CENSU, the izakaya-meets-fine-dining Japanese restaurant on Gough Street, opened about a year ago to huge popularity. Chef-owner Shun Sato worked previously at some of Hong Kong’s trendiest restaurants such as Ho Lee Fook, Fukuro and BELON.
I was the first of my group to arrive at the restaurant, which gave me a bit of time to take in my surroundings. We were booked in for the first seating at 6pm (the second seating is at 8pm), so the restaurant was just filling up. Despite the early hour, everyone was extremely stylish – from the older couple on a date to the university-age friends catching up.
CENSU is a beautiful wabi-sabi-style space with both polished and rustic elements. I especially liked the cotton wall hanging and coasters.
The reason for our visit was to try some of the new spring dishes. Of our group of three, one of us had visited before (and had great things to say about the sashimi) and two of us were visiting for the first time.
First out was the mackerel sashimi ($218), which is pickled with yuzu vinegar, torched lightly before serving, topped with shredded Parmesan and served with assorted pickles to balance out the richness. This is a nice, unusual dish – best eaten with the various elements all together.
We oohed and aahed over the sawara ($248), prepared sous vide and served medium. The flesh was incredibly fragrant and delicious, and we enjoyed it on its own before trying the accompaniments (in the name of research!). Only a light dab of the fresh coriander miso is needed to add a little excitement without overpowering the flavour of the fish. The pomelo is also a good choice, adding a slight citrus sweetness but still allowing the fish to shine.
The beef tartare ($148 for 2 pieces) was my favourite small bite of the night. Wagyu beef comes enrobed in Arima sansho, a shoyu- and sake-infused pepper mix. It’s sweet and spicy and loaded onto slabs of toasted Hokkaido milk bread. Delicious!
The bamboo tempura ($98 each) sounded really interesting. Smooth ika (squid) mousse sits between layers of bamboo and is paired with a house-special ebi (shrimp) fish cake and a generous pour of kombu dashi. However, while each element tastes fine individually, the dish doesn’t really work as a whole. We found it a bit cumbersome and heavy.
We were really looking forward to the flathead lobster kataifi ($238), having heard such great things about the miso-yuzu flathead lobster dish on CENSU’s original menu. This spring version sees the lobster slathered in a scallop-prawn mousse before being wrapped in thin ribbons of shredded potato (not noodles!) and served with a lobster bisque sauce. It might have been an off night when we visited, but we found this dish to be extremely salty.
Perhaps the highlight of the night was the three-yellow chicken paella ($408). This is an incredibly beautiful dish, with the chicken absolutely glistening and the skin evenly crisp. The base is Koshihikari rice cooked in Hainan chicken and scallop dashi broth. For me, this dish is near perfection – seasoned simply so that the quality ingredients absolutely shine. It comes with a side sauce made with sansho ginger and shallot that helps to cut through the richness, but many may choose to just enjoy the rich chicken and rice. This could dish feed four (or make for superleftovers).
Our meal ended with the coco ice cream ($88), served with a smooth and creamy house-made coconut sorbet with pineapple granita and shiratama dango (a type of mochi). Fresh and worth ordering.
Though some compare CENSU to an izakaya (a nod to Chef Sato’s dad, who owned and ran a popular izakaya in Japan), it’s really not. Those looking for drinks and casual bites would probably be better off elsewhere. But those looking for a trendy “see and be seen” kind of place with good food would likely enjoy CENSU. While there were a couple of misses on our night, we learned on our way out the door that Chef Sato was away that day. Overall, there’s a lot to enjoy at CENSU; we definitely want to return for the chicken paella. Those looking to feast might want to book in for their omakase menu ($688/person).
28–30 Gough Street, Central, 2997 7009
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.