Before we decided to try this Japanese restaurant, my locust friend and I have done our homework (yup, that's OR research). We were wow-ed by the overwhelming majority of smilies over crying faces and by some of the comments of our fellow OR-ers. Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case, OR popularity can prove to be delusional. This was certainly one of those times.
Now before I'm mistakenly understood to be saying this restaurant is bad -- it isn't. It's MEDIOCRE and LOST
. The problem is, at this price and location, being mediocre isn't good enough
. FYI we spent about $230 per head. Not much provided that it was dinner, but that was because we decided to try its cooked food for our first visit (which has proven to be a wise move... more on that later). If the restaurant couldn't convince me that its food is very good, there's no way I'd cough up $998 for that set-for-two. Also, it's located in a hotel. A budget hotel, but I'd still take that as a hotel nonetheless.
Anyway, my doubts started when we entered the restaurant. Before letting us in, the manager (?) picked up the stick and drummed (well he hit it only once, but I'd take that as drumming) on the Taiko at the entrance to welcome us (photo below). My thoughts were immediately split -- it's either that they have perfected their food and service to such a degree that they want to make the diner feel special, or they're just another restaurant trying to stand out from the crowd with such gimmick.
See that Taiko!
And gimmick it was. I started sensing trouble once we were sat down and started looking around and at the menu. The setting was modern Japanese with wooden shelves showcasing its sake and wine collection but on the other side it shows traditional prints of caught fishes. The menu covers sushi, sashimi, "deep fried", "Japanese special cooked", "grilled", "cooked" (ranging from clams in sake to hotpot), noodle (udon, tempura
, etc), salad, "Japanese cooked" (which is somehow different from "cooked" and includes fried rice to congee), soup and dessert. The dessert page was by far the most non-Japanese: featuring France
panna cotta, France
creme brulee, Europe
cheese cake, France
warm chocolate cake and Italy
. Not to say that some of the other items in the menu are highly westernised / hongkongised. (the items above are the spelling and wordings they've used in the menu, by the way). The executive $998 set dinner for 2 include items from most of the categories above.
All these screams at me that this is a restaurant which has lost its focus. With its small kitchen (guessed from the position of the restaurant and the size of the building) it is just impossible that it can cook all the food in its menu well. The worst thing is: whilst some of the items seem to be authentic, most are obviously localised. Combine that with the strange combination of décor inside, one can only conclude that by trying to please everybody by providing something in all the areas they can think of, they've turned the restaurant into a Hongkong-Japanese style we've-got-em-all restaurant that is unlikely to be worthy of any premium price.
To be on the safe side, we decided to order cooked food only. We decided to try the "seafood in tea pot"
(which was a seafood soup), grilled ox tongue
(just because I like it), "clams in sake"
(coz the other locust likes it...
), "Eel fried rice with white truffle pate"
(since I've seen recommendations here on OR) and a "cold udon with seaweed"
. The manager was certainly not pleased -- his annoyance with us ordering "cheap" food was obvious on his face. He asked whether we wanted some drinks (showing a pricy sake + wine menu, but unfortunately neither of us really drinks), and when we turned that down asked whether we wanted some sashimi. Without recommending anything that's fresh. Now it's fine if you have some freshly caught fish with good quality which you sincerely would like to recommend to us, and if that was the case we might even have ordered. But trying to push us to order sashimi because it's more pricy? Get lost. It was fortunate that he didn't recommend salmon sashimi to us... or we'd have walked out right away.The food:
Seafood in tea pot
差 -- 海鮮湯 (Not fresh)
We suspected that the seafood used to make this soup was not fresh the moment the waiter provided us with a tiny piece of lemon and recommended us to squeeze its juice into the soup. As far as my minimal knowledge of Japanese food tells me, clear seafood soup doesn't go with lemon juice. (In any case, how on Earth am I supposed to squeeze juice from such a small piece of lemon? with my hand?) Unless
, of course, there is some unwanted flavour to cover up. And yes there was. The soup was slightly bland for my liking, and if you smell at it closely you can sense a slight unfresh, fishy smell in it. That was partly because we refused to use the lemon, but good job covering that up. Only that I prefer fresh ingredients are used so that there isn't any unfresh fishy smell to begin with.
Grilled ox tongue
($48 per 2 skewers)
The ox tongue, surprisingly, was good. The pieces are bite-sized and well seasoned, without covering up the flavour of the ox tongue itself. And cooked just right -- juicy in the middle and not overly "bouncy". I personally like grilled ox tongue and this was good enough to make me order a second round.
Clams in sake
差 -- Not fresh again
The clams in sake was a major disappointment. Normally this is a dish that is difficult to screw up. However, in this case when it was served the clams were bland, with the taste of sake only in the sauce and almost not in the clams at all. It took us some 10-15 minutes of leaving it there soaking in the sake for the clams to gain some of the flavour it's meant to have. Again, although the clams were quite big, I don't think the were anywhere near fresh. We didn't detect any strange flavour, but when we tried to pick the clams out from their shells they broke up easily under the chopsticks. I don't think they were properly cleaned either, since we ate quite a bit of sand from some of them.
Eel fried rice with white truffle pate
My feelings are mixed on this dish. If you completely ignore the name of the dish, it is a decent fried rice -- the grains a evenly coloured and did not lump together. It was served very hot and smelled enticing. However, if you consider the name of the dish, it really didn't live up to what it claimed to be. To begin with, the "white truffle pate" seemed like the type you can get in bottles from citysuper (I wouldn't expect otherwise, actually), which was fragrant when you smell it closely when the fried rice was served but once we've mixed it in as recommended by the waiter, the fragrance was completely killed. The eel pieces in the fried rice weren't big, which is fine, but I found it difficult to taste the eel, which isn't fine. In fact, the way the dish was presented is my biggest disagreement with it. Truffles, as far as I can tell, don't like high temperatures. Which is why when you make e.g. pasta with truffle the truffle is always added at the very last moment. By serving the fried rice in such a hot Korean-style rock bowl and recommending mixing the truffle pate with the rice you would be doing the equivalent of adding the truffle to the fried rice in a wok. You couldn't not mix it actually, unless you wanna scoop it up and eat it with a spoonful of rice, which might be the better idea anyway.
Cold udon with seaweed
Udon has never been my favourite noodle, but in this case the texture was reasonably good. The sauce was a bit tasteless for me, but I'm not to judge that. Again I disagree with the presentation of the dish, as can be seen in photo above. At first site that would be impressive, but it's actually not a good idea. When you eat cold udon, you'd normally like to have a separate container for the sauce which you mix with the side ingredients of your liking before dipping the udon into it by the mouthful. In this case all of the udon were hanging on the chopsticks, with the ends already soaking in the sauce. If you want to use the chopsticks to eat the udon, you inevitably will have to pull them out, dropping all the udon into the sauce...
So IMHO, the food we had here wasn't all bad, only mediocre and for this price, not good enough. If it's priced at 70% of current price I'd be satisfied and if it's priced at 50% I'd be pleased with its quality. However, at this price and location, there are surely plenty of room for improvement. The bottom line is always quality -- $230 for this as dinner was expensive, contrary to 8000 yen for lunch at Sushi Iwa being a bargain. Quality is everything.
Finally, we've overheard an interesting conversation during our dinner. Apparently a group of some 4-5 people having dinner nearby had actually booked a table and ensured that there would be uni sashimi when they arrive -- and there wasn't enough for a portion. They were obviously annoyed because it was a request they've made. In any case there was nothing they could do and after some arguments ended up ordering something else. YET after some 15-20 minutes "fresh uni" suddenly arrived from their supplier... I truly wonder what supplier they use, since normally I'd expect fresh ingredients should arrive for the preparation of dinner, not DURING dinner? Oh wait... isn't there a citysuper in Times Square nearby...
Table Wait Time: 0 minute(s)
Date of Visit: Apr 25, 2011
Spending per head: Approximately HKD230(Dinner)Other Ratings:
Value for Money 2