Esoteric Japanese joints are no strangers to the backstreets of Wan Chai. There’s a crab specialist on Thomson Road and a bamboo steaming seiro-mushi expert on Cross Lane. And that’s just a sample. These eateries are usually marked with a windowless shop-front with just the restaurant name on the door, almost daring passersby to take a chance and come inside.
Youka, in Johnston Road, follows tradition well. Boasting a specialty in washoku – traditional Japanese home-style cooking – the venue features nothing but its name on its dark wooden doors that open into a cosy interior. The modern sand-coloured walls emanate an intimate surrounding that’s almost in stark contrast to the generic exterior, while customers enjoy sake in an almost izakaya atmosphere.
Washoku uses only the best ingredients, so Youka flies its fare in fresh from Japan. On our visit, we can’t resist the specials board, written in Japanese for an added touch of authenticity. We’re definitely too much of a ‘gaijin’ – foreigner – to read the specials board, but the waiters explain the dishes to us and then it’s up to us.
We go for the salt-baked ginko nuts ($90) and the more exotic tempura cod milt to start ($150). Though basic, the nuts are superbly done. Dusted in a thin film of salt, they’re creamy in the centre without any hint of bitterness, which can be prevalent in less quality produce. The milt – a male fish’s reproductive gland – is also done well, retaining a fluffy texture after frying despite losing a little sweetness in the process.
The sushi set shines at Youka ($550). The consistency of the rice is well-proportioned and the fish pieces are top quality. The eel is the star here – it’s so creamy, we’re not sure where the fish ends and the fat begins. And, to warm our bellies, we plump for the minced chicken and tofu stew ($95). Though it’s simple, the minced chicken balls are tender and well marinated, boosting the meaty flavour of the clear broth.
We love the use of fresh Japanese ingredients and the high standard of the dishes at Youka. And now we know what to expect behind the nondescript doors, we know we’ll be back soon. Lisa Cam
Youka Shop 1D, 35-45 Johnston Rd, Wan Chai, 2833 5188; youka.hk. Dinner for two: $1,000.
Shop 1D, 35-45 Johnston Rd, Wan Chai