We certainly love Japanese food in Hong Kong. There’s a joint on most corners that caters to lovers of cuisine from the Land of the Rising Sun, so it’s never hard to locate some grilled meat or fresh sushi to sate those carnivorous cravings. But, for vegetarians, it’s not so easy. Japan eats a staggering 10 percent of the world’s fish – something that’s exemplified in its exported cuisine – leaving strict vegetarians with a decidedly limited choice.
That’s why Isoya – a clean, calm and friendly vegetarian Japanese restaurant, is something of a revelation. It’s run hands-on by a couple who are also behind Ishiyama in Causeway Bay. When we ask them about the concept, they claim Isoya is the only veggie Japanese in the ‘universe’. Maybe that’s an exaggeration but it’s certainly unusual in our city.
Isoya currently offers a fixed price lunch of a main and three sides ($98), or a 10-course dinner set ($300), which features different dishes daily including a daily keiseki (chef’s special), and that’s what we want to try. We start with a cold tofu dish, served with seaweed. Isoya’s soya milk is flown in from Kyoto daily and the quality of the milk is evident in the rich, smooth bean curd. This is followed by a thick slice of lightly cooked radish in clear vegetable broth – a simple and healthy start. The third platter we are given is the sushi – and, surprisingly, we don’t miss the fish one bit thanks to the cucumber seaweed rolls, bean curd rolls and tamago (Japanese omelette). We like the red bell pepper on sushi rice, sliced to look uncannily like tuna. Other highlights of the evening include the grilled cheese sticky rice cakes served with gingko nuts. The cakes are warm, gooey and creamy – like a Japanese toasty. We finish off the meal with charcoal noodles, fresh fruit and a pretty cherry blossom and sticky rice dessert, nicely balanced with a hint of salt.
Vegetarians will definitely find lots to love about Isoya but we’d also recommend it for adventurous or curious Japanese food lovers who fancy a slightly more sustainable night out but don’t want to compromise on quality. There’s nothing fishy about this place. Anna Cummins
Isoya 9/F, 83 Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai, 55008812; Dinner for two: $660