Opened by the same folks who operate Sushi Dokoro Hikari in Tin Hau, Kirala is the latest venue to join the myriad Japanese restaurants inside Causeway Bay’s Henry House. Marketing itself as a kaiseki restaurant, Kirala offers no à la carte menus, only set meals with all the details dictated by the chef.
There are six different set menus served during lunch, plus a chef’s special kaseiki set, which we were initially quite interested in. However, when we asked about details of this set, the manageress implied that most diners would choose one of the normal sets rather than the special kaiseki here. After hearing this, it felt pointless to pay $480 for a set menu that even the staff wouldn’t recommend and we opted instead for the wagyu and toro set ($198) and the Kirala set ($178).
Both the main dishes in the wagyu and toro set were disappointing. The Australian beef was undergrilled and lacked both flavour and that melt-in-the-mouth texture. The tuna belly suffered as well. Not only was it a bit too soft, it tasted like it had spent too much time defrosting. The sushi in the Kirala set was equally dissatisfying. The sliced sama, for example, was fishy in taste, overly supple and was served with normal soy sauce instead of the proper mashed ginger seasoning. For the tempura, other than the slightly off-putting greasiness, the seafood was fresh and delicious. The steamed rice with sea eel and salmon roe was probably the best part of the set. The rice was soft with an al dente texture and was imbibed in the savory aromas of the sea.
Price-wise, Kirala is fairly reasonable and we were even given a 10 percent discount on our visit. But, overall, this place still needs plenty of time and work to reach the proper kaiseki standard.
Although ramen is featured as the signature dish here, from talking to the staff, this newly opened Japanese restaurant has nothing to do with the famous Mutekiya ramen institution in Ikebukuro.
Still eager to give this place a try, we started with sliced Japanese yam ($48), which was cool and refreshingly crunchy, making it a great appetiser for the summer. We also tried some of the grilled and yakitori items as well (note that these are only served during the evenings). The homemade chicken meatball ($45) was delicious, especially with the crisp bits of chicken cartilage that were mixed into it. The sweet barbecue sauce, soy and egg yolk also added plenty of flavour to the minced meat skewer. This is a must-try item. The grilled chicken heart ($22) was another highlight, tender with plenty of chargrilled flavour. On the other hand, the grilled ox tongue ($68) arrived chewy and rubbery. A disappointment for a usual favourite.
We also tried the grilled veggies, the best of which was the French horn mushroom ($22) seasoned with barbecue sauce. The ginkgo nuts ($16) were bitter and the texture too hard and sticky. The Japanese green peppers ($16) were another letdown, undercooked, bland and despairingly soggy.
Moving onto the carbs, we were told that the tsukemen (noodle with thick sauce, $98) is more popular here than the soup rendition. These are of the thick, wheat grain variety designed to hold up its sauce. However, the sauce was watery and the flavour was lacking. It seems that this restaurant still has some way to go before it’s even close to the original Mutekiya.
If you’re a fan of The Yuu, you should find the interior and the menu at E-Pai quite familiar. This should be no surprise since both restaurants belong to King Parrot Group. With the dark wood décor and the menus hanging on walls, E-Pai almost feels like a traditional izakaya in Roppongi, Tokyo. Diners can choose to dine at the teppanyaki table, the sushi bar or the normal dining tables. We opted to sit in front of the teppanyaki chefs to enjoy their culinary show.
We started the meal with several grilled items. The fresh gingko nuts ($38) have a bit of chew and a delicate flavour enhanced by the sea salt. The grilled ox-tongue ($25) is equally tasty, succulent and marbled with fat. The grilled eel ($25) arrives moist, with a dry and crispy skin. Unfortunately, the eel still carried a strong fishy taste that even the salt seasoning couldn’t eliminate.
We also tried the E-Pai kansai-yaki ($58) – an Osaka-style savoury egg pancake loaded with beef tendons, mushrooms and cheese, among other things. As a signature dish, this was a let-down – the texture of the cake is too runny and the barbecue sauce used is overly sour, tasting like a supermarket product rather than a homespun offering.
Thankfully, the beef yaki ($68) fared a lot better. The meat is thin-cut with a juicy, fatty texture and intense beefy flavour that is further enhanced by cooking with spicy miso. We also ordered the rice with tea and plum ($50). Although the rice is not from Japan, it’s still cooked very well to deliver a soft yet still slightly al dente texture. Paired with an appetite-inducing sour plum and a tasty seafood soup, we polished off the rice in no time.
When we left the restaurant after our meal, there were still around 20 people waiting outside the door. Obviously, this is exactly the kind of Japanese eatery the Kwun Tong crowd was longing for.