My friend and I stood there like muppets in the pouring rain, looking at the general vicinity of 8 Wo On Lane and wondering “Where the hell is this place?!”. It was only after we spotted someone mysteriously gliding through a grey door at the bottom of some stairs that we edged closer and, upon hearing music wafting through, slid open the padded door and like Alice in Wonderland, stepped inside. I like Ronin’s front door, even though its grey hue and padded exterior made me think of a high security mental asylum. But perhaps that’s the idea – to ensure we never leave… or never want to!
With jars of pickles on the top shelves and a welcoming wall of booze, Ronin’s urban-cool minimalistic design and the small number of seats at the bar (around 14 – the back wall is for standing room only) make it more of a watering-hole than restaurant, a place to unwind with an Old-Fashioned and snack on some spectacularly good nibbles.
Speaking of drinks, their Maple Old-Fashioned packs a punch! I had heard good things about this tipple and the honey-golden liquid, served with a boulder of ice, was a sight for sore eyes. The strong and smooth maple syrup blended lovingly with the baked apple bitters, but without masking the Nikka From The Barrel whiskey’s explosive character; after a long day, my first gulp hit me square between the eyes and kept me merry for the rest of the evening!
Market freshness dictates the menu changes daily, although of course, there are regular fixtures. As stated on their menu, “sharing is caring”, so if you are an only child like me, this could be difficult –especially as one of their dishes in particular is enough to induce a compulsive eating disorder. Split into three sections – Raw, Smaller and Bigger – it is recommended (though fairly obvious) that you start with the Raw, then progress to the Smaller nibbles and triumphantly finish your meal with a Bigger dish. We were brought tender gooseneck barnacle as a taster of things to come, and soon our saba mackerel sashimi with persimmon arrived. This was good; the pickle and persimmon vinegar infused mackerel was subtle and dainty, contrasting with the crunch of the pickle.
From the Smaller bites, our Okinawa market chips (sweet potato, yam and bamboo) with black sugar kept our hunger in check – like munching on popcorn during trailers, as we had a bit of a wait before that compulsive eating disorder dish came along. The smoked silver beltfish tempura with black sugar mayo blew my mind. These were like a fancy and exquisite version of that Brit teatime favourite, fish fingers, and honestly, the mayo was ridonkulously kick-ass. My friend and I were very civilised and split our serving in half, even though I was tempted to wrestle the last tempura from her fingertips!
From the Bigger dishes, we ordered fried quail with an orange rind and sansho pepper marinade, which was finger-licking good, although the skin was more greasy than crispy. The meat was tender and juicy and I enjoyed the citrusy tang followed by a burst of fat.
The second standout dish of the night was the udon with smoked onion, onsen egg and dried shrimp. I could have licked the bowl clean! After gleefully smashing up the onsen egg, the smoked caramelised onion, peas and salty shrimp combination made the thick udon deliciously gunky and oh-so addictive. Halfway through and I already wanted another bowl.
Disappointingly, there are no desserts. I suppose an alcoholic beverage could be counted as dessert, but I really craved a sweet ending to the fried and salty dishes. Instead, we simply relaxed and nursed our drinks, patiently waiting for the ice to melt and dilute the fire in our glasses.
The atmosphere at Ronin is casual but lively. Service was fairly slow, and our waiter forgot and mixed up our order a couple of times. This was almost, but not completely, overlooked by his banter and a game of ‘guess where I am from’.
Nevertheless, I love the apparent isolation of Ronin with its Aladdin’s cave feel and air of mystery – it almost makes me wish it had a secret door knock to get in! Whilst there are some stellar mouth-watering dishes and an impressive selection of drinks, service was not as smooth or efficient as it could be, considering Ronin’s size. In addition, prices are not entirely wallet-friendly, with the bill coming to $815 for two, for five dishes and two Old-Fashioneds. That being said, the tempura and the udon are definite draws and I will be visiting again… though I may wimp out of ordering another whiskey!
Ronin 8 On Wo Ln, Sheung Wan
2547 5263 www.roninhk.com
Check out more foodie adventures from Michelle on her blog, Chopstixfix!