HK’s best – Japanese (Yardbird, Ippudo, Sushi Sase, Gutlee, Kenjo and the rest)

Some people may think it is strange to do a post on what is best about Hong Kong and include Japanese food. But then they probably haven’t visited Hong Kong.

I think one of the eternal truths about Hong Kong is that it is not ‘Cantonese’ or ‘Chinese’; it is Hong Kong. This means that Ribena is as much a national drink as Chinese tea and bad Italian food is a fundamental right of all Hong Kongers.

heart
heart yakitori from Yardbird

But the one non-Chinesey cuisine which far and away dominates is Japanese. Like most of Asia, Hong Kong has a screwed up attitude to Japan. Its occupation in the war (from 1941 to 1945) is not fondly remembered but this doesn’t prevent the phrase “it’s Japanese” being one of the ultimate accolades for anything from food to consumer goods.

meatball 2
meatball and egg from Yardbird

And the quality of Japanese food in Hong Kong is fairly ridiculously high; especially if you are coming from Europe. There are whole skyscrapers in Causeway Bay which have up to 25 floors of Japanese restaurants layered ontop of each other. So, given the multitude of choices, which are our favourites:

Yardbird

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Korean fried cauliflower from Yardbird - exceptional

There is no doubt that this is probably the best Japanese restaurant in town right now and also one of the best restaurants full stop. It has everything 99.9% of Hong Kong restaurants don’t have: nice design, great (very attractive) service, attention to detail, a clever drink list, organic ingredients. It also has fantastic food. And then couple that with the fact that it is independently run and you can’t really do any better. The chef (Matt Abergel) is the ex head of Zuma Hong Kong and is doing great things.

  • Price – HK$500 and upwards
  • 33-35 Bridges Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong (no reservations) 

Ippudo

Ippudo in Hong Kong

Europe is a deathland for ramen. The United States is a bit better. Hong Kong is (bar Japan) where it is at. Coming from London, a city which can’t even muster one half assed ramen joint, Hong Kong is like heaven to me. There are old favourites like MIST!, new Australian/ Japanese imports like Men-dokoro Ryo Tei and then the new comer bowl of joy – Ippudo.

Ippudo in Hong Kong

Ippudo was one of my favourite restaurants in New York as it made waiting a chance to get drunk, feast on pork buns and soak up some cool. Hong Kong’s branch is unfortunately deposited in a shopping mall; but at least that is authentically Hong Kong. The ramen is good; not Japanese good but good. Still if you don’t like queuing I would highly suggest Ryo in Sheung Wan.

  • Price – HK$200 for ramen, sides and pork buns
  • Shop 210, Silvercord Tower, 30 Canton Road, TST, Hong Kong (no reservations)

Sushi Sase

Sushi Sase, Hong KongThis is one of the new generation of sushi/ sashimi restaurants that offers a more complete experience than the old stalwarts. When the Japanese earthquake happened this went from being the most fashionable restaurant in town to you being able to ring up and get a table courtside for a Friday lunch with 15 minutes notice. I took complete and utter advantage of this.
Sushi Sase, Hong KongThe food is at its best when you stick to sushi and if you are in front of chef Satoshi Sase it can be pretty remarkable. Coupled with an actually aesthetic space and it is one of my favourite places to eat Japanese.

  • Price – HK$500 and far far upwards
  • UG/F, Hilltop Plaza, 49 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong (2815 0455)

Kenjo 

Kenjo in TST, Hong Kong
The highlight of Kenjo; deeply expensive, deeply good

This is the old big mega money favourite in Hong Kong. I have to say whilst the quality of the food is good, I think the experience is very 1980s. Still, if you aren’t paying, it is a great food choice and you would feel that the rowdy incohate room is less objectionable.

Kenjo in TST, Hong Kong
The sashimi plate; eye gougingly expensive
  • Price – HK$1,000 or more per head
  • G/F, 30 Minden Ave, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong (2369 8307)

Gutlee Sushi

Gutlee Sushi, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong

My favouirte little neighbourhood sushi joint. The best service I have ever had anywhere ever (read this old review for why) in a small relaxing room. The fish is fresh, once the chef gets to know you he gets adventurous and they do six foot Hokkaido crabs.

Gutlee Sushi, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong
Yes that is a 6ft Hokkaido crab. And I ate it.
  •  Price – HK$50 and up per head
  • G/F, 24 Wing Shing Building, Davis Street, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong (2818 1923)

(EDIT – I’ve had a couple of people mention that they’ve had not great meals at Gutlee recently which leads me to think they may have changed chef? I hope not)

13 Comments

  1. HK is bloody fantastic for Japanese grub. I always make sure I have at least one big sushi/sashimi splurge when I’m out there.

  2. Thanks for this post; they’re always interesting to read!
    I am normally happy with Itacho sushi because its price means that I can have it on a regular basis.

  3. Great post. I love Japanese food and eat a lot of it in Hong Kong. Have tried a bunch of Japanese restaurants — a few of which have become firm favorites that I visit fornightly, if not weekly — but none of the ones mentioned in this entry! :O

    Thanks for the recommendations. Will have to go try them some time.

    Good luck with finding great Japanese food in Seoul.

    • Enjoy the explorations! I hope your wallet survives as it is never cheap to eat them.

      And Japanese food here is so far very Korean’iscised. Apart from one robatayaki place that is insane.

  4. Anais

    Hey — I tried Gutlee Sushi after reading your earlier post about them…I honestly was shocked how horrible the food was. I wonder if you went earlier and if management had changed but it seemed the same…no english menu, really nice owner who explained everything in English…but did not make up for the really bad food: frozen toro, incredibly small cuts of sashimi, overcooked soba, ‘made in china’ wasabi that even a seasoned spice lover could not enjoy, asked for a couple items to be blow-torched and seemed they grilled it under an oven instead, and finally, we were so upset by this meal we wanted to leave early…but i told my partner, we only have the eel left. you can’t mess up eel….unless the sauce is too sweet, and he suggested texture…and lo and behold, it tasted like eel that came out of a tin can — those korean or japanese eel in a can. my god — this was so horrible we had to go get an ice cream sundae at mcdonald’s to make us feel better and wash away the taste. i see that you’ve lived in nyc as well…the best food town ever. i think sushi shin is the best i’ve had here (not tried kenjo yet)….would like to see what you think of those.

    • Hi Anais – thanks for the feedback. Actually another friend of ours went there recently and had a bad meal. I was super surprised and thought it must have been a day off. However, with you also having one, perhaps it has had a change of chef.

      The quality of the food you’ve just described is like nothing we have ever experienced. When we’ve been I would swap meals and Kenjo, Shin, Sase for the food we’ve had. I’ll update the review with a brief warning and see if anyone else has some ideas of what has happened…

      Lived in NYC, but have to say I think HK is way better on the food front. The variety, the quality, the price. Wow. NY’s scene is definitely better and HK could learn A LOT from the service/ style/ decor/ world vibe stuff but on the food… HK kills it for me. When old grandmas on a backstreet in some no name district in HK can cook a fish that well… that is real skill.

  5. Korina glass

    kushiyaki Beco Japanese in sheng wan is THE best Japanese restaurant in hong kong.

    The food, service, atmosphere is amazing. It’s my favourite in hong kong! You need to try this place.

  6. sam

    yep, Gutlee was starting to be bad for me August 2010. that’s 2 years ago. prior to that, i was visiting the place frequently.

  7. Gosh your posts and photos make me hungry, I don’t think I can wait till the end of December to go back at this rate! We do sometimes question ourselves, why move to the UK away from Asia?! No one understands why we only want to plan around food when we go back!

  8. James

    New on the scean is sushi o right next door to yardbird. The chef Percy did wonderful things at sushi e in Sydney and i was stoked to hear he had moved to hongkers. The menu here is not always traditional but always incredible in it’s own way. My 2 fav reaturants in hong kong side by side, makes it easy if u can’t get a table at either one. Well my fav place to eat is probably at one of the many da pai dongs but these 2 are worth the extra $ when u want to have top food with a fun vibe.

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