The secret to a long life, aside from genetics of course, is a nutritious diet and a robust social network that is more meaningful than your Instagram following. Or at least that’s what Okinawans live by. The balmy Japanese island was dubbed ‘the land of immortals’, where residents – many of which are silver-haired centenarians – are said to be some of the world’s happiest and healthiest. While I’m sure many of us wouldn’t mind living a little longer, it was the pursuit of happiness and, obviously, good food that led us to Hong Kong’s very own exuberant island to check out Okinawa-inspired restaurant and bar Awa Awa.
Opened by the team behind Sake Central, the idea is to introduce Okinawa’s ancient distilled spirit awamori (there's a good collection of awamori to try here and they'll keep adding more) and its unique cuisine, which is internationally influenced by a long history of trade, to Hong Kong. Think interesting combinations and punchy flavours inflected by Chinese, Southeast Asian, and American culture.
The interior is as playful as the Hawaiian-style summer jams it plays. Neon lights, fun wallpaper, Japanese lanterns, and spoof movie posters make a lively backdrop for the high top bar tables and chairs, some of which surround the bar while others face Peel Street for live nocturnal wildlife-watching. It’s the kind of buzzy place where suits can be seen decompressing after a long day of work, much like they do in Tokyo’s izakayas, with a beer in hand and where friends catch up over cocktails. All of which help to conjure up those carefree holiday vibes which seem like such a distant memory for us now.
Eager to continue that holiday buzz, Japanese awamori and vodka-based ‘Honey, why so bitter?’ and piña colada-esque ‘Nagolada’ cocktails are in order. The former is mingled with bitter melon juice, along with cucumber, honeydew, and tonic, which results in a well balanced and refreshing drink that goes down very swiftly. The Nagolada, on the other hand, starts off well with its fragrant and creamy rum, pineapple, coconut, soursop and nutmeg mix, but with so much ice in the lowball glass, it quickly becomes diluted and almost undrinkable.
The sea bream sashimi special, in all its translucent and meaty glory, swims in a dark fermented bean and ponzu sauce with a lingering citrus-umami that hits the spot, overshadowing the seemingly popular market fish tostada which, albeit crispy and zesty, could do with a little more seasoning other than the two slices of jalapeño on top. It is, however, back to flavour central with the crunchy pig ear, a classic dish from Okinawa, which at Awa Awa is jazzed up as a mizuna salad packing a fiery mala punch with sesame aromatics and an ‘at least third-date’ amount of onion.
There are other inventive dishes that make good use of Okinawa’s cuisine. The sweet and sour pork, which looks like a pile of mini rolls, is actually tempura seaweed-wrapped pork brightened by a mango salsa and lime wedge. Then there’s the yakisoba, a comforting mishmash of imitation crab meat, bacon, snap peas, onions, and pickles which is uninspired on its own but comes with Hong Kong’s very own Flagrant hot sauce that resuscitates the noodle masterfully. It’s worth keeping the bottle around if you’re a spice fan. Save room for the daily ice cream, which, on the day, was perfectly salted and even though it suffered freezer burn, still tasted terrific with the small block of honeycomb.
Sure, some dishes missed the mark here, but with a fun and laid back holiday vibe, quick service, and a washroom that I can only describe as a sunshine bathroom with yellow sunflowers and pineapples everywhere, happiness, it seems, can still be found.
No service charge