Despite also being a Japanese restaurant, newcomer Noren couldn’t be more different than its famous fine dining neighbour, Kenjo. Instead of serving jet-fresh toro and creamy uni from the shores of Hokkaido, this humble little eatery specialises in the sort of food a Japanese mother would pack into a bento box. That is, casual home-cooked fare done with a whole lot of heart.
We arrived late on a Friday evening and were swiftly ushered into the last remaining table in the room. The charming Japanese manager (who could’ve easily passed as an Asian version of Tony Randall) handed us the menu – a simple, double-sided sheet that listed no more than 20 items.
We started with a small order of thinly sliced pork, which was served chilled with a side of shimeji mushrooms ($38).The sesame dressing, though fragrant on its own, overshadowed any shred of flavour in the bland meat. It was an uninspired dish and an ominous start to the meal.
Fortunately for us, the following fish paste tempura ($38) proved that we were too hasty in our earlier judgment. Though the deep-fried tempura wasn’t particularly crisp on the outside, the fish paste remained soft and billowy on the inside, eliciting adoring coos from around the table. We also devoured a small plate of cooked shrimp served on a bed of crunchy seaweed ($38). The shrimp had a fantastic firm and bouncy bite and was doused in an addictively pungent wasabi sauce, which added an edge of heat to the chilled item.
Aside from the small à la carte dishes, Noren offers several set meals, all of which include a salad and miso soup. The signature butadon – Hokkaido-style grilled pork rice ($68 for set) – is a definite must-try and fully made up for the lacklustre chilled pork we had at the beginning of the meal. Three large slivers of pork were carefully laid over fragrant pearls of steamed rice, accompanied by a single shisito pepper and a light drizzling of sweet butadon sauce. Each piece of meat had a thick rind of fat running down its side. It was tender, juicy and enriched with a delectable smoky sweetness.
Comforting as the butadon was, the meal’s ultimate highlight turned out to be the grilled curry hamburger ($78 for set). This consisted of a crumbly soft hamburger steak, perfectly pinked and juicy on the inside and fully drenched in a thick, Japanese curry sauce. This delicious mound was further topped off with a blistered layer of gooey cheese. It was Japanese soul food at its best.
Noren may not have the fanciest décor or the most extravagant menu, but the food is sumptuous and comforting. With Hong Kong’s Japanese dining scene so dominated by pricey, high-end eateries, it’s nice to find a restaurant that pays due tribute to the country’s simpler and heartier everyday eats.
Shop A, G/F, Hart House, 12-14 Hart Ave, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2301 2360. Daily 11.30am-10pm. Meal for two: around $250.
|Venue name:||Noren (Closed)|
Shop A, G/F, Hart House, 12-14 Hart Ave, Tsim Sha Tsui