At the time of writing, Japan is dealing with the aftermath of the tsunami with immense courage, so I find it fitting that I should be reviewing a new Japanese Robatayaki Grill in Lan Kwai Fong, whose chef and staff showed me such wonderful hospitality and demonstrated that same indomitable spirit, which is helping them through this time.
Robata grills are relatively new on the Hong Kong scene, but joining Zuma and Roka is Robata Zawazawa, a funky, compact, 10-seat bar and restaurant. Opening just last month and currently offering dinner only, this Edo style establishment has successfully recreated the intimacy of many Japanese eateries which can seat barely a dozen people at a time. With an almost hidden entrance (I nearly walked straight past it and thought I had gone into someone’s house when I first went in), the venue overlooks Lan Kwai Fong and has a little terrace on which customers can sip cocktails.
I was told that the decor was created by Shigeru Sato, a well respected interior designer who was responsible for the design of the Tokyo restaurant, Gonpachi Nishi Azabu, that motivated Quentin Tarantino to reproduce it on the Kill Bill set. Very cool stuff. Beautiful red Washi paper lamps adorn the entrance, and the open-fire Robata grill surrounded by a natural wood bar-top acts as centre-piece, as diners are enclosed by walls by grey stone and paneling.
Chef Daisuke Nakano, hailing from the Fukuoka region, whips up a storm in the kitchen and at the grill, producing some truly delightful traditional Japanese fare.
To start, I had the delightful Hasu-imo green salad with Tosa vinegar dressing. Hasu imo is a seasonal (March to June) vegetable similar to cucumber that is native to Japan. It was so refreshing and light, and cleansed the palate before the rest of the dishes.
I’ve rarely come across swordfish skewers, so when I spied this on the menu, I knew I had to try. The best swordfish I ever had was in Seville, Spain, in this grubby, middle-of-nowhere café 15 years ago, so I was keen to have this distant memory of a dish long ago digested, replaced by a more recent taste. The swordfish was marinated with sansyo spice, sake and soya-sauce and was sublime. Juicy, tender and rich, the flavours harmonized together wonderfully and the buttery creaminess of the swordfish was not suppressed.
Another dish I was excited about was the Seared Foie Gras and Dashi fish stock with stewed Daikon Radish. The foie gras was excellent, delicate yet full-bodied, the radish and fish stock balancing out the heaviness of the liver.
I was also treated to beef tongue – grilled to perfection and amazingly succulent and tender and Syu-Ichi beef (a “Royal breed” of beef) skewers, which had a more subtle, refined taste than normal Wagyu and were delicious.
A signature dish at Zawazawa is the Buta-ume Shiso pork, plum paste and shiso basil skewers. The taste can only be described as an aromatherapy in my mouth, the basil and plum paste were so fragrant; an unusual yet fantastic medley of ingredients.
Chef Nakano’s signature udon noodles (limited availability daily) are handmade and flown in from Fukuoka. I had the Tanuki Udon Hot soup, which was sublime. I could have bowls of this udon soup – the noodles were thick and just al dente with a wonderful chewy texture and the soup base was bursting with flavour.
During my feast, the director Kenji Sato, who also happens to be a dab hand at cocktails, was getting me merrily sloshed on 3 of their signature cocktails. I had the Japa-Jan, made from sake and yuzu – tart but sweet, the Haku- bai cocktail, made from their home-made plum paste, which was delectable and had a very natural plum flavour and the Shiso basil mojito, made from sake instead of rum. I couldn’t decide which one I loved more, it’s a close call between the Haku-bai and the Japa-Jan, but will definitely be going back for more!
To end off a really fun afternoon of chatting to Kenji, scoffing my face and watching Chef Nakano lovingly prepare each dish, I had the Houji-cha pudding with Kuro mitsu honey and PON rice pop. Houji cha is a roasted green tea, and the pudding is made by infusing the tea with milk and waiting for it to set. The pudding is gorgeous and if you have a really sweet tooth, you may choose to add the honey, but not too much or you’ll get cavities! The rice pops were a delightful accompaniment, and I happily poured the rice pops into my pudding bowl and scraped off every last bit.
If you want a relaxed evening with a friend and want to watch the world go by on the streets of LKF below, then Robata Zawazawa is the perfect place.
Robata Zawazawa LG/F, 41 Wyndham Street, Lan Kwai Fong, Central
2536 9898 www.zawazawa.com.hk/
How to help Japan
Please help make a difference to those in need in Japan by donating to the Japan Red Cross. You can also go to the HK Red Cross and choose Japan Earthquake as your donation destination so the money will go to Japan Red Cross
Eating and Reporting by Sassy Food Blogger, Michelle Ng of ChopstixFix