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Windowless and shrouded in black, one could easily be forgiven for walking straight past Youka on Johnston Road without noticing. Once inside, it is a modestly sized space punctuated by green tones to remind us of its oceanic offerings. Seating is split into small side tables, a high communal table, or at the sushi counter, whose wall stands disappointingly high, concealing all the action behind it. Sitting here means one is at the epicentre of activity – from being barked over by waiter to chef on the right, elbowing the kitchen pass on the left and reclining awkwardly into the till behind.
Washoku cooking is an integrated approach to Japanese cooking that famed chef Katsuhiro Ito serves here at Youka, taking into account deeply rooted history and habits, nutrition and aesthetics. The menu is extensive, offering all means of sushi, sashimi, grilled or stewed items, fried dishes and noodles. The deluxe assorted sushi arrives brimming with freshness and variety, with the toro and uni particularly enjoyable, however, the chef is too heavy-handed with wasabi, especially considering the virtually zero tolerance level for heat the average Hong Kong palate is renowned for. Smaller dishes such as the spicy cod roe and grilled ox tongue with black pepper would be an ideal accompaniment to some ice cold sake or beer, while the inaniwa udon is wonderfully chewy and served in a warming broth. The teapot soup boasts a smoky quality with equally delicious chunks of seafood and mushrooms hiding in the teapot. The assorted tempura is the lowest point of the meal due to its rock-hard batter. Dessert options are scarce, with a scoop of green tea and sesame ice cream rather lacklustre.
It’s no surprise there is a focus on sakes, with the Nishiyama Hanafubuki Junmai Ginjyo recommended to complement the sushi platter an undeniable match. Wines by the glass are scant but there is also a variety of shochus and plum wines available.
Service is knowledgeable and friendly with careful attention towards keeping tea fresh and warm, and sake glasses filled a top priority. Upwards of six servers in such a tiny space though, is a tad chaotic.
A meal for two with sake will come to HK$1,600, which considering the jet-fresh produce and keen eye for detail, is tolerable. Several set menu options ranging from HK$550 to HK$1,280 are available during dinner.