Friday, June 26, 2015

Blowing the cover on Hidden Kitchen

We first heard of this speakeasy-style kushiage/izakaya restaurant in Causeway Bay called Hidden Kitchen from a few chef friends of ours, who mentioned in separate conversations that this is their go-to place for a quick bite after work. Well, obviously they knew more than a thing or two with food so with such recommendations, a few weeks ago the CHF gang went to check out the place and we loved it. I thought that's probably the best late-night spot in this busy neighborhood (they opened til 4:30am)

Last week when the two of us looked for a place for late supper after attending an evening piano concert in TST, Hidden Kitchen was once again the first place which came to mind. So we decided to drop by for a return visit. It's almost 11pm when we arrived - by all means past the normal dinner hours - but the place was packed with people drinking and eating. Came without a reservation, we barely managed to fetch the last table right behind the wooden counter facing the open kitchen.

This small restaurant - located inside a non-descript commercial building at Jardine's Bazaar and owned by Chef Yasuaki Ogawa - specialized in kushiage, the Japanese street-style cuisine of deep-fried skewers. Meat, seafood and vegetables - and often a combination of them - were cut, sliced, diced, skewered, dip in the panko batter and put into the deep-fryer. Similar to tempura in a sense but richer and in a sense less formal and more rustic. On top of the kushiage selections the restaurant also offered a number of small family-style dishes, some based on seasonal ingredients. 

Firefly Squids with White Miso Dressing
Cheese topped with Shuto
Been here for the second time in quick succession I got a better idea what I wanted, and so we ordered a few dishes to start then an assortment of kushiage. We started with a pair of cold appetizers - the Hotaru Ika and a slab of creamy cheese topped with shuto - while we waited for the skewers to be prepared. The hotaru ika, or firefly squid, was boiled, chilled and served with a brush of white miso dressing and it was refreshing with great texture. To some, Shuto, essentially pickled skipjack tuna entrails, may be of an acquired taste but I absolutely enjoyed that interesting fresh and deep savory flavors contrasting with the creamy cheese. In Japanese, Shuto (酒盜) literally meant "alcohol thief" because it's said to go perfectly well with drinks, and here, they have what possibly is one of the most extensive selection of shochu in town, with literally dozens if not up to a hundred choices made with different ingredients and distilled in various part of Japan, and if you have a hard time choosing, Chef Ogawa is happy to lend a hand for his recommendations based on your preference.

Choices of skewers (from 2 visits)
Scallops topped with Salmon Roes
Soon the skewers began to arrive one by one as they were ready to be served. With over 30 different items to choose from, I have hardly covered half the selections in my 2 visits. But so far my favorites were the Mitsuba Kisu (Whiting wrapped in Japanese chervil), Scallops topped with Salmon Roes, Pearl Onions and a few bacon wrapped vegetables (asparagus, tomato or plum). Maybe it's extra delicious as they were being delivered to our table as soon as they were pulled out from the deep-fryer, or maybe it's because the chef really paid attention to details and used great ingredients, they came out perfect and didn't feel greasy or anything at all, even after we have more than a handful of those each.

House-made Caramel Pudding
We were quite full by the time we finished all the appetizers and skewers but felt we wanted something hearty to wrap up our meal, so we shared a bowl of hot udon in soup. I saw the homemade pudding being offered as a special item for the night so we had one as well, and the creamy egg custard topped with rich caramel was decadent. With the great music from the concert still ringing in our ears and after such an array of simple yet delicious food, we felt our evening was then complete.

When? June 16 2015
Where? Flat 3D, Prosperous Commercial Building, 54 Jardine's Bazaar, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

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