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When Japanese restaurant Kyoto Joe closed its doors last year at its D’Aguilar Street location, there was a hushed silence in Lan Kwai Fong as diners who frequented the much-lauded contemporary Japanese restaurant – and us – were saddened to see this fixture go. Fortunately, soon after the restaurant was quickly reopened again across the road. Perched on the second floor (it was previously on the ground floor), the new two-floor edition is clearly a lot brighter and less moody. The more contemporary design boasts a curious collage of mirrors, Japanese prints and kosode kimonos from the Heian period on one side of the wall and the other wall is lined with rows of green plants, overall alluding to a modern affair. Admittedly we did find the restaurant rather narrow with the tables sprawled across a rectangular dining room; the conversation of the diners sat next door was largely audible. We recommend the seats by the window for more supposed space and to also absorb the Lan Kwai Fong atmosphere.
Kyoto Joe is a contemporary Japanese affair, much like its sister restaurant Tokio Joe. To set itself apart from its sister, there are many dishes that are unique to Kyoto, while also retaining some of the most popular dishes from the sibling restaurant. We began the meal with one of its signatures, the seared sashimi with garlic sauce. The seared sashimi was somewhat tepid and thankfully flavoured with the addition of garlic sauce, best of all, it adopted a peppery seasoning that gave it an extra kick. Another appetiser that won us over was the Kyoto salad: a simple dish that includes a healthy bed of greens is adorned with fresh scallops and cubes of salmon sashimi, served with a generous sprinkling of sesame and tossed in a dressing that tastes of a symphony of ground sesame seeds, sesame oil and wazu dressing. We followed this with an order of the house roll: an uramaki with soft-shell crab and avocado and crab roe on the outside, this unfortunately was one of the more disappointing dishes of the night as the sushi rice was lukewarm and soggy enough to leave a film over your fingers after handling the sushi; we had to eat this quickly in fear that the nori would lose its crunch if the rice and nori were in contact for too long. Another dish we weren’t too fond of was the assorted tempura, which included a medley of prawns, snapper, sweet potato, eggplant, mushrooms and pumpkin, though it arrived in a wonderful shade of light brown, the batter could have done with more time in the mesh and less time in the sesame oil, as we found it a bit on the oily side. The redeeming dish is the karubi from the robatayaki grill. Cooked for six hours, the ribs are tasty, juicy, a little tart and exceptionally tender complemented with a teriyaki sauce, served also with a side of peppers and garlic. Though, a word of caution when eating this dish as it is served on top of a set of uneatable pebbles and a thick layer of salt, which we felt was superfluous.
The wine list at Kyoto Joe is minimal with a more generous sake list, it averages one wine from each wine country and at the time of visit, Kyoto Joe offered one red and one white by the glass.
We started off on the wrong foot as the waiter we initially had assigned to us was unfamiliar with the menu and couldn’t elaborate on the flavours found in the dishes we queried, nor could he tell us what their only wine by the glass was (he eventually took the flyer on our table and read from it, word for word). After a visible struggle, his more competent colleague quickly replaced him who while also had little knowledge of Japanese food made an obvious concerted effort and was much more cheerful and attentive, which quickly turned our frown upside down. While the meal paired with the ambience was delightful, the waiters who stood within earshot of our tables were continually having a casual conversation with one another that was clearly audible to us while we dined, a most unnecessary distraction.
The price for a meal for two with a glass of wine came up to HK$1,200, considering the fact that you\\'re in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong, as well as the quality of food and the overall ambience, we would say this is good value for money.