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Taking up one half of the circular top level at Lee Garden One is this casual izakaya by 1957 & Co, the other half being An Nam, also owned by the same group. The unconventional layout offers many types of seating from tatami-inspired rooms (with recessed floors for you to place your legs) to bar seating in front of the charcoal grilling station. Striking red is the key colour theme, paired with dark and moody browns; bamboo screens and timber columns bring to mind elements of nature, or a traditional Japanese teahouse. A relaxed eatery that’s just as suitable for couples as it is for larger groups out for a celebration, Gonpachi excels in providing a welcoming environment regardless of your situation.
To a novice, Gonpachi’s extensive menu may be daunting at first; the offerings are diverse, with items ranging from sushi and sashimi to grilled skewers to housemade soba noodles. Having sampled a few items from each of the major sections, we’re confident that there are few weak spots. There are dishes that are unique to the restaurant, setting it apart from the traditional izakaya: a signature offering of bagna cauda for example, is a great update on an Italian classic as the dip is made with rich and buttery Shanghai crab roe rather than anchovy. The accompanying garden vegetables are clearly of high quality, from the crisp spears of gem lettuce to the ruby hued radishes, crisp and bittersweet. Fun takes on other dishes delight too, like the Gonpachi ‘pizza’ where the base is made from thin, crisp gyoza skins and topped with oozing cheese, minced chicken and vegetables. Watching the chefs work their magic on the grills, we opted for skewers of juicy ox tongue, nicely seasoned with a flurry of coarse sea salt; a light squeeze of lemon was all it needed. Tempura sweet potato came in thin, oblong slices and a crisp, lacy batter—a good showing from a restaurant that doesn’t advertise itself as a tempura specialist. Finally, the housemade soba is always a treat, with a great toothsome texture and umami-packed tsuyu dipping sauce—into which we dissolved a bit of the accompanying freshly-grated wasabi for an added flavour punch. For dessert, kuzumochi and kinako with vanilla ice cream topped with black sugar syrup was excellent with its buttery caramel notes and refreshing texture.
As expected of an izakaya, the drinks list is extensive and diverse, with draught beer options, creative Japanese cocktails and a serious showing of sake and shochu. A yuzu mojito was nicely balanced and a top way to kick off a meal here, and staff are able to recommend a suitable sake to pair with the various foods, which tend to be quite full flavoured.
Staff know the menu and can help anyone daunted by the large menu to choose a good selection of dishes across the board. While the layout of the restaurant can be awkward, it is never too difficult to catch the attention of staff.
A meal for two with sake and service comes to just under HK$1,000 which is exceptional value for quality cooking in a central location.