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Tucked away discreetly on Gage Street, it would not be wholly unreasonable to walk right past the unassuming grey façade that is Grandpa Octopus. However, once located, a push button whips a sliding door open where one is greeted by a welcoming front of house. On the evening we visited, it became glaringly obvious we were the only guests and were quickly lead past the octopus tanks to the precarious staircase that took us up to an even smaller upper floor – all in all, this restaurant seats only 16. Settled at one of the two tables upstairs, a quick survey of the decor does not indicate the cuisine and borders on an 80s feel, with its grey marbled table tops, oversized black leather seating and overall moody undertones. The hyperactive honky-tonk music is equally perplexing.
Much like its renowned crab-centric sibling Kanizen, Grandpa Octopus follows a similar themed approach and the ingredient of choice is, of course, octopus although there is still quite a large amount of crab on offer. A single set kaiseki menu of 12 courses for a minimum of two people is on offer here and is altered every few months or so, to suit the seasons. To begin, an amuse bouche named “Spring Roll” boasted a crispy exterior with a tantalising combination of squid liver and chopped octopus that sang of the sea with its briny notes and freshness, while the horsehair crabmeat in vinegar jelly topped with an oyster leaf was a great way to ease into the meal with its light sweet and sour balance. Alternating from octopus to crab, the deep-fried crab roe tofu with crabmeat and Hokkaido premium uni was a perfect marriage of flavours and textures and the steamed horsehair crab meat with roe was simple yet tasty. Japanese croquettes are always a crowd-pleaser and the “Stone”, a baked octopus potato, was no exception. Served alongside actual stones, its creamy miso base, scattered with octopus, shimeji mushroom and vibrant edamame was delicious. The chopped octopus soup that followed was unfortunately bland. More crab courses were soon underway such as the grilled taraba crab legs which were juicy but slightly mushy in texture. The taraba crab tempura was served alongside a liquefied tempura egg yolk. Disappointingly, the egg gave all the velvety richness minus any flavour whatsoever, however the batter used remained impressively crisp. The “Grandpa Octopus Fashion” sashimi is most definitely the pièce de resistance, however the live nature of these tentacles writhing in a glossy puddle was just too much for us and we needed to wait until they stopped moving before consuming. They were as crunchy as they are clearly fresh (!) and paired perfectly with the green tea salt and wasabi served alongside, but are not by any means for the faint-hearted. The last of the savoury courses arrived in the form of crab roe congee and was a behemoth portion compared to the other more modestly sized courses. The over-the-top richness, while sure to tantalise any crab roe fan, was simply too overwhelming to be served at the very end of such a marathon of a meal. A humble scoop of black sesame ice cream concludes the meal and was a welcome change from all the octopus and crab.
The sake list is limited at Grandpa Octopus and sizes range from 180ml to 720ml. Other options include four wines and three champagnes available only by the bottle. A choice of two Japanese beers – Asahi and Suntory, are also on offer.
There is a great understanding of the menu and all ingredients, however while attentiveness is always a positive quality, it bordered on intrusive, perhaps in part due to lack of other guests that evening. Waiting time between courses is generally preferred to be kept to a minimum but we find the less than a minute break a tad hasty.
While the food is fresh and innovative, and service as knowledgeable as it is gracious, the hefty HK$1,680 per head of a price tag (without service or alcohol) is intimidating for a themed ingredient as much of an outcast as octopus, explaining perhaps why we were the only patrons that night. Simply put, you have to be a real die-hard fan of octopus to find this reasonable.