If Disney World’s Epcot had an Okinawan section, it’d probably look like Bridges. Opened by Hong Kong-based restaurateurs En Group and backed by the Okinawan government, Bridges was designed to be not just another dining venue, but rather a serious effort to promote the Japanese prefecture’s local culture.
While En already operates a line of Okinawa-centric outlets (Yakichi, Rakuen), Bridges is by far their most impressive offering to date. A retail section at the front peddles traditional Okinawan goods, from bottles of awamori and habu sake (liquor made with snake venom) to local snacks and souvenirs. Inside, a massive open kitchen sits centre of the dining area, finished in smoothed coral rock for a rustic, coastal touch. Fresh fish are proudly displayed in wicker baskets behind the kitchen counter, neighbouring cases of seasonal fruits and veggies all flown in directly from the Ryukyu Islands.
Upon sitting, guests are presented with a round of delicate amuse bouche. The appetizers introduce Okinawa’s most famous ingredients and range anywhere from edamame with diced cuttlefish to sheets of bitter gourd and creamy blobs of peanut tofu. Following from these nibbles, the restaurant’s Okinawa Choju Kaiseki set ($680) is the best nine-course way to get better acquainted with the regional cuisine. The kaiseki leads in with a daily sashimi selection (kanpachi and yellowfin tuna on the night we visited) that still smacks of the sea’s sweet salinity. Unlike most other parts of Japan, however, raw fish is not a particularly big tradition in Okinawa and this is especially apparent in the restaurant’s sushi choice for the second course. The kitchen eschews the typical cuts of halibut and toro, opting instead for much stranger but surprisingly delicious toppings such as prosciutto and celery, which speak of Okinawa’s multicultural influences.
While the sushi and sashimi are both solid efforts, cooked food is where Bridges’ chefs really excel. Hunks of stewed aged pork belly have gorgeous striations of fat running through it. Deep-fried prawn and vegetable cake is an interesting variation of tempura and goes especially well with a pinch of sea salt. The meal’s highpoint translates as a beautiful plate of grilled beef, which uses premium wagyu from Okinawa’s Motobu Ranch, served beside a wafer cup of stir-fried bitter gourd and tofu. Cooked with miso, the bite-sized blocks taste like warmed pieces of butter with an intense meatiness that’s even more pronounced than Kobe beef. We’d come back just for the wagyu.
Heavier dishes are tempered by a revitalizing duo of mozuku and umibudo “sea grapes” seaweed (both of which come from the shores of Ryukyu) spiked with vinegar sauce, topped with a single prawn and brought to the table in a tall martini glass. The feast nears its end with a comforting bowl of genmai rice steamed to a gummy state and served with a rainbow of Japanese pickles. Finally, there’s the paper pot of simmering, umami broth studded with pork, tofu, mushrooms and filmed with pockmarks of oil.
There are, of course, other dishes that shine outside of the kaiseki menu. Pulpy segments of eggplant are smeared with miso and grilled to a delectable smokiness before being sprinkled with seafood ($165). Thin stacks of crisp daikon and dried mullet roe plated with fresh uni and shima-tofu ($130) make an intricate side dish that balances between several layers of flavours. Bringing the dining experience here up another notch is the stellar awamori selection. In particular, the umeshu awamori from Okinawa’s Kumejima no Kumesen distillery ($430/720ml bottle) is close to addictive, made by mixing muddled plum pulp with fruit-steeped distilled rice wine.
Despite Hong Kong’s penchant for Japanese food, Okinawan cuisine has always remained an estranged culinary niche. Bridges is doing well to educate us on the finer points of Okinawan dining. And our stomachs are ready to learn more.
6/F, Cubus, 1 Hoi Ping Rd, Causeway Bay, 3428 2131. Daily noon-3pm & 6pm-11pm.
The bill (for two)
Seasonal appetizers x 2 $30pp
Okinawa Choju Kaiseki $680
Grilled eggplant with seafood and miso sauce $165
Dried mullet roe with tofu and radish $130
Ten per cent service charge $103.5
|Venue name:||Okinawa Dining Bridges|
6/F, Cubus, 1 Hoi Ping Rd