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Off the beaten track in Hung Hom, Robatayaki is situated just opposite the main Harbour Grand Kowloon on the ground floor where it is sadly sheltered from the harbourfront views that the hotel offers. With no windows it feels rather enclosed, but the owners have tried to compensate through unusual decor. Large beams overhead are atmospheric and aesthetic.. The robatayaki stations offer low counters set around a grill, in front of which guests can choose from a fresh selection of vegetables and other uncooked items, which the chef, seated behind the grill can then rather clumsily clamber over and gather as requested – perhaps not the most practical layout though it is nice to see exactly what you are ordering. The dishes are served rather more elegantly on long wooden paddles so further reaching is thankfully not necessary.
As the name of the restaurant implies, the focus here is on slow-grilling. However, don’t miss out on the excellent sashimi which is supremely fresh and works well as a starter. The salmon is served at just the right cool temperature, not overly firm nor soft in texture, and sliced into generously thick, smooth pieces. Follow up with steaming soybeans (edamame), lightly salted and ideal while you wait and watch as the chef prepares and seasons for grilling. An order of the baked goose liver is met with approval from the waiting staff and hailed as the restaurant's signature. On its arrival, and tasting, it is clear why. Baked in foil on the grill with teriyaki marinade, it arrives on the counter steeped in sauce. It is beautifully cooked, tender and full not only of the flavour of high quality liver but the slightly sweet and salty Japanese sauce which is light and not too sticky in consistency. The Hokkaido taraba crab is an expensive choice, but arguably worth the money for its large legs and claws are packed with meat. Its beauty is in its ease of eating – not only are there large tender pieces of crab, largely untainted by walls of cartilage, but all of it is easily plucked from the shell after its light toasting on the grill. Who would have thought eating crab with chopsticks could be so easy? Rib-eye beef is cooked as requested, tender with juicy fat running through it and neatly sliced, though is a little flat after the excellence of the previous dishes. Thick stems of asparagus are expertly trimmed and seasoned so that the resulting baked green vegetables are still firm, not bitter or wilted. The eggplant is the most expensive vegetable on the robatayaki menu and not worth the money. It lacks flavour and texture and is sprinkled with an excessive amount of katsuobushi. After a grilled feast, if guests still have room, the fresh, handmade Inaniwa udon noodles – a thin type of udon from Akita prefecture – are chewy and served in a meaty broth. Avoid the accompanying tempura as its light crispy batter quickly goes soggy; beef or vegetables make a better choice, particularly if you are already on the full side.
Disregard the wine list - particularly when the initial menu’s wine choice is simply red or white. Instead head straight for the comprehensive sake menu with choices from across Japan, of varying grades, served hot or cold. Even the most basic “house” sake is smooth to the taste when served cold, stored at the counter in a stylish wooden ice barrel, and is a welcome accompaniment to both the sashimi at the start and the various hot robatayaki dishes that follow.
The chef answers questions but offers little without prompting and there are few of the theatrics that you would find, for example, in a teppanyaki restaurant. Service on the other side of the counter is subtle, constantly there but rarely intrusive and even though the menu is straightforward, staff are enthusiastic taking orders and keen to help with recommendations if required.
A range of dishes including sashimi, grilled items and noodles, accompanied by sake, comes to approximately HK$1,000 each. Considering the freshness of the items, unusual menu choices and prime ingredients, which are all cooked to order in front of you, this is a more than acceptable price to pay.