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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ronin, Sheung Wan, Central, Hong Kong

Flower crab with uni and mitsuba at Ronin, Hong Kong

Flower crab with sea urchin roe. It all makes sense with that first mouthful. The sweet and soft flakes of flower crab topped with gleaming petals of buttery, creamy and briny sea urchin roe. Ronin is one of Hong Kong's hottest restaurants right now. This is one of the reasons. There are more.

The unmarked door entrance to Ronin, Hong Kong

If you do manage to score a booking in this tiny 20-seater, finding the restaurant is your next challenge. The entrance sits in a quiet laneway with no signage, lights or windows apparent. It's like they're making you earn your right to a coveted seat.

Diners entering the secret doorway at Ronin, Hong Kong

The restaurant website does prompt you to look for the dark grey door with a wooden handle, but even then it's a surprise when the door slides open to reveal a narrow but brightly lit modern bar.

Diners sitting at the bar at Ronin, Hong Kong

There are just ten high stools for pre-booked diners that run down one end of the room. Along the opposite wall is a counter for walk-ins, however diners must stand - there are no stools. It doesn't deter eager punters. The restaurant is full all night.

Yashiro black sesame shochu at Ronin, Hong Kong
Yashiro black sesame shochu HK$105 / AU$15

Ronin is the second venture by Matt Abergel and Lindsay Jang, the same duo behind Yardbird which burst onto Hong Kong's dining scene in 2011. Where Yardbird is all about yakitori and small snacks, Ronin zeroes in on seafood, while still upholding its Japanese cuisine focus.

The drinks menu is hectic. I count 132 different whiskeys on offer that hail from all over the globe. Then there are the sections devoted to sake, shochu and umeshu. There are nine different umeshu, or plum wines, alone.

I kick things off with the yashiro black sesame shochu, not crudely overwhelming with black sesame flavour, but you can detect wafts of it with the nose, and there's a definite echo of charcoal nuttiness on the palate.

Shigoku oysters at Ronin, Hong Kong
Shigoku oyster with red shiso vinegar and sudachi HK$42 / AU$6 each

I visited Hong Kong earlier this year. It had been a last minute decision, but a generous offer by Mr and Mrs Pig Flyin' to join them on their trip was too good to refuse. They texted me one night when I was in Melbourne to see if I wanted to come, and I booked my plane ticket the very next morning.

There are five of us dining tonight and we attack the menu with gusto, sharing as many dishes as possible. Shiigoku oysters are the first to arrive. They're plump and shiny, dressed simply with red shiso vinegar and sudachi, a king of Japanese citrus. They don't have the same intensity of flavour as Sydney rocks, but they have a pleasing briny sweetness.

Chinu black sea bream sashimi, suzuki sea bass sashimi and saba mackerel sashimi at Ronin, Hong Kong
[Clockwise from bottom left]: Chinu black sea bream sashimi  HK$70 / AU$10;
suzuki sea bass sashimi HK$70 / AU$10;
and saba mackerel sashimi with persimmon and smoke HK$70 / AU$10

Presentation of every dish is immaculate, none more so than with our trio of sashimi. The precisely flattened bed of shaved ice holds aloft three different fish, each glistening like jewels. We humbly chew the quivering slices of Chinu black sea bream sashimi covered in a cloud of finely shaved karasumi orange mullet roe and yuzu; the tightly rolled curls of sea bass with konbu and soy; and the thick pieces of saba mackerel sashimi, its oiliness tempered by little life rafts of persimmon.

Ika squid carpaccio at Ronin, Hong Kong
Ika squid carpaccio with sudachi and olive oil HK$160 / AU$22

When the ika squid carpaccio arrives, I almost think they've forgotten it. You can barely make out the squid, camouflaged against the backdrop of white.

Ika squid carpaccio sliver at Ronin, Hong Kong
Ika squid carpaccio 

The squid has been sliced paper thin until almost translucent, drizzled with olive oil and more sudachi Japanese citrus, similar but not the same as yuzu. The squid has that slight stickiness that comes with fresh seafood, and there's a gentle chewiness that we relish.

Ikura salmon roe with creme fraiche and yuzu at Ronin, Hong Kong
Ikura salmon roe with creme fraiche and yuzu HK$170 / AU$24

An unlabelled tin can is delivered to our table and then quickly open by our waiter to reveal a lustrous pile of salmon roe huddled over creme fraiche.

Potato chips with ikura salmon roe creme fraiche and yuzu at Ronin, Hong Kong
Potato crisps for scooping up the ikura salmon roe

A cup full of housemade potato crisps yields a snack of the highest order. The salty crunch of the chip pairs marvellously with the briny bursts of salmon roe and the slick of creme fraiche beneath.

Flower crab with uni and mitsuba at Ronin, Hong Kong
Flower crab with uni and mitsuba HK$340 / AU$47

The flower crab shell is tiny but it is packed with sweet morsels of crab and topped with fillets of sea urchin roe. If this dish looks familiar, it's because this is what Pig Flyin' recreated for our recent Stomachs Eleven dinner party.

Pig Flyin's homemade dishes (right) and the original Ronin dishes he was inspired by (left)
Pig Flyin's homemade dishes (right) and the original Ronin dishes he was inspired by (left)

On the left you can see the original dishes we ate at Ronin. The dishes on the right are Pig Flyin's versions. The full post with photos on that incredible dinner can be read here.

Geoduck with spring onion, ginger and crispy rice at Ronin, Hong Kong
Geoduck with spring onion, ginger and crispy rice HK$150 / AU$21

I'd only ever seen geoduck on episodes of Top Chef, so I was keen for this first encounter. The geoduck has a rubbery chewiness not dissimilar to abalone. It's perked up here with coriander, fine slivers of spring onion, ginger and puffed up kernels of rice.

Hamaguri clam with ginger, chilli and sake at Ronin, Hong Kong
Hamaguri clam with ginger, chilli and sake HK$170 / AU$23

Hamaguri clam is another textural delight, the bivalve gently steamed with ginger, chilli and sake until tender.

Market chips with black sugar and Kyoto shichimi at Ronin, Hong Kong
Market chips with black sugar and Kyoto shichimi HK$42 / AU$6

Is it any surprise that these market chips are one of my highlights of the night? Wafer-thin crisps of lotus root, purple sweet potato and gold sweet potato snap sharply with each bite, sweetened with a black sugar glaze and dusted with a Kyoto shichimi seven spice mix.

Kochi nanban Spanish mackerei at Ronin, Hong Kong
Kochi nanban, kumquat, jalapeno HK$140 / AU$19.50

There's Spanish mackerel too, the fillets tossed through with cherry tomatoes (a massive luxury item in Hong Kong), jalapeno slices and kumquat juice.

Taku cabbage three ways at Ronin, Hong Kong
Taku cabbage three ways HK$90 / AU$12.50

Our vegetable quotient comes from a serve of taku cabbage prepared three ways. We learn that salted and dried cabbage, grilled cabbage and roasted cabbage have been combined to create a multi-layered appreciation of its taste and texture. It amplifies every nuance, and each mouthful tastes different to the next.

Quail with orange and sansho at Ronin, Hong Kong
Quail, orange, sansho HK$190 / AU$26.50

The quail is bigger than you'd expect, battered and deep-fried into familiar deliciousness. The flesh is impressively juicy for such a small bird, and sansho pepper adds a welcome kick of spiciness.

Kagoshima beef with maitake and egg yolk at Ronin, Hong Kong
Kagoshima beef, maitake and egg yolk HK$390 / AU$54

We finish up with one of the richest dishes on the menu, the kagoshima wagyu beef.

Wagyu marbled Kagoshima beef slice with maitake and egg yolk at Ronin, Hong Kong
Kagoshima beef slice with wagyu marbling

We pierce the raw egg yolk in the middle until it spills forth across the plate. The others find this dish a little on the sweet side, but I'm happy to finish with this as a kind of dessert. There are meaty maitake mushrooms, whiskers of green onion and deep golden brown garlic chips but nothing can steal the limelight from the kagoshima beef, decadently marbled, and so fatty you can let it sit on your tongue and feel it literally melting away.

This was the only restaurant we ate at in Hong Kong where I felt like I could easily have been in London, Sydney or New York. It was also the most expensive meal we had, at about AU$100 per person. The food is fresh and contemporary, but more importantly there's a great deal of respect for each and every ingredient.

>> Read the next Hong Kong post: Wet markets and street markets in Central

Bar counter seating at Ronin, Hong Kong

8 On Wo Lane, Sheung Wan, Central, Hong Kong
(Look for the door with a wooden handle of a dark grey building to the left of JuJu Flowers - see photo at start of this post) 
Tel: +852 2547 5263
For reservations, email seats@roninhk.com up to 7 days in advance. Limited walk-ins are available.

Opening hours:
Monday to Saturday 6pm - 12 midnight
Closed Sundays

>> Read the next Hong Kong post: Wet markets and street markets in Central

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Hong Kong - Wet markets and street markets in Central

Malaysia - Food tour with Australian Masterchef winner Adam Liaw
Philippines - Ice cream with cheese, turtle stew and sizzling pigs head
Spain - Chocolate con churros and other must-eats in Madrid
Singapore - Marina Bay Sands to hawker markets in 140 photos
USA - The great donut, fried chicken and bbq tour
25 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/19/2014 12:25:00 am


  • At 6/19/2014 12:49 am, Anonymous Padaek said…

    Fine looking place Helen and the food looks exceptional. Love the presentation of those shaved ice platters. :)

  • At 6/19/2014 5:03 am, Anonymous ChopinandMysaucepan said…

    Dear Helen,

    What an amazing feast from the oysters to sashimi and beef! A$100 per head for this kind of quality, I reckon it's bloody good value compared to some fine diners in Sydney.

  • At 6/19/2014 7:33 am, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    OMG this is some next level stuff! That marbling on the wagyu looks freakin' tops!

  • At 6/19/2014 9:03 am, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    Places like this are a real gem. A little elusive and exceptional in delivery. Great value and, by the look of it, you can have a conversation without yelling.

  • At 6/19/2014 11:29 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow the food looks exceptional. Looking forward to all your other posts on HK food :)

  • At 6/19/2014 2:32 pm, Anonymous Eha said…

    Probably one of the most appetizing 'degustation' meals I have seen in my life [and I have luckily travelled!] - but OMG those prices . . . even in my much wealthier days I would have shuddered ere spending this kind of money!! Great for you to enjoy, do not get me wrong:) !! Interesting for us to read!!!!

  • At 6/19/2014 2:49 pm, Blogger Jacq said…

    omg that beef looks amazing! can't wait to read about the rest of your HK eats!

  • At 6/19/2014 3:05 pm, Blogger Milktea Eats said…

    i love the presentation of the dishes! so exquisite! adding this to my list of to eats in hk!

  • At 6/19/2014 6:08 pm, Anonymous JJ - 84thand3rd said…

    What perfectly delicate looking (and sounding) dishes!

  • At 6/19/2014 8:58 pm, Anonymous angela@mykikicake said…

    That is some exquisite looking food. The flower crab looks so good...but everything is so pricy $$.

  • At 6/19/2014 11:03 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    i cant stop staring at the salmon roe, i just want some alone time and pop each globule one at a time and not share

  • At 6/20/2014 1:06 am, Anonymous sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    When next in Hong Kong this is a serious contender for my patronage. I do think that 'hidden' restaurants are the best.

  • At 6/20/2014 1:06 am, Anonymous sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    When next in Hong Kong this is a serious contender for my patronage. I do think that 'hidden' restaurants are the best.

  • At 6/20/2014 9:12 am, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    Oh I love the exclusivity and secrecy behind this place. Each morsel looks so carefully constructed, it reminds me a little of our amazing albeit pricey dinner at Waku Ghin in Singapore. It was my first experience of hitting one fo the World's Best 50. Now I want to eat at them all!

  • At 6/20/2014 1:44 pm, Blogger Annie said…

    the food looks so fancy here. loving the marbling on that wagyu beef. can imagine that this would be expensive for Hong Kong standards but it would probably be much higher if it opened in Sydney

  • At 6/20/2014 4:45 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Dear Helen,

    The food here looks delectable.

    I have my eyes on those oysters!!


  • At 6/20/2014 11:35 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Have to visit this place when I am in HK! This is just crazy :D

  • At 6/21/2014 2:53 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    It's like the most magical of doorways which led you to seafood heaven! I love the care & detail in this most delicious food. The salmon roe & wagyu dish have definitely stolen my heart! Before I even get a chance to visit & eat there!!! ;)

  • At 6/22/2014 12:23 am, Anonymous Gourmet Getaways said…

    Enough of the display of delectable, mouthwatering and delightful dish! Starting from the crab with sea urchin roe, to the oysters, to the squid, to everything!
    Love 'em all!

    Gourmet Getways

  • At 6/22/2014 3:03 pm, Anonymous msihua said…

    Wow! Super exclusive eh? And all that fantastic fresh food. I WANT TO GO!!!

  • At 6/23/2014 11:50 am, Anonymous Olivia @ mademoiselleinsydney said…

    Wooooow! That marbling is unbelievable!!! I can't believe i've recently been to HK this year so will have to wait to come back and try this place!

  • At 6/24/2014 12:36 pm, Anonymous Berny @ I Only Eat Desserts said…

    OMG that crab is so beautifully presented - looks so good! And that marbling on the beef yum! Looks like an amazing meal :)

  • At 6/27/2014 11:10 pm, Anonymous Amanda @ Gourmanda said…

    Wow! I've only recently come back from Hong Kong myself, and I have to say that this is a class or two (or three, or four!) above my usual Hong Kong haunts of diners and yum cha restaurants!

  • At 8/27/2014 1:04 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm defs going to try out this place next time Im HK

    just a quick question,

    Is it hard getting a table?

  • At 8/31/2014 12:07 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Jorge - Would definitely recommend you book as far ahead as possible. They do have some room for walk-ins, but you'll be standing.


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