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Although it is located on the 10th floor of the mega shopping complex Times Square in Causeway Bay, Enmaru does a reasonable job of recreating the atmosphere of a typical Japanese izakaya. A little more brightly lit, and definitely less smoky than one you would find in Tokyo perhaps, but the high ceilings, central robata grill and general décor is fairly convincing. Perhaps due to its location, on the Tuesday night we visited, it was mostly empty, which also detracted slightly from the feeling of authenticity. The central focus here is on the robata grill, although there is also a quieter sushi bar on the side, as well as more private booths lining the edges of the restaurant.
As the layout of the restaurant suggests, focus is on food that can be grilled on the specialty charcoal robata that takes centre stage. There is a wide variety of grilled fish to choose from, including the highly prized (and priced) Hokkaido kinki. For those on a stricter budget, the sanma (saury fish) is a good entry point. It is juicy and cooked to just the right degree, although its tiny bones may prove troublesome for some. A good meat option is the signature pork from Kumamoto, with saikyo miso. Our first bite of this was phenomenal: the pork itself was bursting with flavour and the fat around the edges just added to the guilty pleasure. However, as we got to the larger and leaner central pieces of the meat, we noticed that it was much drier. Seeing as there was a sushi bar, we decided to also try some sushi and sashimi. The seaweed used to wrap our gunkan was very thick and almost chewy, but we liked the delicately vinegared rice, as well as the sweet and salty balls of ikura. From the sashimi selection, the portion of sea urchin is possibly one of the most generous we have seen in Hong Kong, even if the flavour is somewhat muted. The grilled flounder tip sashimi was also delicious: thinly sliced and just seared enough to give it a char and take away the chewiness. Dessert was the most disappointing part of the meal for us, as the green tea blancmange lacked the complexity or bitterness we have come to associate with top notch matcha, and the blancmange itself has a distinct flavour that comes from having sat in the fridge for just a day too long.
Although it may not be for everyone, the frozen beers at Enmaru are undoubtedly popular in the summer time, and not the easiest thing to find in Hong Kong. Shochu by the glass are served here, as are sake in a variety of sizes. There is a fair amount of explanation about the flavour profiles of the alcohol, but only in Chinese and Japanese. Similarly, a map of Japan highlighting which umeshu comes from is helpful, but again only if you can read Chinese or Japanese. For wines, there is only one red and one white wine available.
The service at Enmaru Izakaya started well, with the hostess’ enthusiastic greeting and her willingness to let us choose whichever seat we wanted around the mostly empty restaurant. However, given that it was not a busy night, it proved a bit tricky at times to flag down staff, and we had to ask for our teas to be re-filled numerously. Also, language can be a barrier as some of their Japanese staff really cannot communicate well in English or Cantonese.
A dinner for two, including one beer and a small bottle of sake, came to just under HK$2,000. We are used to paying a premium for Japanese food in Hong Kong, but there are more reasonable options to be had, especially in this neighbourhood.