With few in the Fragrant Harbour having much of an appetite for Hubei cuisine at the present, hungry Hongkongers have been casting about for a tempting alternative. One that has come very much to the fore is Japanese food. Indeed, unless you’ve spent the last month forcibly con ned just off the coast of Yokohoma, chances are you can easily nd this an enigmatic and oft underexplored cooking style. Thankfully, for those looking to address any such shortcoming on their personal, diet-based, mission of discovery, there is a local destination sure to remedy just that – Sheung Wan-set Honjo.
One of a number of dineries debuted last year by the Wong Chuk Hang-headquartered Pirata Group – the company behind such celebrated scofferies as The Optimist and Tokyolima – Honjo prides itself on reinventing quintessential Japanese dishes in a wholly contemporary manner. The result is an expansive, well thought- out menu that’s eclectic yet familiar, comprising everything from raw staples and cold appetisers to sushi, tempura and a positive panoply of larger platters.
Those expecting any hallmark of greatness from without, however, might be a little disappointed – access to its apparently unassuming premises is via an equally unassuming little door. Once you have crossed the threshold, though, you are immediately transported through time and space, but not to any destination you might anticipate… Rather than finding yourself catapulted to the court of the Chrysanthemum Throne sometime 1700 AD-ish, instead it’s the singular stylings of ’50s Britain, all dim lighting, safari prints and ruddy furnishings, that greet you. Despite being something of a surprise, it is undoubtedly welcoming and cosy in its own way…
It would also take more than an outré ambience to dissuade us from our tasting mission and we were more than eager to dive into the first course – Tuna Cracker, a modern interpretation of the traditional nigiri. Each piece proved a mighty mouthful, with shredded raw tuna, ikura (salmon roe), an avocado mousse and a deep-fried rice-cracker all vying for mouthroom. It was an intriguing combination, with the crunchy rice, juicy roe and slight wasabi sting in the mousse all acting to enhance the creaminess of the tuna.
Next up was Iberico – seared pork tenderloin, seasoned with a spicy Sichuan oil and a refreshing ginger scallion salsa. With further refinement coming in the form of both the bubu arare (deep- fried rice grains) and the lingering notes of Sichuan pepper, every bite lingered long, light and tangy.
The final cold dish to be served up was a Medium Sushi Platter, laden with four types of nigiri – salmon, hamachi belly, chutoro and tuna – and two rolls, salmon / avocado and hamachi / cucumber. A feast for the eyes as much as the palate, the melt-in-your-mouth chutoro was an instant hit, while the hamachi cucumber roll – accented with purple yukari shiso salt – offered the most interesting in-mouth sensation. Next up was the first hot dish of the tasting – the Honjo Tempura Selection. Lightly battered, but perfectly crisp, the black tiger prawns surprised as the undoubted stars of this delicious dish. Once again, though, the restaurant had an ace up its sleeve, this time in the form of its Broccolini. While it’s an unusual tempura inclusion, its subtle crunch and juicy texture won us over completely.
Perhaps the most outstanding dish, though, was the Whole Chicken & Rice, which, true to its name, featured a whole baby chicken, one stuffed with mushrooms, pancetta and sticky rice, then served with hazelnuts, salt and a delectable, buttery ginger roast sauce. While there’s no denying the East-meets- West credentials of this particular dish, it’s a combination that, while complex, is far greater than its constituent parts. Not only does the dish shine in its own right, the addition of each condiment transforms the overall flavour palate, essentially delivering four courses on one plate.
All in all, it’s an apt display of just how Honjo has raised the bar for modern Japanese cuisine, experimenting with new ingredients and enhancing classic favours with a wholly dynamic flourish. Add to that its stunningly lush interiors and what you get is a true culinary gem.
Honjo. 1/Fl, 77-91 Queen’s Rd West, Sheung Wan. (852) 2663 3772. honjo.hk
Text: Tenzing Thondup