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Located in the fringes of Lan Kwai Fong is the long-serving Tokio Joe. It bills itself as the “original Japanese restaurant” of Hong Kong’s premiere nightlife strip, but you’re prone to miss it if not for its small-ish neon sign and red noren banners. We were quite surprised to see a packed and busy restaurant for an early Saturday dinner. In fact, when I made reservations three days prior, the best we could get were seats at the sushi bar.
You’ll need to be alert once you go through their shoji doors as lighting is a bit dark and you need to take a couple of steps down. There’s a drink bar and a sushi bar, where they shuffle people off once the main tables get occupied. Typical of Hong Kong, space is a premium so one has to squeeze in to traverse their seats. The crowd inside is loose and raucous. Noise levels are a bit on the high-side especially for such a confined space. This place is where you go to to let your hair down and enjoy good food.
With its name, you’d probably think that Tokio Joe is a fusion restaurant. But it would say it’s a modern take on Japanese cuisine where the chef takes traditional fare and makes it contemporary through ingenious presentation, and adding a bit of adventure with new flavours. As recommended, we ordered the spicy seafood salad which had more than enough tuna, salmon and crab meat mixed with garden greens served with carrot miso dressing. The only thing missing though is the spicy part, as it could have done with a bit more jalapeno pepper to live up to its name. We also ordered the Mango Star, a plate of sushi rolls with spider crab meat and avocado wrapped in cucumber slices and topped with mango sauce. The thought of it might not be appetizing but once you see it and actually taste it, everything falls into place and will lead you to order another serving.
For our mains, we had the kelp grilled sea bass which arrived still steaming and aromatic. It was flawlessly cooked without losing the freshness of the fish. We also ordered the mixed mushroom that was a mixture of enoki, shiitake and white mushroom together with asparagus and baked into a foil with garlic, butter and sake. It complemented the sea bass perfectly and most definitely a healthy and filling dinner. Both dishes had hints of sweetness in them, so if you’re looking a bit more salt or balance in your dishes, you might want to ask the chef to tone it down a bit.
Tokio Joe drinks list is extensive for a Japanese restaurant of its class. They offer the usual red, whites and champagnes, alongside a wide range of sake from junmai, daiginjo to ginjo. For our orders, staff recommended that instead of the wine, we go with the chilled Kagatsuru which was very aromatic and full bodied. We also ordered the Sake Collin cocktail, a concoction of sake, lemon juice and soda water, to beat the heat.
Despite a busy setting (and early dinner time at that), the service was very attentive. Our cups weren’t empty for long and the edamame was refilled quickly. Each dish we ordered was also introduced with a hint of pride and satisfaction.
Our total bill came to a little over HK$1,200 – not too bad for 4 dishes and 4 drinks. The servings are perfectly sized and will leave you satisfied with room for desserts. Whilst not the most relaxing setting, if it’s modern Japanese food you’re craving for, then Tokio Joe is an old reliable.