If there’s a universal truth about food, it is that if it’s authentic cuisine that you seek, go where the locals go—or ask someone who comes from that culture. When a Hongkonger smiles knowingly at me and begins, “That place is famous, but it caters towards tourists, and you’ll be paying ‘tourist’ prices. I recommend this other place…” I know that I’m in for an experience my taste buds will be thanking me for.
And the flip side of that is that people will often ask me, “Where do Japanese people go when they want good Japanese food here in Hong Kong?” The truth of the matter is that Hong Kong has so many options when it comes to Japanese food that I have trouble narrowing it down!
Partly it depends on who I’m talking to, what their budget is, what they’re looking for, what the occasion is, etc. But I know—that’s not the answer you’re looking for. I consulted with a few fellow Japanese, combined them with my own favorites, and narrowed the list down to the sure hits. If I’m being honest, a few of these places are well-kept secrets among the Japanese community, and my stomach rumbled in protest when I decided to include them!
Hong Kong has no shortage of good sushi places, but you end up paying about twice the price that you would expect to pay in Japan. But price aside, if you were to choose one place to go all out, this is it.
As you know, in this day and age of efficient and advanced transportation technology, it has become all about freshness, and many of the sushi bars about town have fish caught that morning delivered to them daily. No one would dispute that the fresher the fish that arrives at the restaurant the better; but did you know that when it comes to the sushi placed in front of you at the counter, freshness of the fish does not necessarily equate to taste bud bliss? In fact, many of you may have had an experience where you had very fresh fish that was almost too fishy to truly appreciate.
Instead, certain ingredients actually taste better after they’ve been allowed to mature for a little bit—it’s more conducive to umami richness without drawing attention to itself. That level of sensitivity is a little harder to come by than freshness—but this place does it right. The attention to detail is astounding, and not just on the individual pieces of sushi, but on the side dishes as well. Each visit will yield new surprises worth writing home about.
16/F, Macau Yat Yuen Centre, 525 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay 2836 0056
Kaiseki refers to a style of traditional Japanese cuisine that may be considered the equivalent of a Western-style full-course dinner: multiple appetizer-like dishes, a sashimi dish and a meat dish, rice, and dessert.
The chef that helms this establishment worked as the official cook of the ambassador’s residence in the past, and serves up visually striking dishes subtly flavored to perfection.
The chemical-free organic rice at the end of the course is especially a highlight. You’ll also find a wide selection of Japanese sake and plenty of a la carte menu options—making this a great destination for round two.
17/F, The L. Square, 459-461 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay 28042004
When it comes to tempura, it’s best to stick with tradition, and tradition holds this restaurant in the highest regard: a Michelin star winner in Japan with over 100 years of history.
Fresh ingredients caught earlier that day are delivered from Japan’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market via airlift, which are then fried to golden-brown perfection right in front of your eyes.
All of the seafood is recommended, but the vegetable tempura is the real knee-slapper. If modern cuisine’s central tenet is that a chef’s job is to let the ingredients speak for themselves, then this will change your life.
IPPOH tempura restaurant
G/F, 39 Aberdeen Street, Soho, Central 2468 0641
Hong Kong has many tasty Korean BBQ places, but ask any Japanese person, and they’ll tell you that yakiniku—Japanese-style Korean BBQ—is its own thing, with subtly but markedly different menu and seasoning of ingredients.
This place is relatively new and the interior still has a just-opened sheen about it; it serves up a variety of meat cuts, an extensive side menu, and drinks galore—all at reasonable prices. The only problem is that reservations are difficult to get, and there is a time limit to how long you and your party can stay. I recommend a party of about 4 to make the most of your orders—don’t stop until your table is completely covered in dishes.
Shop 14-16, G/F, 8 Minden Avenue, Tsim Sha Tsui 2374 1038
An izakaya is not exactly a bar, nor is it a restaurant—it is a place to enjoy drinks with small servings of hot and cold dishes, somewhere between Spanish tapas and Chinese dim sum. The menu selections include anything and everything from sashimi to fritters, and it is custom to end your meal with a noodle or rice dish. There are a myriad of drinks to choose from, including beer, Japanese sake, shochu, cocktails, wine, soft drinks, etc. Part and parcel of the izakaya’s role is serving as a place for people to gather after work to unwind and de-stress, so most Japanese have a favorite hangout that they frequent week in and week out.
This place is located conveniently and offers plenty of menu options—the name says “kushiyaki” (skewered fritters), but you’ll also find a variety of seafood.
The manager is originally from Okinawa, and as far as I’m concerned, serves up the best goya champuru (a stir fry of bitter melon, tofu, and egg, with sliced pork or Spam) in all of Hong Kong.
Seating options include tables and semi-private booths, but I recommend the counter if you’re planning on going alone or with one other person.
Shop No. 3, UG/F, Cheung Fai Building, 45-47 Cochrane Street, Central 2505 0166
These days Japanese whisky has become a worldwide phenomenon, and Hong Kong’s trendy bars are no exception. You won’t have any trouble finding a place that serves the good stuff here, but the current craze means prices are high, not to mention that you can only drink so many highballs and straight whiskies before you need to have something else. This place lets you select your wine from its wine cellar located upstairs and enjoy an elegant evening in a spacious, quiet atmosphere. And yes, if you’re wondering, they also have Japanese whisky!
Nocturne Wine & Whisky Bar
G/F., 35 Peel Street, Central 2884 9566