CURRY | グリルスイス (Grill Swiss)

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Pilgrimage to this Ginza Yoshoku joint, home of the famous ‘katsu curry’ (pork cutlet with curry) dish. It was said to be created by the suggestion from famous baseball player Chiba-san (千葉茂) of the Giants, who would always come for the dish before a big match, as the name ‘katsu’ also means ‘victory’ in Japanese.

This showa-era shop is indeed a legend of its own, started by Okada-san (岡田進之助) back in 1947, a self-taught French cook yet having much influence from the Yoshoku legends of Japan, including Akiyama-san (秋山徳蔵), the Emperor’s Chef, aiming to provide affordable yet quality western dishes to the public after the war. His son, (岡田義人), took over subsequently after horning his skills at yet another major Yoshoku establishment of Japan, the Imperial Hotel, and had since then took the shop to the legendary status it enjoys today.

Couldn’t help but to squeeze in the time for a quick stop before hitting the airport on what was a cold and wet day to try out this much hyped dish, and yet ended up being the best ‘Japanese style curry’ that yours truly have ever tried. Said to be building on the concept of Imperial Hotel’s ‘Calcutta style curry’, the wide range of vegis and spices being used were all so well blended and melted into the amazing paste which, for the first time, finally brought out the hint of ‘Asian-ness’ which LG has always been looking for in Japanese curry yet never found till now. While the truth would probably never be told, it was some kind of a pickled yet smokey taste that brought along such an unforgettable kick to the dish. Officially declared the best Japanese curry as per LG!

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RAMEN | 中華ソバ 伊吹 (Chukasoba Ibuki)

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Visiting the reigning Niboshi king for a weekday lunch at a slightly off center location and luckily managed to squeeze in within an hour before they sold out. Yet another case of self-made expert, said to have visited more than 500 ramen joints before finalising his own style, Mimura-san (三村悠介) settled with Niboshi (dried baby sardines) finally back in 2011, widely believed to be the next big thing then after the much hyped noko gyokai. Interestingly after these years only a handful made it to the hall of fame alongside Ibuki really, with the exceptions being the Osaka-based Sanku, said to be hugely influenced by Mimura-san anyway, the fellow Tokyoite Ito, and the much hyped Nagi in Shinjuku. Just making sure that you have been warned, the shop did put up a big sign out front claiming that it is not a style for everyone, due to its bitter and fishy-ness, and people should think twice if they are not certain. Even if Niboshi is your cup of tea, the dosage used here is close to a ‘crazy’ level as claimed by some. If the PR-centric Nagi can make a big fuss out of their 60g a bowl of Niboshi, think Ibuki’s 130-200g dosage per bowl and you get the picture. For Niboshi lovers however, the bowl turned out to be the most seafood flavoured ramen one can find out there, and the accompanying chopped onion and braised pork are perfect icing on the cake, on top of the noodles from 三河屋製麺 that needs no further introduction. Not the most convenient location but if one is on the Mita-line heading towards Kanda for some curry, it is a easy detour. Go there early for both sessions to avoid disappointment as they really do serve only a few decades per day. One on the wish list for joints to be brought into town no doubt!

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RAMEN | 麺屋 一燈 (Menya-Itto)

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Building one of the most successful ventures spinning out from the Taishoken (大勝軒) stable, himself a direct student of Tomita-san (富田 治) of Chuka-soba Tomita (中華蕎麦 とみ田)’s fame, Sakamoto-san (坂本幸彦) has been dominating the ramen scene in Japan for quite a few years now since its establishment back in 2010. Further expanding its empire by going down the franchise route and having conquered Taipei and Bangkok, it has now finally reached the Fragrant Harbour and even managed to acquire a site with probably the best view in the world for a ramen joint, the world famous Hong Kong harbour front skyline. Still vaguely recalled LG’s first encounter back at Shin-Koiwa quite some years back after a close to one-hour queue, the latest rendezvous in town was a surprising uplift to yet another level, despite most self-proclaimed ‘critics’ saying it is still probably just a 70-80% execution vs the real McCoy. Only managed to get the ramen available on our first visit and subsequently completed the experience with the signature Tsukemen on our return, the only practical word to describe the bowl will probably again be ‘balanced’. Contrary to a couple of the usual Tokyo noko gyokai posterchilds which could be over the top at times, the bowl at Itto just made one couldn’t help but keep digging in. One of those best of both worlds scenarios that it is robust yet elegant, with the charshiu being very tender and the minced chicken meat balls a good fit to soak up the wonderful soup. While it was widely reported that they have switched to utilise ramen produced by Tomita-san’s (心の味食品) back home since last October, those in town were said to be produced locally, yet still of a very high standard. As the group also ventured into various other styles from Niboshi to Tonkotsu and even ‘Jiro’, we look forward to trying out the full range being featured as SPs every now and then throughout the year. With only the absent of a proper Ebisoba and maybe a Niboshi one, the Hong Kong ramen scene is finally getting close to being complete, and by far the best outside of Japan.

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RAMEN | 博多元気一杯!! (Hakata Genki Ippai)

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So the rumour has been confirmed. The ‘notorious’ tonkotsu king in Fukuoka established back in 1999 has recently taken a big U-turn. Not only is photo-taking allowed and even announced on site by a notice on the wall, we were greeted with a big smile by Doi-san (土井一夫) the Master and a very warm farewell as well, the type that a newcomer would probably make to try to get onto the ‘M-guide’ though we don’t think that was their intention at all. In short, the place has now decisively taken a friendly and tourist welcoming approach that was probably not expected even in the wildest dream of their frequent customers. Back to the ‘holy’ bowl it was indeed as balanced and refined as the legend goes, with the kick from the famous takana offered as condiments adding an unforgettable extra sensation. Hit them on a Friday before noon and found ourselves even having a few empty tables to choose from (yet please follow the instruction). That is indeed probably the best time to beat the crowd for those planning to pay pilgrimage. All that being said, there is still no door-front signage whatsoever but only the famous blue bucket so make sure you know what you are looking for when you get there. Still not sure what triggers them to suddenly take a more welcoming approach. Be it inspired by the success of their breakaway store or just they were being misunderstood all along, it is certainly very good news for all Hakata tonkotsu lovers. One interesting note to end, all the previously rumoured ‘commands and rules’ do actually exist as we were given an English menu with them being translated and stated boldly (and in Chinese as well). They did add those magic words ‘pictures OK’ with a big nasty smile on their face when they pass the menu over to us. Maybe it was a gimmick all along!

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RAMEN | 護摩龍 百人町総本山 (Gomaryu)

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Probably the most catchy name on our prevailing Dandan trail. Being labelled as the ‘Dandan noodles from Hell’, this little shop tucked away in a quiet part of the town is pretty much out of most radar screens except for the die hard dandan fans on IG. Famous for its rather gothic ambience and the said to be pretty ‘lethal’ soup base, LG was in for a total experience much more than just a culinary one. Not knowing what to expect, went for the middle of the road Level 3 ‘Asura’ (阿修羅) to test its true colours. Being the only other customer in the shop, the bowl was indeed made to order from scratch which involved some wok frying and the routine noodles cooking show at the open kitchen. With classical music blasting at the background and a solemn atmosphere in the air thanks to the rather dark interior, the build up to the arrival of the bowl was indeed a memorable one. Anti climax then hit when the soup was found to be less ‘deadly’ than expected and its robustness not really up there yet among the top tiers. Still a hearty bowl nevertheless and the intensity of the effort being put in by the chef also to be commended. Another one checked on the list.

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TONKATSU | とん太 (Tonta)

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The Takadanobaba neighbour constantly giving the reigning Narikura a run for its money, this Showa-era establishment by the Takahashi (高橋有三) husband and wife team since 1976 is clearly the local favorite. The no fuzz interior brought along an obvious etiquette of everybody enjoying their food in silence, the atmosphere here is close to a shrine where people come to worship this amazing dish called ‘Tonkatsu’. Instead of raving about its ingredients, Takahashi-san here let the food do their own talking and it is indeed all the more impressive. What strikes LG here is the batter, reminding yours truly much of those from a classic ‘taro croquette’ dish found in cantonese dim-sum lunches, the best of its kind found in a tonkatsu dish so far. Further digging into the subject revealed the use of a premium flour from Takayapanko in Mushashikoyama, itself an establishment since 1955 and into its third generation. Thankfully the queue is still manageable for now. My favorite tonkatsu joint in Japan no doubt.

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The 2017 孤独のグルメ (Lonely Gourmet) Awards

Last but not least ….

The 2017 孤独のグルメ (Lonely Gourmet) Awards:

(all Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong, picked by price-quality ratio)

Best Omakase: Sushi Sase Hanare (6th year in a row)
Best Sushi Lunch: Okura (New)
Best Kaiseki: Gensui
Best Yakitori: Toritama
Best Tempura: Tenkai (New)
Best Tendon: Tenkai (New)
Best Robatayaki: Yi Pai Ya
Best Curry: Izumi (6th year in a row)
Best Soup Curry: SAMA
Best Ramen: Shinbusakiya
Best Midnight Ramen: Ichiran
Best Tsukemen: Tetsu (Closed)
Best Gyoza: Chao Chao
Best Udon: Inaniwa
Best Soba: Gonpachi
Best Teppanyaki: Sanka (5th year in a row)
Best Okonomiyaki: Teppan Kozi (6th year in a row)
Best Yoshoku: Cat’s Eye (New)
Best Yakiniku: 298 Nikuya Room/Kitchen
Best Izakaya: Genki Ippai (New)
Best Seafood Izakaya: Fujinomiya Seitaro Shoten
Best Tonkatsu: Porker (New)
Best Shabu Shabu: On-Yasai
Best Motsu Nabe: Kenko Syokuhin
Best Oden: Kenko Syokuhin
Best Unagi: n.a.
Best Kushiage: Jan Jan Kushikatsu (New)
Best Japanese-Italian: Sagrantino (New)
Best Awamori Bar: Kusuya Rakuen (5th year in a row)
Best Sake Bar: Sakelegant
Best Shochu Bar: Hidden
Best Wine Bar: Nocturne
Best Whisky Bar: Nocturne

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