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Despite opening nearly 20 years ago as one of Hong Kong’s first robatayaki spots, this restaurant doesn’t feel dated; rather, it comes across as authentic with its muted wooden walls and its overall delivery. Though the temperature is set much cooler than an authentic Japanese restaurant (which has the unfortunate effect of cooling off many of the skewers that arrive in front of you), most is forgiven once you’ve warmed up with some sake or shochu. The jovial chef in our room has clearly been there a long time, chatting with regulars and brightening the already lively atmosphere, which tends to bring a good mix of hotel guests, tourists, neighbourhood locals and nostalgia-seekers. A private room for up to 20 people can be booked with about two weeks’ notice.
With dishes served directly from the chef to you by way of a giant wooden paddle, the robata experience is intimate and like no other. With numerous items rotating based on what’s in-season, your experience can be vastly different from month to month. On our visit, the grilled Hokkaido taraba crab leg was a highly recommended seasonal treat; the crab is generously portioned, buttery and succulently sweet.
Robatayaki is known for sourcing some of the finest beef from Japan, including cuts from Hida, Matsuzaka and Kobe. However, we buck tradition and opt for a fittingly large serving of the high-quality M9 Australian wagyu rib-eye ($880 for 250 grams) that arrives juicy, tender and well-salted. Quite a few dishes are slightly over-salted on our visit, such as the nankotsu chicken cartilage – but this one hits the mark, as does the thin-sliced Japanese kurobuta pork belly, which boasts a nice char, is well-seasoned and features a perfect fat-to-meat ratio.
Despite its name, the restaurant also has a broad range of sashimi, sushi and tempura; whether this is in catering to hotel guests’ whims, we’re not sure, because it seems the focus is (and should be) solidly on the robata experience.
While the menu includes mostly standard beers and liquors, the highlight is a well-curated sake and shochu list from the various regions of Japan. Delightfully, it includes some fairly rare selections, including a nigori (cloudy and unfiltered) junmai ginjo by Rihaku from Shimane Prefecture.
Though they’re behind the grill, the chefs become an integral part of the service in robatayaki – and this aspect clearly shines here. The floor staff are polite, friendly and fairly knowledgeable, but can occasionally be difficult to flag down, which detracts from the authentic vibe.
Robatayaki can range drastically in price, depending on how many premium-level items you end up ordering. Our experience rung up to HK$3,000 for two people (including alcoholic beverages) but half of that figure came from just two dishes: the M9 Australian wagyu rib-eye and the Hokkaido taraba crab leg. Your mileage may vary.