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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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