It’s challenging to stand out in Hong Kong’s vibrant dining scene, especially if you’re a Japanese restaurant. Every week, there is a new opening promising the freshest Japanese seafood and produce, sliced, grilled or fried and Insta-ready.
When we received word of 12,000-square-foot “dining and lifestyle destination” Ikigai Concepts in Tsuen Wan, we couldn’t help but be curious. It’s obviously really big, but our main question is: what is a “dining destination hub”? Are they just playing with our unrequited wanderlust?
Launched by HK-listed Chevalier Group, the venue is designed by Tokyo-based Nomura Design, with zones that cluster around a sake hub and bar, an open kitchen for teppanyaki and kushiyaki (where we sat) and an omakase bar. Each zone has a slightly different lighting and feel, but they are still coherent enough to belong in the same restaurant.
We started with a really cold Asahi lager ($78/500ml) that looked well within the Asahi-declared “golden ratio” of 7:3 beer to foam. The chicken liver paste with toast ($88) comes with its own perfect ratio of lightly spiced pâté to thin, crispy toast (we do love to layer it on thick).
Then straight to our favourite dish of the evening – the beef tataki ($158). The thin Japanese beef slices had the slightest of char on the edges, tender rare in the middle and served dressed in a soy base with a hint of citrus. A generous serving guarantees this dish a spot on our must-order list.
The Italian camone wafu salad ($88) with crisp green tomatoes is delightfully tart and would be a perfect partner for eating with the heavier kushiyaki or rich Wagyu and foie gras fried rice.
We were able to try the Executive Chef’s sushi platter ($500), with 10 pieces of sushi lined up like pretty, mismatched cancan dancers. Containing fresh otoro, hamachi, amberjack, splendid alfonsino, botan shrimp and more, served at slightly cooler than room temperature, each piece displayed its own delicate taste. There was a delicious hint of smoke in some, and interestingly, there was no wasabi to be found either on the sushi or on the side.
Who amongst us can resist perfectly grilled kushiyaki? The charcoal grill here uses binchotan charcoal, which burns at a lower heat but lasts much longer and is preferred for consistent grilling. Indeed, the charcoal-grilled minced chicken with Japanese raw egg ($38) was sporting an even all-over tan. It’s traditionally made with minced chicken meat and cartilage, and this tsukune definitely has textural variety to pair with the smoky meat and creamy, sweet egg-yolk flavours.
When ordering the Japanese chicken thigh ($40), we suggest asking for the version with chilli, which comes topped with a creamy sriracha-type sauce and tiny eggs that pop agreeably in your mouth, brightening the skewer.
Others we conquered were the fresh eel ($78), thick-cut ox tongue ($58), bacon and cherry tomato roll with kimchi sauce ($35) and pork roll with peach ($35). No one is more surprised than us to find that the ox tongue was our favourite meat on a stick that day, but the pork roll with peach was also a welcome flavour combination.
Better than being too salty, we did feel that the kushiyaki were slightly underseasoned, but that could easily be fixed with a sprinkle of sansho pepper or shichimi.
The whole tiger prawn with minced shrimp paste ($168) is an enormous prawn. Served butterflied and topped with additional prawn meat and blistered on the charcoal grill, it comes with mayonnaise and trout roe, but we feel it pairs better with plain fresh lemon.
One of the top 3 items we tried was a small but intense serving of Japanese Kumamoto pork ($128), and we would order this again to enjoy alongside the green tomato-wafu salad.
Arriving lucky last was a rich serving of Wagyu beef and foie gras fried rice ($268); pictured is a half-serving. The Wagyu cubes and foie gras together weigh this down, and we felt quite heavy at the end of the meal. We think that the foie gras is superfluous, dressing up a dish that would stand up quite well without it.
Sake! When you don’t want to commit to an entire bottle of sake straight away, you can try a 30ml taster from the sake wall. Peruse the sake selection at the Ikigai Concepts store on Sake Hub, which shares the characteristics of each choice and even recommends pairings based on what food you’ve ordered. The app is only available in Chinese, and the system is a little buggy, but it’s a lot of fun to try. Consider it a sobriety test – we passed and enjoyed a glass of Junmai Ginjo by Hakutou Sake Brewery in Ishikawa ($300/300ml).
The “dining destination hub” description muddies the waters a little, but what we get at its core is a large Japanese restaurant space with distinct cooking areas for different styles – teppanyaki and kushiyaki, a bar for omakase and fresh seafood and a lounge area for sake and drinks. It does have an in-house “lifestyle” component too, selling artisanal products such as handcrafted cups and coasters.
We loved it. You could be anywhere in the restaurant and order seamlessly from the appropriate, specialised kitchen, yet there is a variety here beyond just what’s on the menu. Next time we visit, we will sit at the omakase bar to enjoy one of the well-priced set menus, and it will feel like an entirely different dining experience.
With something for every Japanese food lover, plus accessible omakase menus starting at $380 per person for lunch, Ikigai Concepts is a great place to try – and then try again.
Shop 211, 2/F, NINA MALL 2, 98 Tai Ho Road, Tsuen Wan, 2618 2812
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.
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