Thursday, August 21, 2014

Different Location, Same Verdict - Lunch at Ginza Iwa

I found myself walking around in Central looking for a place to eat last Saturday afternoon, and I remembered this sushi-ya that I have meant to try but never had a chance, so I rang them up to see if they got a spot available, and I was somewhat surprised that they did, so I was happy to go up to check it out for a quick meal.

As I walked up to the restaurant on the top floor of this office building off Wyndham (accessible through a narrow staircase on the 29th Floor - one level down), I realized my worry of not able to get a seat at the last minute was unwarranted, since the place was literally empty. Mind you it's 12:30pm at that time and right in the prime lunch hour - in fact I didn't see another pair of customers coming in until I was about to finish my meal. Now I was secretly worried - other popular sushi places in the neighborhood would have been packed with customers by then any day of the week. But of course, I wouldn't complain about being able to enjoy the ambiance of a quiet and spacious dining area with plenty of natural lights coming in from the window on the far end, all by myself. 

Anyway, I was handed the lunch menu as I settled down near one end of the wooden counter that could seat a maximum of 12 (with 3 separate chef stations). For lunch 3 different set choices were offered - "Tsuki" with 8 pieces of sushi, "Hana" with 10, and then the Omakase which included sashimi as well, similar to the menu at their Ginza branch which I visited a few months back. Last time I ordered the middle choice which cost twice as much as the basic set but turned out I couldn't quite tell the difference even to this date and felt a bit bugged having paid more, so this time I determined not to make the same mistake and went for the basic Tsuki set.

Top (Left) Watame to start; (Right) Hirame-Kobujime; Bottom: Kinmedai
This time I was served by a local chef - he's skilled and we could communicate in Cantonese so it's all good. I started with a couple white fish - Hirame Kobujime (Kelp-cured Flounder) then Kinmedai (goldeneye snapper). I remembered last time the Kinmedai was one of my favorites and I love the one I had this time too - with firm texture and a hint of sweetness from that of the meat. I usually wouldn't say anything and let the chef pick whatever he wanted to serve, but this time, when I saw him pulling out the piece of Hotate (scallop), I (politely) asked him to change it to something else before he started making the sushi - I had the same thing last time and didn't like the way it's prepared, so might as well let him know.

Next up was shiro-ebi (white shrimp) - which was decent, with the rice dipped with a bit of sudachi zest and a little bit of salt on top enhancing the overall subtle taste of the shrimps. The akamai-zuke (marinated lean tuna) was much better than last time when I thought it was over-seasoned. This one, it's just right and the texture of the fish was great too. On the same topic of comparison, I also thought the rice was better here with a tad more vinegar taste infused into it.

Second half of the sushi courses was based more on seasonal choices. Summer is usually the season for shellfish and the Akagai (ark shell) I had was fine - probably great in Hong Kong standard, but a bit off if I held that against what I had in Tokyo, lacking the fresh crunchiness that I expect from a good Akagai, plus I was a bit surprised that the piece was already prepared in advance (cleaned, dried, butterflied and all) when the chef pulled that out from the refrigerator below the counter. The Ikura (salmon roes) sushi has an interestingly milder flavor and I asked the chef what he did to it - he told me it's marinated with dashi instead of shoyu as it was normally done. It's also accented with sudachi zest giving it a refreshing after-taste.

Shinko (Baby Gizzard Shad) was right in season in summer and the piece was the one I liked the most this afternoon. Two pieces were butterflied and stacked on top of each other and served with a brush of soy sauce. It's slightly cured with salt, and both the taste and texture were top-notch. My last nigiri piece was Anago (conger eel) which was excellent too - well-steamed with minimal grilling and seasoning, and served with no sauce and just a sprinkle of sea salt - but it's soft and very tasty with a clean flavor.


Yuzu Sorbet
The set also came with chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) and miso soup, which were both forgettable. To start, they were under-seasoned and rather boring - that probably has something to do with the stock they prepared. But I like the ganpyo-maki (pickled winter gourd roll) the chef made as the final piece, which was sweet and crunchy, and the refreshing yuzu sorbet served in a very pretty earthenware bowl as dessert.

I was curious to see what the Hana set was like so I stayed a bit longer to see what the chef made for the pair of customers that walked in as I was finishing up my meal. Well, other than the 2 additional pieces - the Uni (sea urchin) and Otoro (fatty tuna) - the differences were minimal (they were served Ganpachi and Iwashi - meaning baby yellowtail and sardine respectively - probably replacing the Ikura and Shinko that I had) Maybe it's worth the difference, or maybe it's not - that's a judgment call but I was okay with my choice.

Anyway, overall the quality is right there, but probably only on par with the others of the similar caliber and a bit on the high side of that price range. The presumed advantage of this being a branch of a Ginza Sushi-ya (a Michelin-starred one too for that matter) with all ingredients sourced directly from Tokyo didn't stand out as I would have expected. So once again, my verdict is pretty average - they probably have more work to do to convince, not only me but others too. They'd better realize that by now, looking at the near empty room right in the middle of the weekend lunch hour. Given it's been almost a year since they opened for business already, they are definitely capable of doing better and they should.

Previous Visit: More Tokyo - Lunch at Sushi Iwa

When? August 16 2014
Where? Ginza Iwa, 30th Floor, Asia Pacific Centre, 8 Wyndham street, Central, Hong Kong

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