Yardbird has been hailed to be Hong Kong’s most sought-after Japanese restaurant. It has been known to be the “it” place to be seen and the hottest table in town, garnering glowing reviews ever since it opened two years ago. While one might casually think that this chicken-only yakitori restaurant is no big deal, it has recently been named as one of the top 50 restaurants in Asia by World’s 50 Best. Just last March, Canadian-born Chef and Owner Matt Abergel has turned from perfecting grilling chicken, to experimenting with a plethora of fresh fish, ingredients and techniques to open RŌNIN, a stylish Izakaya that features the best of Nippon seafood paired with an impressive assortment of booze.
Located in a corner on On Wo Lane, RŌNIN is distinguished by only an inconspicuous slate-grey doorframe. We stood in the middle of the road, staring in the general vicinity of 8 Wo On Lane, wondering if we had take down the right address. We were the only ones there, not a soul to be seen or a sound to be heard. We called the restaurant, and immediately after, we saw a lady appear from a padded door right below the stairway. She waved to us and welcomed us into this dimly lit, slightly mysterious yet sophisticated and refined waterhole-like restaurant. And that’s where the real party began.
Walls were upholstered with Vans and handmade coasters, and the top shelves were filled with jars of pickles and premium sake and whiskey. RŌNIN is only open for dinner and there are 2 seatings available: 6.30pm-8.45pm and 8.45pm-10.30pm. With only 14 seats available for each seating, reservations are not recommended/advised, but a definite must.
Each day, the menu is based on market freshness. And because of that, the menu changes daily and has each date stamped. Everything is served as a sharing portion, sharing is caring of course, and dishes are organized into 3 categories: Raw, Smaller and Bigger. Of course, If everything sounds so tantalizing and mouthwatering and you just want to try everything that’s on the menu, leave it up to the chef and opt for the Market Tasting Menu/Omakase that’s very reasonably priced at HK$900. You’ll get almost everything on the menu. It’s that worth it, even if it means gaining a few pounds the next day and having to work it off :p
Shigoku Oyster, Red Shiso Vinegar, Sudachi and Clam. Really fresh period.
From bottom left in clockwise direction: Hirame Fluke Sashimi, Konbu, Soy; Chinu Black Sea Bream Sashimi, Karasumi, Yuzu; Shima Aji Sashimi, Fresh Wasabi, Soy; Saba Mackerel Sashimi, Persimmon Smoke. What I was particularly impressed was actually the pairing of ingredients. There was just the right amount of garnish/accompaniments to bring out the fresh flavours of each slice of fish. My favourite was the Mackerel sashimi that paired perfectly well with the pickled and crunchy persimmon.
Flower Crab, Uni, Mitsuba. Firstly, what’s there not to love about crab and uni. I honestly have no idea what’s mitsuba but I reckon it is some kind of plant according to Wikipedia. There was some kind of sauce coating the fresh crabmeat. It wasn’t too heavy nor was it too creamy, it was light and quite refreshing, and balanced well with the luscious creamy uni. I could actually eat the entire dish all by myself because every bite just melts in your mouth and sends you back for more.
Geoduck, Spring Onion, Ginger, Crispy Rice. After all that lusciousness, you’ll definitely need this light salad to cut off all that richness before you progress onto your next dish.
White Ale Battered Kisu, Kimchi Mayo. The batter was almost in between that of a tempura and that of a fish and chip’s. The batter was thin and there was really a huge chunk of fish that was still quite moist. I couldn’t really taste the spice in the mayo though, but a glass of beer would do it good 🙂
Triggerfish, Honey, Kyoto Shichimi, Chestnuts. The exterior of the fish had a slight bite to it and was almost crunchy, almost like that of a really good sweet and sour fish dish. And then it was coated just so slightly with probably the most addictive sauce ever that tasted like honey-ed teriyaki sauce. But you won’t feel overpowered by the sweetness because there’s just the right amount of it. And the chestnut chips were caramelized and sweetened with that same sauce made it all the more addictive.
Katsuo Bonito Sashimi, White Onion, Tosa Shoyu. Ok I was honestly 75% stuffed when this arrived. Each person got 3 rolls of this thinly sliced, slightly briny bonito sashimi wrapped beautifully around a handful of crunchy onions that provided that balance of flavours and texture.
Aji, Mentaiko, Ume. This was probably the least exciting dish of the night.
Quail, Orange, Sansho. Think you’ve tasted the best fried chicken? Wait till you taste this fried quail. Firstly, the batter is perfectly crunchy and thick. Secondly, you’ve got that perfectly cooked quail, just look at the colour of the meat. And then you’ve got a slight touch of orange zest to bring somemore flavours to the dish.
Cobia, Clams, Chorizo, Black Garlic. I love the subtlety of the fish. It paired well with the spicy chorizo and black garlic. And those red things you see there, those are actually clams.
Tokyo Nabe to probably calm you down a little and soothe your stomach if you feel like bursting anytime soon.
Unagi, Kinome, Chirashi, Rice. I didn’t quite understand how “chirashi” fits into this though. Isn’t it supposed to meat a bowl of sushi rice topped off with a variety of sashimi? I googled what “Kinome” was and apparently it’s this Japanese pepper leave that comes from the prickly ash plant. It has a minty aroma and flavour and is distinguished by some lingering heat. Well, I definitely picked it up and I wouldn’t say that I have a liking for it. I felt that its taste overpowered the dish and my mouth.
After 14 courses and you are finally done. What a relief you might think actually.
Here, you are fed with probably the highest quality ingredients and presented with probably the most advanced and meticulous cooking techniques, and you will be well taken care of by one of the most welcoming and warming staffs. It is a place suitable for both laid-back family dinings (leaving out the booze does no harm), as well as chill out sessions with friends. And while there definitely needs to be some work with that boring door to attract some visual attention, you’ll never want to leave this place once you get in because you’ll be made to feel that you belong.
8 On Wo Lane
Central Hong Kong