An elevated sukiyaki omakase experience comes to Tsim Sha Tsui at Sukiyaki Isekuma
Fukuoka native chef Koichi Kuga has landed in Hong Kong to open this elevated sukiyaki eatery, bringing with him his own secret sukiyaki sauce recipe. Sukiyaki Isekuma is named after Japan’s first sukiyaki restaurant, Isekuma, which opened in Yokohama in 1862.
The minimalist, pale-wood space seats 22 diners – 14 at the bar counter and eight at tables within three curtained booths – and is distinctly Japanese in style. It was full on the evening of our visit, with quite the buzz in the air, but we wished that the lighting had been a bit dimmer.
Sake is a natural complement to sukiyaki, and Sous-Chef Ayumi Matsuda also acts as the eatery’s sommelier, qualified by the Japan Sommelier Association. Before our tasting commenced, we were tasked with selecting our choice from this stunning collection of sake cups.
Dinner is a choice between the six-course sukiyaki set (HK$680/person), which consists of three appetisers, A4 Wagyu sukiyaki with Japanese veg, rice, a steamed dish and dessert, and the nine-course omakase set (HK$1,380/person), a feast of five appetisers, seasonal sashimi, Wagyu sukiyaki with Japanese veg, several seasonal house specialities, rice and dessert.
A selection of five seasonal appetisers is the first course of the omakase, in this case comprised of sesame tofu topped with pearls of Hokkaido salmon roe, tempura of sakura shrimp and spring veg, angel shrimp crowned with caviar, a minced chicken “cake” and firefly squid.
Seasonal sashimi is next. We were presented with this beautiful ishidai, or striped beakfish, sashimi complemented with lime, salt, wasabi and soy sauce. This is a rare type of sashimi, known for its clean, sweet flavour.
Not pictured is the chef’s daily recommendation. For us, this was a surprisingly sweet spring onion mousse topped with taraba (king crab) marinated in green tea oil, made pretty with burdock and gold flakes.
Here you can see Chef Kuga blowtorching the Kagawa Olivegyu Wagyu for use in the Wagyu beef dish. The beef, sliced into sizeable hunks, was served as a salad with seasonal Japanese leaves and a tangy grapefruit-orange dressing.
Unfortunately, the steamed dish fell flat. It featured steamed Tokyo Bay clams and hirame (flounder), with a light broth poured tableside. For us, the flavours were far too fishy.
Naturally, the star of the show is the A4 Wagyu beef sukiyaki, which comes in the form of Olivegyu from Shodoshima island in Kawaga Prefecture – where the black Sanuki cattle are exclusively fed a diet mixed with pressed olive pulp, Italian ryegrass and Inawara rice straw – and Himegyu from virgin female cows from a ranch in Ayabe, Kyoto Prefecture, also known as Princess Wagyu. Chef Kuga and his team expertly cook up the beef before your very eyes, liberally dousing it in a classically sweet sukiyaki sauce.
The omakase comes with three large, well-marbled slices of Wagyu. The last slice of Kyoto Himegyu is topped with a heaping scoop of Hokkaido sea urchin. This was one step too far for us in terms of richness, but the diners surrounding us seemed to be lapping it up.
A gorgeous selection of seasonal Japanese vegetables – seven types! – comes with each set, balancing the meatiness of the Wagyu. Spring specialities for us included candy-like fruit tomato, mushroom, grilled tofu, mizuna, cabbage, spring onion and wheat bran, all cooked in the same sukiyaki sauce, bringing out even more of the natural sweetness of the veg.
For dipping your meat and veg, there are two egg dips made with eggs from Yamaguchi. The fluffy egg meringue version on the left is the winner for the texture alone.
The sukiyaki experience at Sukiyaki Isekuma also includes a line-up of four condiments – fiery shima togarashi (Okinawan chilli), fragrant yuzu, pungent wasabi and Italian black truffle – as well as grilled seaweed, adding variety. We think the black truffle’s nutty umaminess is the best match for the Wagyu.
Not pictured is the duo of rice dishes that completes the final savoury course. There’s the steamed rice with kombu with its strong earthy aroma and the steamed rice with simmered egg, prepared à la minute, topped with a puff of meringue.
For us, dessert was simple and refreshing – oh-so-sweet Japanese muskmelon with yuzu sorbet.
We just can’t seem to get enough Japanese cuisine in this city, and sukiyaki makes for a welcome change from the standard ramen and sushi offerings around town, especially with its elevated omakase format. On the evening of our visit, Sukiyaki Isekuma’s head chef, culinary team and waitstaff were knowledgable and attentive to all diners’ needs and requests. The premium Wagyu showcased in the sukiyaki is undoubtedly of very high quality, with the seasonal Japanese vegetables just as noteworthy as the beef. The nine-course menu veers towards the OTT end of the spectrum (especially that Wagyu and uni number), and we’d likely be more than satisfied with the six-course version.
Where: Shop G13, G/F, Harbour Pinnacle, 8 Minden Avenue, TST East
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.