the menu.

After ordering a second round of sushi, skewers, salad and chicken wings, we asked the waiters if we were the worst group they’d had in terms of greediness, but apparently we were pretty tame compared to some!

G was the sake man of the night, flagging down the waiter for sake recommendations, but I sadly couldn’t tell you what kind of sake was drunk, except there were 2 types last night and everyone seemed fairly loud and merry by the end of it.

I was literally stuffed to the rafters by the end of dinner but I’d saved a tiny tiny bit of room for a little bit of dessert at Yee Shun Milk Company…

Chopstick rating: 3.5/5

Sakaegawa, 525 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay. Tel: 2522-0230. Opening times: Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm, 6pm-11:30pm, Sat-Sun noon-3:30pm, 6pm-11:30pm

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You say Miso, I say Hatcho

I am a miso ignoramus. I am that person you see in the supermarket aisle reaching for the cheats’ instant miso soup packets and not caring about the ridiculous amounts of sodium and MSG in them. I can just about tell you that there exists white miso and red miso but other than that… zilch knowledge.

This lack of information (appalling for someone who eats as much Japanese food as I do and drinks miso soup like it’s going out of fashion), was made apparent to me when my food monster friends and I went to this relatively new Japanese place in Causeway Bay.

Toba Nagoya is a compact, chic and modern looking izakaya that prides itself on its impressive sake list and a obsession with slapping on liberal amounts of Hatcho Miso on all their food except their chicken wings (more on that later). The colourful sake jars lining the shelves make for interesting decoration especially as I have never seen sake jars before- at first we thought they were “special”  specimen jars, *ahem* whoops.

But before I go on, what is Hatcho Miso? Hatcho miso is one of the 4 most common miso flavours including Shiromiso (white miso), Akamiso (red miso) and Awasemiso (mixed miso). Hatcho miso is darker and browner, is high in vitamins and minerals and has a lower salt and water content.

Right, so now we know what the stuff is, how does it taste and how was Toba Nagoya? The staff were cheerful and friendly and didn’t bat an eyelid when we went wild with the ordering. As an appetizer we were given a tasty melon dish topped with hatcho miso which was devoured by my ravenous girlfriend “Krispy K”. Clearly the miso was tasty. As we are greedy people we ordered 2 of everything: the hatcho grilled eggplant, hatcho miso assorted oden-chicken ball, skewered cutlet pork fillets and homemade beancurd. We also ordered their special chicken wings coated with their secret Toba sauce (mild, medium hot or super spicy)- we opted for 1 mild and 1 medium. To whet our appetites we asked for some sake and eagerly awaited our feast.

We loved the chicken wings- crispy skin, tender meat, tasty sauce. If my memory serves me correctly, you can get either 6, 10 or 12 chicken wings. As we were filled with glee over the taste, my friend “Chiaphuati” asked for another 10, which we later realised was ambitious given how cluttered our table was.

Glazing food with hatcho miso is a clever move. The eggplant went down a treat, so much so that MZ accidentally ordered 2 more and we ended up with an eggplant phobia after dinner.  The chicken balls and the assorted veg accompaniment were tasty but if you’re not a fan of soft cartilage then go for the deep friend pork cutlets which were exquisite. The pork was just the right side of fatty, tender and delicious. Their assorted tempura and softshell crab sushi roll were very good too and a tasty break from the hatcho miso dishes. Out of all the dishes, the homemade beancurd was the one disappointment. Perhaps I was missing the point of it but to me it tasted like cheese and was overly fermented.

Considering the amount we ordered, the price per head was very reasonable. I’ll be back again to try some of their other dishes and to educate myself on sake hehe. I’ll probably won’t be eating eggplant anytime soon though….

Chopstick rating: 4/5

Toba Nagoya, 21/F, L’Hart, 489 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bar. MTR: Exit C. Tel: 2891 7188

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