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.
When you talk about the Dining Concepts restaurant group, the first thing that comes to mind is steak. And plenty of it too. Recently, they’ve opened up yet another new outlet in Times Square, offering steak done the traditional Italian way.
To start, we ordered the baked eggplant with mozzarella and tomato ($98). The three classic ingredients are served sizzling hot in a cast iron casserole, seasoned nicely by fresh leaves of basil. The aubergines are baked until they become meltingly tender with the stretchy mozza cheese adding a lovely dimension to the wonderful appetiser. Next up, roasted veal marrow ($158) is served together with sliced toast on an iron plate. As a marrow lover, I couldn’t wait to greedily scoop the runny bits out of the bone and slather them onto the crisp pieces of toast. Unfortunately, the marrow was lacking a pinch of sea salt, which could’ve elevated the dish to a whole different level.
Of course, steak is a must here and we decided to go with the pure wagyu sirloin ($688). Ordered medium rare, the 11oz meat from Oakleigh Ranch, Australia, was grilled just right with a lovely, crusty char on the surface that yields to a moist and bloody red centre. The marbling on the wagyu provided a flavourful taste and an extremely tender and near melt-in-the-mouth texture. All beef lovers should be satisfied with this steak. We tried the top sirloin rump ($178) as well – a select US Department of Agriculture angus that was a bit chewy and rough, but still provided a juicy and tasty meat flavour.
We opted for the olio d’oliva cake ($68) to end the meal since we were told that it was one of the restaurant’s most popular items. The orange cake has a nice spring to it but, unfortunately, doesn’t carry much citric fruit flavour. Luckily, the hazelnut praline made up for that, and the rich and smooth chocolate ice cream on the side was also a crowd pleaser.
Being a steakhouse, the beef selection here is relatively inadequate with only eight choices provided on the regular menu. We were told that the restaurant will be adding more choices later on and we’ll definitely come back for a taste when that happens.
Following the success of Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan and One Dim Sum, there has been a rapid increase of eateries specialising in dim sum. Among the newcomers is this Tin Hau restaurant. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon to find the two-floor place packed with people with a long queue outside the shop. Luckily the turnover of customers was really quick and we were seated after a brief 15-minute wait.
The dim sum items are all prepared on an à la minute basis. The menu is divided into six categories (steamed, deep-fried, rice roll, rice pot, congee and dessert). To start, we had the double-boiled seafood soup ($28), which was delicately flavoured with a light aftertaste. Next, we tried several traditional steamed items, including shrimp dumplings ($12), siu mai ($10), char siu bun ($14) and Malay sponge cake ($14) – all served piping hot. The shrimp dumplings were really tasty with fresh shrimp fillings and a thin, non-sticky skin. The pork filling in the siu mai was juicy and meaty, but I would have preferred a more traditional version with less shrimp. The char siu bun was steamed just right – not too soft while retaining a bit of chew. But the pork inside was too sweet and thin. The Malay sponge cake was especially delicious, soft in texture and full of brown sugar sweetness. This is one of the must-try items.
We also opted for some innovative deep-fried items. The sesame radish cake ($20) was a combination of radish cake and sesame-studded Chinese pancake. Despite the greasy, crunchy sesame surface, the radish fillings were tasty and sweet. The long garlic shrimp spring roll ($19) was much crispier than the traditional versions. We also tried the char siu pork rice roll ($19) and found the exterior too thick and starchy. The meal ended with the sticky rice and mango roll, which was soft, sweet and deliciously chewy ($16). With no service charge, the total bill came to about $80each. This is not expensive, but it’s still surely not on the cheap side.
If you walk into Portland Street at Prince Edward’s end, you will easily find a lot of different eateries. There’s the Michelin recommended Wing Hap Lung, snake soup restaurants, wonton noodle stores... the list goes on. And now there’s another restaurant to add to the mix that specialises in steamed rice rolls. The space is tiny, seating no more than 20 in a comfortably clean and bright interior. The main attraction is the semi-open kitchen where customers can watch clearly as the chefs work their magic.
The signature house rice roll ($15) was our first choice. The skin is smooth and thin, served extremely hot with plenty of rice flavour. The rolls are filled with Taiwanese braised pork and chopped, crunchy leeks. The pig liver rice roll ($15) is another popular choice. The fresh pig liver is thinly sliced, cooked just right with a crispy feel in the mouth, followed by a lingering, light, gamey taste. It was the star of our meal. The courgettes and mushroom rice roll ($15) comes with green fillings that were sweet, juicy and tasty.
The restaurant also serves other snacks on top of their rice rolls. The dark green colour of the salty pork bone congee with dried bok choy ($16) is a testament to its lengthy cooking process. The congee is quite watery instead of being creamy and thick. But the dish is vibrant with dried vegetable flavour and is cooked sans MSG. Steamed turnip cakes ($10) are done in real authentic style, filled with shredded turnips and a little glutinous rice flour for an extremely sweet and soft end product. The accompanying XO sauce is spicy and rich with the aromas of dried scallops. It’s surely something that nobody should miss.
All of us were happily sated for less than $30 per head. No. 1 Rice Roll is a real bargain and a great place for a late night meal.
If you know Margaret Xu, the owner and chef of Yin Yang, you will at least have some idea of what to expect from Cantopop. A collaboration with the team behind Italian restaurant Posto Pubblico, the new establishment stays true to the “clean” eating philosophy adopted by both eateries by foregoing MSG and chemical additives during the cooking process and using mostly organic produce in their dishes. What else? Cantopop’s noodles are homemade in-store, as are the bacon, luncheon meat, ham and beef jerky.
One of Cantopop’s highlighted dishes is sous vide char siu with fried egg ($68) and this arrives beautifully presented with the sliced barbecued pork neatly arranged and topped with a sunny side egg. The char siu looks promising at first with the meat thinly layered with fat. Unfortunately, the taste and texture are both disappointing. Not only does it lack a rich, meaty flavour, the pork is chewy and near rubbery. Although it is made from all-natural pork and cooked by low temperature sous vide, we prefer the traditional type of char siu, which is far tastier. The stir-fried beef and sprouts with rice noodles ($58) is a little better and is served piping hot, straight from the kitchen. The thin, flat rice noodles are evenly seasoned with dark soy sauce and, combined together with the tender and tasty sliced beef, makes one of the best dishes for lunch.
Things take a downhill turn with their toast selection. The Chinese cheese and organic honey toast ($18) is not crispy enough and it’s not hot enough either. There is also too little Chinese cheese, leaving the sweetness of the honey to dominate the whole affair. The braised beef shin and lettuce sandwiches ($38) fare much better; the beef shin is tender and makes a delicious combination with the heap of shredded spring onions. If only the beef shin could be cut thicker, it would have further enhanced the mouthfeel.
But Cantopop’s real downfall is with its beverages. The milk tea cino ($18) claims to be another version of local hot milk tea but lacks the richness and smoothness that we’d expect from a quality cha chaan teng. Another traditional local drink – the red bean ice ($28) is equally unimpressive. The red bean is hard and the milk is not sweet enough. It’s definitely not up to scratch with the local cha chaan teng standards.
Cantopop’s “ingredient integrity” and its efforts to introduce clean eating into our local dining scene are admirable. But our appreciation of the restaurant’s ethos only goes so far. And at the end of the day we would be much happier if the food was made tastier. KC Koo
UG/F, The L Place, 139 Queen’s Rd, Central, 2857 2608 & 2857 2007; www.canto-pop.com. Mon-Thu 7am-midnight & Fri-Sat 7am-2am. Dinner for two: around $300
當天就跟新主廚Patrizio Roncato談了幾句，出生於意大利北部Bergamo的他在不少米芝蓮星店如布魯塞爾的La Maison du Boeuf及巴黎的Le Passage工作過，經驗及國際視野不容懷疑。據聞他是運用純天然素材去製作醬汁以襯托不同的食材的專家，當天就過他的幾味菜覺得所言甚是。蘆筍鮮蝦意大利飯的飯粒煮得飽滿又有咬口，飯呈淺綠色因為用上了現在最時令的露筍去熬汁，味道鮮美感覺清新，跟爽甜的鮮仁配合得很好。另一味主菜的鱈魚茸就用上紅椒汁去配襯，艷紅的顏色加上微微辛辣又帶天然甜味，醬汁配搭運用手法之高叫人一吃難忘。
(Extracted from KC's restaurant review in Timeout)
There’s been a sudden influx of new French bistros in town and La Marmite is one of the most popular ones. Situated near the western boundary of Soho, this two-story restaurant is the newest venture to come from Aqua Group. Guests can enjoy a casual and informal meal around the high tables at the front, or a more serious sit-down feast inside the bistro and on the upper level. The focus is on authentic, hearty Parisian dishes at very affordable prices for the Soho area with hors d’oeuvres and desserts clocking in below $100 and main courses below $200.
We arrived on a weekday afternoon for a casual light lunch and were seated on the nearly-full ground floor. The à la carte menu is quite simple with only six to seven options provided in each course section, together with a weekly recommended blackboard special. To start, we went with the potted smoke salmon ($98). Served in a sealed small bottle, the salmon was hand-chopped into small, chunky bites and seasoned with capers and dill to form a delicious mixture, designed to be gulfed down with the crispy sour dough toast that comes with it. It’s a light and pleasantly appetising dish to start off the meal.
We also tried the classic French village dish of rabbit, foie gras and port pie ($198). The rich and creamy foie gras paired beautifully with the light and slightly gamey rabbit confit and carefully balanced port wine sauce. This delectable dish requires about 20 minutes to prepare, so make sure you have an equally laissez-faire attitude when ordering this.
We had the Paris brest ($78) for dessert – an old-school Parisian pastry made in celebration of the “Paris-Brest-Paris” bicycle race. Made with choux pastry and filled with hazelnut cream, the pastry was assembled to order (to prevent moisture accumulating during refrigeration) with the outer shell carrying a delectable, light crispy texture. It was a nice and traditional ending to our hearty French meal.