As a lover of Japanese food, I've searched every nook and cranny of Hong Kong looking for a Japanese eatery that truly represents what an izakaya (Japanese-style gastropub) is like in Japan. It's very hard to nail down. The bar has to have a convivial vibe, the sort where you can take a bunch of friends and stay hours and really pour your heart out. It has to have a wide variety of delicious, eclectic Japanese food that pairs well with beer and sake. Lastly – and I know this is probably a tad over demanding – it should have a good number of Japanese customers, because a restaurant's authenticity rests not with the cook (who's also Japanese at Yayakiya) but with the clientele.
Yayakiya is one of the few places that, very impressively, ticks all those boxes.
In terms of decor, this Japanese bar, located conveniently in the heart of TST, has vintage wooden furniture spaciously laid out against a red-brick backdrop, giving the space a very laid-back ambience.
Food-wise, Yayakiya specialises in Hakata- (a district in Fukuoka) style yakitori (Japanese skewered chicken) that uses fresh ingredients sourced from around Japan. They recently rolled out a new menu that focuses on hamayaki (grilled seaood). It features two sets comprised of either three ($340) or five ($480) types of seasonal seafood specialities such as surf clam, prawn, whelk and scallop, depending on availability.
Eager to try their other signature dishes outside the new menu, we went for the three-item set, which was solely comprised of shellfish dishes that night, all of which were expertly cooked by the server in front of us on a gas grill.
Starting off with the safest bet, we had scallops that tasted freshly yanked out of the ocean. This was followed by the surf clam, which had a bouncy texture and needed only a dollop of soya sauce to bring out the natural sweetness of the flesh. I once had an extremely unpleasant experience having tasted very bitter turban shells whose flavour lingered for what felt like forever, but the ones here, again grilled in their shells, were incredibly fresh, so much so that I went to the lengths of gulping even the broth that was used to cook the meat inside their shells.
While you're there, be sure to also try the Wagyu beef sukiyaki rolls ($55), which are soft and flavourful, wonderfully complemented by a raw egg-yolk dipping sauce.
The Apple Sabi ($88) ensures your night won't be dull, because the drink alone could stimulate enough discussion for a good 20 minutes. The drink is a mix of green apple juice, pineapple juice, green apple liquor and sake, spiced with wasabi and served with green-apple-flavoured popping candy, apple chunks and even more wasabi – we imagine it would make a great instigation for a game of alcohol-driven truth or dare.
Verdict: good food and drinks and an even better ambience are what you'll find at Yayakiya. It has a true izakaya vibe, which means it's a perfect place to unwind. The hamayaki menu is definitely worth trying because it's delicious and relatively hard to find elsewhere in Hong Kong.
Website or Tel: 2723 9833
Sun to Wed from 12:00pm to 2:30pm; 5:30pm to 1:00am
Thurs to Sat from 12:00pm to 2:30pm; 5:30pm to 2:00am