There are a lot of Japanese restaurants in Causeway Bay, with many hidden away high up in office-like buildings, and one that has flown under our radar – until now, that is – is N.I.C.E. Yakiniku & Fine Wine, opened in late 2018 as a 16-seat contemporary yakiniku specialist under the capable direction of Executive Chef Kennie Poon, a Japanese fine-dining veteran and former chef at Michelin-starred ZEST by Konishi.
In case you’re wondering, “N.I.C.E.” is an acronym for “Nippon-style Impeccable Culinary Experience”, and the yakiniku eatery is one of few in Hong Kong to utilise charcoal grills. Chef Poon’s signature dishes centre around Miyazaki Wagyu – the best of the best of Japanese Wagyu owing to its fine “snowflake” marbling and melt-in-the mouth texture.
Although there’s also a focus on the wine and sake housed in the floor-to-ceiling glass wine cellar, we were teetotal on the night of our tasting, placing our full attention on the food portion of the experience. N.I.C.E. offers two seasonal tasting menus at dinnertime (at lunchtime, there are signature yakinku sets and donburi), and we splurged on the more premium of the duo – the 11-course Akagane tasting menu ($1,280/person).
Our tasting began with a trio of amuse-bouche, beautifully presented bites in a wooden box. From left, we enjoyed the simple but flavour-packed seaweed salad, A5 Miyazaki Wagyu tenderloin tartare gilded with Hokkaido sea urchin and Kristal caviar and drunken Wagyu beef. Our favourite was the compact drunken beef, which is doused in heady Shaoxing wine and accented with red date, imparting a toffee-like sweetness to the meat.
The A5 Miyazaki sirloin roll with spot shrimp is a delectable surf-and-turf combination. It features a paper-thin slice of raw sirloin that’s rolled and stuffed with an umami raw spot shrimp and chive filling. We wished we had another few of these rolls to wolf down! Accompanying the roll is a tempura shrimp head, a great textural contrast to the soft and slippery roll.
Next up – everyone’s favourite – the A5 Miyazaki chateaubriand sando. We’ve had our fair share of Wagyu sandos, and this one is right up there. The beef is insanely buttery, literally melting in the mouth at first bite, and the sando’s flavour is dialled up even further with a slathering of truffle and onion pâté on the toasted milk bread.
This is the first step to enjoying the A5 Miyazaki chuck roll shabu-shabu. The rich, oily soup base, made with an oxtail and Wagyu bone broth, is balanced by the inclusion of plenty of seasonal vegetables – okra, various mushrooms, baby corn, shishito peppers. The broth is potent but comforting.
While the soup is bubbling away on the grill, Chef Poon dunks these beautifully thin slices of Wagyu rib-eye into the broth, taking mere seconds to cook. This is shabu-shabu at its finest.
The charcoal-grilled USDA Prime rib-eye is dry-aged in-house for 45 days. Before being grilled, it’s coated in a Japanese pepper that creates a crispy crust. Despite being dry-aged, we found the flavour of the beef quite mild and felt it could have used a touch more salt.
The yakiniku portion of the menus sees two differing types of A5 Wagyu grilled to perfection before your very eyes. The rump on the left is leaner and has a pleasant, chewier texture, while the chuck roll is very, very fatty and rich. The yakiniku comes with three sauces for dipping, and we loved them all; there’s a sweet, soy-based sauce laced with apple and onion, yuzu salt and – our personal fave – a fiery paste of yuzu and togarashi chilli pepper that packs quite the punch. This last one goes particularly well with the chuck roll, cutting through its intense richness.
The USDA Prime short rib “char siu” rice is the last savoury dish on the tasting menu, cooked in a clay pot on the grill as is traditional in Chinese cuisine. Its flavour bears a strong resemblance to Taiwanese lu rou fan. The sakura shrimp and tendon XO sauce adds a lovely umami flavour to the dish, and we really enjoyed the differing textures of the rice, especially the crispy, browned bits at the bottom of the pot.
Even at high-end Japanese restaurants, the dessert is normally nothing to write home about – usually a seasonal fruit platter or perhaps some matcha ice cream. Chef Poon’s dessert, created originally in honour of Mother’s Day, was a surprising winner for us – something we imagine would slot in nicely at a fine-dining Western spot. There are so many delicious elements to this sakura dessert – a pool of strawberry coulis at the bottom of the plate, slightly salty biscuit crumble, homemade sakura ice cream and espuma and coconut compote, garnished with oh-so-sweet fresh strawberries. We licked the plate clean!
We visited N.I.C.E. with low expectations considering we hadn’t heard much buzz about it, but we left bowled over by the quality of ingredients and expertise of Chef Poon. This elevated yakiniku specialist deserves to be booked out every night, and we hope it soon will be!
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.