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May 9, 2013 05:22 PM

Sushi Yoshitake, Hong Kong

Almost exactly a year ago, I asserted that Singapore has better Japanese restaurants than Hong Kong. I think that statement is no longer true with the recent arrival of two heavyweight Tokyo-based restaurants: Ryugin and Sushi Yoshitake. Even HK can boast and makes strong case that the island currently provides the best high-end places for sushi and kaiseki meals outside Japan.

Like many other top sushi restaurants, the small Yoshitake sushi bar, housed in Mercer hotel, only serves fewer than 10 guests daily. This kind of setting enables Chef Masahiro Yoshitake to serve his customers intimately and precisely at the sushi counter. I heard that Masahiro-san often comes to Hong Kong; when he’s here, he will certainly serves his customers. However, most of the time he will be at Ginza, Tokyo – his experienced sous chef Yoshiharu Kakinuma is in charge of daily activities for the HK branch. There are 3 types of omakase menu and I selected the most popular one called Miyabi that’s supposedly serving diners “3-star meal as served in Tokyo”. The restaurant was very busy on Thursday night during the 2nd seating.

The memorable dishes:
-Braised Tako: This Japanese tako had fantastic texture - not chewy at all; it was burst with flavor enhanced by the 'sweet' sauce. I didn't know that octopus can be this good ..
-Steamed Awabi: The restaurant's signature dish. The thick cut of Chiba abalone, served cold, was succulent, naturally sweet and briny; it's perfectly complemented with the intense abalone's liver reduction. Then, the chef would give you sushi rice to mop up all the 'sauce' - an amazing dish!
-Seared Katsuo: a smart combination of Bonito's smoky & crispy skin and its oily raw flesh. The refreshing 'orange/citrus jelly', scallions and light soy sauce added a nice complexity to the dish

After 5 appetizers, then come the sushi parts. The style is Edomae which is almost always the case at any top sushi places. The most ‘unusual pieces’ I ate were:
-Sakura masu: beautiful, striking and yummy; the small sea trout has a similar texture and taste like arctic char. The first time I had this tasty nigiri
-Kohada roll: served with shiso leave and kampyo that nicely contrasted with the fish. An interesting presentation and it made the kohada firmer and more 'complex'

The fish slices are probably the most generous among other sushi restaurants. The shari is prepared with red vinegar (stronger, but still not as intense as Jiro’s) and often this enhanced the morsel’s flavor. I love with the fact that the usual “melting in your mouth sushi” such as Otoro, Uni and Anago; I could still bite them and felt the textures. The Kuruma ebi has been cooked and marinated when guests arrives; at first I was doubtful with its freshness but I was wrong. The imperial prawn was sweet and fresh with great texture; Kaki-san doesn’t even cut this big ebi into 2. Lastly, the tamago is cake-like and it’s better than the one I ate at Kanesaka Singapore and Urasawa Rodeo drive. So, yes I admitted that Yoshitake has more superior sushi than these places.

The only “problem” I have is probably the price - it’s exorbitant. Yoshitake HK, hidden at Sheng wan, cost double than the original Yoshitake Tokyo, located in the elite Ginza area. Wow! I understand that all the ingredients are daily brought from Japan (Yoshitake-san prefers seafood from Kyushu and Shizuoka) and that will cost more, but twice as expensive? Tenku Ryugin is able to charge 20% more than Nihonryori Ryugin’s price. At the end, is it worth it? A subjective issue indeed. I loved my meal here – quality wise, it’s slightly better than my Shinji’s omakase Shin. However, I doubt if I will return here in the near future – I will make an effort to re-visit Ryugin though. Seriously, the meal at Yoshitake Hong Kong makes Urasawa’s meal look like a “bargain”. Food-wise this place deserved 2 ¾* in my note, but considering the service and atmosphere I would give my meal here 93.5 pts (equivalent to a strong 2 ½* by the Red guide standard)

For more detailed review, http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspo...
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  1. Nice write-up, but when you talk about the price point you should also tell what you paid. ;)

    4 Replies
    1. re: NilesCable

      According to Michelin, Omakase ( Chef's tasting menu ) ranges from HK$2500 to 4500

      1. re: Charles Yu

        Well, thats not as "ouch" as I expected.

        1. re: NilesCable

          are you serious? wow ...
          it's a big hit to my wallet though i was pleased with my meal experience
          once in a life time experience perhaps - no intention to return except to try the original branch in Ginza

          The price of Yoshitake "Ho" omakase (no caviar/truffle with about 5 fewer nigiri pieces) = Masa NY with the Japanese beef option

          1. re: Bu Pun Su

            Of course it is much money, no question. But as you write, for once (or maybe twice) in a lifetime it is not so much over the top.

    2. I will be staying at Mercer - reservations are required far in advance ?

      1 Reply
      1. re: green_wyvern

        weekdays earlier seating should not be a problem


        Don't forget 10% service charge added to the bill so top of the line course is pretty much $5000 or US$680 ish with almost half the amount of nigiri than an Urasawa meal!

        2 Replies
        1. re: K K

          Urasawa also serves 8-9 kaiseki "appetizers" + 2 desserts

          1. re: K K

            wow that is outlandish when i ate at yoshitake in tokyo in december 2012 it was i believe $320 per person

          2. When we have two different scenarios, one involving chefs operating on their own soil and availability of ingredients 'just down the road' versus chefs uprooting to a foreign land and major ingredients have to be airfreight in. It would be unfair for us 'outsiders' to compare and judge 'fair value pricing of the meal' when overhead expenses can be a huge factor!,

            Da Domenico is another great example of such huge price descrepencies. The Hong Kong branch charges HK $ 680 for a plate of Scampi or Clams with Linguine. Thats over US$80 for a plate of pasta! However, the HK chef/owner defended his pricing decision by saying that he literally imports 'every' ingredients from Italy!! From the special Olive Oil to the sea salt to the San Marzano tomatoes to the Mediterranean Scampis...etc. The Rome version is about one third!!

            Likewise, when Thomas Keller came to Hong Kong to cook in the Mandarin as guest celebrity chef. The meal was US$835 per person for 11 courses!! That is 3X more than what he is charging at his NYC Per Se, where dinner was only US$275!! ( BTW, the famous Salmon Cones and Oyster and Pearls were featured in both places! ).

            No matter how outrages the prices may seem, there are still patrons willing to line up and without hesitation, pay a bundle for such 'scarcity' and 'good food??!!'. Such is life!!!

            Ferran Adria's meal in Hong Kong this year, was even more!! ( HK$12,000, I believe?! ). And he wasn't even cooking!!!

            7 Replies
            1. re: Charles Yu

              The other angle is that this is the price of doing business in Hong Kong. Whether it be Da Domenico, Sushi Yoshitake, or Keller guest chef at Mandarin.

              Add to the fact that Sushi Yoshitake Tokyo has 3 Michelin stars, and the Hong Kong branch received two stars within 6 months, plus anchored inside a hotel, make it easy for corporate (and the hotel) to charge skyrocketing prices (and rent), even knowing that spendy locals are willing to pay the price of admission (for their own specific reasons). If this were not a brand name, they would not charge as much. Ta-Ke in Causeway Bay is the sister restaurant of another Ginza sushi place that supposedly also had a star or well regarded...and while it is not a cheap place, but it is not skyrocketing silly.

              Yoshitake is not the only restaurant shipping ingredients from Japan, there are many other local places that do the same and even receive daily shipments. As high quality as their fish may be above others, the cost factor shouldn't be that big of a difference in transporting the goods over, given the proximity between HK and Japan (vs Japan to Beverly Hills for Urasawa, I'm guessing cheaper rent than Sheung Wan Mercer Hotel).

              1. re: K K

                Interesting points from both of you

                Tenku Ryugin is located at a more prestigious location (part of ICC's sky dining) and also the branch of famous 3-star Tokyo restaurant, Nihonryori Ryugin; yet the one in HK is only about 15-20% more expensive than its Tokyo counterpart. Most ingredients are also flown regularly from Japan (and a bit of Europe such as truffles, morels etc.)

                Caprice's price is comparable to its "elder sister" Le Cinq in which both restaurants using plenty of European ingredients. Previously, I think that HK's restaurants are more competitive than Singapore price-wise, but it doesn't seem to be the case anymore. At least, the good think about Hong Kong is that there isn't any tax on food

                1. re: Bu Pun Su

                  This is not a difficult explanation, nigiri sushi is arguably the most famous Japanese food symbol for export, and has become the signature representative worldwide.

                  In contrast Hong Kong general public's appreciation for classical kaiseki, kappo ryori, and hybrid/modern kaiseki (like Ryugin) isn't as wide and deep as sushi. The average person from the street will probably pick farmed Norwegian salmon sashimi over Ryugin if cost is a consideration!

                  Ryugin and kaiseki are worshipped by those who really love food and in tune with Japanese food culture, but in terms of popularity and bragging rights, nothing seems to top sushi and sashimi for the Hong Kong high end Japanese scene (and quite frankly, Ginza style high end nigiri is the rage right now). I did speak with a well to do couple who sat next to me at Ta-Ke in Causeway Bay, who did go to Tenku Ryugin and didn't like it, and to them the tables were too close to each other which was a no no for a high end restaurant, and thought the only good seats in the house were near the window. But they also felt Sushi Yoshitake was no different than Sase or Ta-Ke, it could also be lack of appreciation or understanding, or just a matter of poorly perceived value in relation, but nonetheless considered one of the best in HK.

                  It could also be a test by the Yoshitake Hong Kong folks to see what the market is like, and if those prices could be sustained for such a brand name export (and if so, expect future clones or copycats).

                  I remember an old thread where Ginza Kyubey had a branch in Hong Kong, but under a slightly different name (Qubey?) where omakase was HK$10,000 a person. Naturally that place didn't last very long. Then again, there were no Michelin star awarded where egoes and bragging rights were at stake.

                  1. re: K K

                    Most Japanese fine dining restaurants will not have glamorous or palace-like dining room unless if you eat Kyoto kaiseki in tatami room
                    I have been to Ta-ke before, the quality is nowhere close to Yoshitake but for the price you pay there, it is fair
                    Personally, I think Yoshitake will not be able to increase the price for the next 2-3 years in order to survive unless somehow they move to Central. Sheung wan is quite strategic but not good enough IMHO

              2. re: Charles Yu

                Charles, you make a fair point but I would like to point out that:

                - I am told that Yoshitake imports the water he uses to cook the rice
                - it is not fair to do comparisons between full-time restaurants and guest chefs. Guest chef stints include air fare and hotel costs for the chef and his team. The price you quoted for TK's guest chef dinner (as well as many other guest chefs) also include wine pairing of more than 10 wines. It's not just the food cost.

                1. re: Peech

                  Several years ago at Raffles food wine event, Keller came as guest chef. His dinner cost Sgd 800++ with wine pairing. However, the wine maker partner was Chateau Latour - this should explain a bit about the high price

                2. re: Charles Yu

                  I am pretty certain the input costs are only a minor part of the pricing decisions. It's more about pricing to the market, if people will pay that much then that's how much they will charge. After all the cost of fit outs and the rapid turnover of restaurants means a restaurant needs to make money whilst they can.

                  I also think the guest chef concept is really away to milk cash. OK the teams fly in, but they do stay in the hotel putting on the event so not really an extra cost. When they arrive they probably also bring in many specialist ingredients with others coming through the established supply chains (and most of these hotels import many of their ingredients).

                  When you start doing the maths on some of these and realise you can almost fly to the home restaurant and eat for less than the visiting chefs meal you know it's madness.