There seems to be a Japanese restaurant everywhere you turn in Hong Kong, but with such variety in cuisine, who’s complaining (other than Rach)?! The latest to hit the scene is Gonpachi in Lee Gardens, the “Kill Bill” restaurant whose beautiful décor so inspired Quentin Tarantino.
Luckily that same care for the surroundings has been brought over to our Hong Kong branch. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I my initial impressions of the place were great as soon as I stepped in! At the very front of the restaurant is a glass window, which you can look through to see chefs creating handmade soba noodles. The precision and skill of cutting each noodle by hand to just 2mm wide is awe-inspiring, and set an impressive precedent for what was to come.
If you can tear yourself away from watching the noodles, you’ll be led through a mysteriously dark corridor to the restaurant – all to the sound of beating drums… way to create anticipation much? The sleek décor manages to feel contemporary whilst also using things from the past, with black, red and giant old wooden beams (specially flown over from Japan) making for an impressive atmosphere. I also liked the private seating areas that were raised from the floor in traditional Japanese style– but instead of having to sit awkwardly cross-legged (goodbye any chance of wearing a dress or skirt!), these had sunken-in seats that make you look like you’re sitting cross-legged without actually having to… cute!
But enough about the décor (ooh – except to say they have a small outside Japanese garden outside… even more cute points) and onto what really matters – the food! Well, firstly, the drink; I opted for a signature Ume-Syoga Cooler, which was actually very refreshing. The kick of ginger and sweetness made this a sort of ‘Gunner’ with a Japanese twist – perfect for washing down some gorgeous deep-fried Hokkaido cream crab cakes, which were perfectly crispy on the outside and moreishly creamy inside.
We then sampled some other signature starters to whet our appetites. You can never go wrong with light crispy tempura, whilst the concept of fresh raw veggies with a crab roe dip (heated up by a candle) was interesting – however, this super strong dip is definitely not for the fishy faint-hearted! The most unusual starter was the Gonpachi pizza (Japan? Pizza? Really?!) but surprisingly, this was also pretty tasty; using the same base as a gyoza dumpling, it was basically rolled-out dumpling skin with cheese on top… a bit strange but still good!
Onto the mains, which were the real stars of the show. Gonpachi has managed to secure the right to use charcoal grills inside (a difficult feat here in Hong Kong), and the best dish I tried was the charcoal Japanese beef. Not only was this Miyazaki A5 Wagyu beef sirloin imported from Japan, it really was the best of the best! The meat was juicy and thick but also managed to be so tender it was almost creamy, with a subtle smoky flavour from the charcoal too. Lip-smacking stuff!
In close second was the grilled tuna belly with mashed turnip and wasabi. The wasabi countered the oiliness of the fish, and again it had a brilliant smoky flavour. Even the corn on the cob here is imported from Japan, and it came perfectly charred – kudos on the flame control, chefs!
Next came Gonpachi’s pride and joy, their soba noodles. Made by chefs trained in Japan, I was expecting great things – but was actually a little disappointed. Served slightly al dente, the noodles were delicate and refreshing, and came served with a ‘soba soup’ (the hot water that the noodles are cooked in). However, I found them lacking in the punch of flavour or comforting noodle feeling I was hoping for.
To end the meal, we had a small version of glutinous rice pearls in pumpkin coconut cream, which I actually really enjoyed. The sweetness and creaminess was surprisingly lighter than I thought… but then again, I don’t usually say no to a dessert!
Overall, I really enjoyed my experience at Gonpachi. The atmosphere is very Kill Bill and it’s clear that a lot of effort has been put into its design, with every last aesthetic detail thought through. However, I felt that if the food itself had had the same amount of attention and enthusiasm behind it as the décor, then this would be a mind-blowing restaurant rather than just a good one; I was expecting the food to be just that little bit better, considering the high standards set by Gonpachi’s appearance.
Nevertheless, prices are happily not outrageously expensive (appetisers average about $80 and expect to pay a couple of hundred for some skewers as a main); I would definitely come back to Gonpachi to soak up the ambience and order up more of that delicious charcoaled beef!
Gonpachi 4/F, The Lee Gardens, 33 Hysan Avenue, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong