Named after the city’s notorious izakaya district, Yurakucho delivers the coveted energy of Tokyo’s vibrant hidden foodie streets to Central Hong Kong.
Oh, how you might mourn for the Wyndham Street of old. It wasn’t that long ago that this little strip of Central Hong Kong was one of it’s most vibrant, especially as the workday ended and the bars and restaurants that lined it were filled with happy souls soothing work-weary bodies and minds. Yes, the street has fallen on dark times as the city battled protests and pandemics, but that lull might now be at an end as innovative new eateries open their doors and once again draw in the nine-to-nine crowd.
Stepping into Yurakucho, the newest arrival on Wyndham Street, is like stepping into a hidden divan that’s at once traditional and unashamedly contemporary. An eclectic sake and robatayaki den as well placed for weekday dinner as it is for late-night shenanigans, the newest creation of Singular Concepts has taken its inspiration from the hole-in-the-wall gado-shitas (the term means ‘under the girders’) izakayas popular since the 1950s and often found near Tokyo’s train stations, all be it with a suitably chic Hong Kong interpretation.
First off, you’ll come to Yurakucho for the drinks and that’s because Singular Concepts co-founder and group beverage director Gagan Gurung helms the bar.
One of the region’s leading mixology talents (he’s the visionary behind tea-themed cocktail haunt Tell Camellia and former dessert-themed bar Barcode) don’t be fooled by his quiet, humble demeanour, Gagan knows his drinks, something we’re quickly reminded of as we take a perch at the innovative street front booths and sip a Sonic, one of the venue’s on-tap highballs that pay homage to Japanese izakaya comfort culture, this one made with Kyoho grape gin, Sencha tea, soda and tonic; and a Shisomato, an elegant Japanese rift on a Bloody Mary that has a refined kick.
If you’re looking to sample your way through Japanese spirits, the restaurant also has a curated sake menu ranging from Junmai and Ginjo to Negori and Shochu.
Stepping past a pair of receptionists housed in a ticket booth at the entrance, we delve inside, taking a tall table near the bar (we returned a week later en masse to occupy the large communal table, with its built-in sake ice bins, perfect for group gatherings).
Yurokucho serves up a comprehensive menu by head chef Vickly Mai and chef Matthew Chan of authentic, contemporary Japanese bites ranging from rice and noodle dishes to kushikatsu (fried) morsels but at its core is the robatayaki, cooked over charcoal and made-to-order.
We enjoy a cross-section, from jet-fresh Kobe oysters dressed with yuzu; shiso and dashi marinated cherry tomatoes; and addictive Takoyaki Tater Tots, served with katsuobushi, nori and mayo in a twist on the traditional Osaka street snack; to sakura wood smoked octopus carpaccio, which is brought to life with a signature yuzu and onion dressing; and edamame beans dusted with a fiery chilli garlic butter blend.
If you’re at Yurakucho to do more than just graze you might want to opt for the hefty Katsu Sandos; crispy chicken Karage; soul-hugging Tori Paitan Ramen; dry Mazesoba noodles with a choice of pork belly or tofu; or the surprisingly satisfying Onigiri Rice Ball Trio, with ume, miso and salmon roe.
All this goodness is served amidst bold, edgy interiors by Nichole Choi Studio, with train station and more traditional Japanese architectural elements married with a raw yet seductive industrial vibe and intriguing, abstract projected artworks that bring a little slice of sophistication to a corner of Wyndham Street sorely in need of vitality.
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