Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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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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Meat Meat Meat…

I’ve always been quite an observant person but to have let Westwood Carvery pass me by for the last 7 months is slightly ridiculous, seeing as I do saunter through LKF and past Wo On Lane on a regular basis. I finally found out about it through Facebook (ah the wonders of social networking), when a friend of mine started posting photos of his extra large prime rib sandwich from there and complaining about meat sweats.It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a carnivore, so I was determined to get myself down to this place as quickly as possible and show off my eating prowess (I like to challenge myself). My friend and I went for lunch and the first thing we noted was the cool and chic interior. It’s small but they have made good use of the space with their minimalistic decoration- grey slate tables and a clever looking wooden wine-rack wall acting as a centre piece. The menu is limited, but their set lunch starting from $98 to $148, comprises of a soup of the day to start, followed by a choice of either their signature prime rib sandwich with fries, pasta or fish. Coffee and tea is served at the end and for an extra $20, you can have a dessert- good value!

On the a la carte, they have salads, pastas, their prime rib sandwiches, pork ribs and a few side dishes on offer. But it is their roasted prime rib sandwich that is the star of the Westwood Carvery and the whole point of their name.

It comes in two sizes: regular ($78) or Westwood size ($98). For comparison’s sake, this would be akin to a regular sized box of Kleenex tissues versus Kleenex tissue for men! The sandwiches are served au jus with fries, a ramekin of horseradish sauce and an apple on the side to trick you into thinking you’re being healthy. The regular size is for sensible people, the Westwood for the greedy, gluttonous, brave and bold types like myself, who enjoy self-competition. I did check with the friendly manager first if I could manage, and she said she eats a lot and can cope, so I took that as a sign that I could too!

My friend was being dainty and lady-like so opted for the regular with an extra helping of fried onions while I rubbed my hands in anticipation for my Westwood sandwich.

It did not disappoint. My sandwich was huge and I was a happy bunny. The men at the table next to me looked on in disgust as I merrily dunked my sandwich in the jus, smothered each mouthful with horseradish sauce and tomato ketchup and crammed it into my mouth. Tender slices of beef on soft yet crusty bread drenched in gravy- what’s not to love? In 20 minutes, it was all gone, including the apple. A clean plate and I still had room for a coffee. Piece of cake. Bliss for the foodie.

Chopstixfix rating: Can’t comment on the rest of the menu but the sandwich-  4/5

Westwood Carvery, G/F, 2 Wo On Lane, Lan Kwai Fong, Central. Tel: 2869 8111

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You can also see my review on Sassy Hong Kong