AM Reviews: Down an Alley & Far Away

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Roji, Hong Kong’s newest izakaya hideaway, has all the ingredients of a true entertainment icon.

 When it comes to dining venues that transcend the simple notion of an eatery, it’s usually not just down to the food or the chef, or even the location – it’s the vibe. People favour places that make them feel part of something, that are welcoming and vibrant and memorable. You might not remember what you ate the next morning, but you’ll remember the vibe. Roji, a new contemporary izakaya hidden away below Lan Kwai Fong, has vibe in spades.

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That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, for two reasons. One, this is the former Brickhouse space, one that was famous for its cool-yet-comfortable ambiance. The located, nestled down a suitably dodgy-looking alley, only helps to accentuate that sense of inclusion and revelry. Secondly, this is an izakaya, essentially a Japanese gastropub, where the line between restaurant and bar is as translucent as the sake that fuels both.

Roji, Hong Kong's newest izakaya hideaway, has all the ingredients of a true entertainment icon.

Roji takes its name from the Japanese for alleyway hideout – roji ura – and is exactly the breath of fresh air that LKF, once the region’s most prolific playground, so sorely needed. Envisioned by founder Agnes Mu as a late-night casual sanctuary that’s home to good music and good food, Roji promises a distinct departure from the izakaya staple, with cuisine given a nudge in the direction of Paris thanks to the founder’s own cultural roots and passions.

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The results may have a western twist, but are made almost exclusively from ingredients sourced from Japan, save for a handful of vegetables provided by Hong Kong farms that bolster a partial farm-to-table mantra that’s all about sustainability and provenance.

Roji, Hong Kong's newest izakaya hideaway, has all the ingredients of a true entertainment icon.

If you’re just in for the vibe and a few personality revivers, we’d suggest the classic highballs, which at Roji is interpreted as the city’s only Hoshizaki Highball, a simplistic bland of bonito umeshu and sherry with Miyagikyo whisky that’s married in a special machine that ensures five times the usual carbonation and an extra smooth finish. However, despite your intensions, we suspect you’ll stick around for a bite or two, for which you’ll be suitably rewarded.

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After taking a perch at the bar, where we could watch the chefs put the finishing touches on each delectable bite, we resigned to their culinary whims. Standout dishes during our visit included plump scallops elevated with yuzu dashi and strips of vivid green celtuce; elegant king crab legs slathered in homemade mustard mayo and dusted with panko herbs; dollops of tototaku, tuna and yellow daikon topped with crispy nori that just melted in the mouth; a steaming pot of giant clams cooked in Roji’s own sake-laced broth; and tender strips of chicken katsu with rosemary, teriyaki sauce and karashi mustard.

Roji, Hong Kong's newest izakaya hideaway, has all the ingredients of a true entertainment icon.

To fill in the gaps (and soak up some of that whisky), ensure you finish off with The Seafood Box, a blend of snow crab, ikura, garden cress, shiso, and mushrooms that’s mixed tableside and shared. It’s the perfect medley of light yet satisfying flavours that will keep you in cheer into the early hours.

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The beautiful thing was that none of the dishes required too much attention, which was perfect considering how packed the venue was on the night we visited. This means that Roji has the opposite vibe from say, a fine dining restaurants – conversation at the countertop, low indoor tables and outdoor perches is accentuated by the arrival of the dishes rather than paused by it.

Roji, Hong Kong's newest izakaya hideaway, has all the ingredients of a true entertainment icon.

Restaurants come and go in Kong Kong with the regularity of workdays, but it’s the spots like Roji, packed with a fun, forgiving ambiance, that leave their mark for years to come.

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About Author

Nick Walton is a Hong Kong-based photojournalist and Group Managing Editor for Artemis Communications, producers of Alpha Men Asia, JETSETTER Magazine, Explorer Magazine, The Art of Business Travel, Mirandus, IKHLAS, The Journal and The Edition.

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