Keen observers of Hong Kong construction may have noticed the ground floor of the royal blue budget hotel LBP in Sheung Wan undergoing a facelift this summer. Outside hung a black sign promising that a new Pirata group concept would open soon. All of a sudden – perhaps even while the paint was still drying inside – that new concept revealed itself to be two: an upscale-casual izakaya called Honjo and its less fussy little sibling TMK.
Short for Temakeria, TMK bills itself as a ‘punk rocker’ of a venue that’s ‘unapologetically loud’ and good for a wild night out in the neighbourhood. The paradox, of course, is that by proclaiming yourself punk rock you automatically disqualify yourself from being punk rock. TMK has gone for it, though. The walls have been sticker-bombed and graffitied and there’s a faux tattoo parlour outside the bathroom – carefully curated rough edges that make you feel as if you’ve stepped inside a dive bar that’s bleached itself clean of all the divey-ness. There’s even a custom Japanese motorcycle encased in glass. It’s an odd touch, although it is fun to admire while you’re seated at the sake bar in the centre of the restaurant.
All of this for temaki-style sushi rolls, too.
If you’re scratching your head, don’t. The restaurant is going for a toned-down, T-shirt-and-jeans kind of atmosphere that complements the fancier Honjo upstairs, which is itself a playful spin on contemporary Japanese cuisine and culture. Instead of thinly sliced wagyu in chorizo oil, here you get hand rolls like the succulent wagyu tataki with calamansi soy, hot oil and pickled Chinese onion ($118). It might be made to eat with your hands, but that sure doesn’t diminish its flavour. It’s bright, smoky and acidic – a flavour combination that transcends the presentation.
The karaage ($78), meanwhile, might join the ranks of the best fried bird in town. The spicy, coriander-inflected yoghurt that comes with it is precisely the extra dimension the dish needs. Fried chicken with a creamy, spicy sauce? That’s a no-brainer.
If those prices seem steep for small plates, consider the sets. At lunch, the most basic set ($148) nets you two classic rolls and the surprisingly amazing TMK salad – it’s a spicy, crunchy standout, which is admittedly shocking to write. It’s a lot of food, too. You could just have that salad for lunch and leave feeling satisfied. But you might as well go for the full experience and opt for one of the dinner sets. The Denim and Leather ($288/$398) come with eight and nine dishes, respectively, giving you a taste of the full spectrum of flavours: hamachi sashimi or sushi rolls, soft shell crab hand rolls, salmon tacos, kakigori. You certainly won’t leave hungry.
Considering the party atmosphere the place is going for, it should come as no surprise to see a down-to-earth drinks menu featuring local craft beer, affordable sakes, umeshu and highballs. You can even buy sake cups for the whole crowd ($290). But, again, Japanese rice and plum wines aren’t exactly punk rock, no matter how delicious they are.
It’s easy to poke fun at the glossy edginess. In actuality, it’s a pleasant place that – we hope, at least – doesn’t take itself too seriously. Just be warned that if you come in a big group, there may be some hiccups. You order by ticking boxes on a paper menu, and the staff crosses each dish off the list once they serve it to you. The problem is that system hasn’t been streamlined yet, so some dishes come out in odd orders, and others don’t come at all unless you politely remind the wait staff that you’re still waiting for your soba.
TMK will most likely sort out its missteps with service, though. If you’re looking for a feast for lunch or dinner – and some bold pan-Asian flavours to boot – give it a shot. Maybe take a shot or three of sake before you go, too.