"Walk down the alley to a row of nondescript buildings and watch out for the unmarked grey one with a wooden door". Those were the instructions a friend gave me when she told me about Ronin a few months after they opened in 2013. Finding Ronin is part of the fun, and the start of what would be an adventurous evening of fine (sea)food and drink.
Opened by the same young restaurateurs that manage the always packed yakitori temple Yardbird and the more casual fried chicken and sandwich place Sunday's Grocery, Ronin is a sleek dining bar that focuses on modern Japanese cuisine served with a large selection of Japanese scotch, sake (rice wine), shochu (sake-based liqueur), umeshu (ume fruit based liqueur) and Japanese craft beers.
Ronin features a daily changing menu on a single sheet of paper where seafood is the star. T and I opted for the 12-course tasting menu to get a feel of their food. The first half of the menu features raw seafood which we had with some cold sake. We started off with a cold raw Shigoku oyster lightly seasoned with red shiso vinegar followed by the sashimi selection: shima aji, kintokidai red bigeye snapper, hotate scallop and ojisan goatfish, all simply served on a bowl of crushed ice. The third course was delicious flower crabmeat chunks tossed with uni slivers and put back in the shell. The last of the raw seafood courses was a yuzu baby yellowtail sashimi sliced so thinly that you could see the black plate through the fish. The fifth raw course was skinless wedges of extra-sweet fruit tomato with just salt and pepper.
The second part of the menu were the cooked dishes starting off with grilled tilefish, daikon, white ponzu and crispy fish scales - crunchy, hot, creamy and salty in one bite. The seventh was their signature KFC a.k.a. korean fried crab deep-fried soft shell crablets with chili sauce - just like crab popcorn and a fine dining version of their other uber-popular Yardbird KFC (Korean fried cauliflower). Next up was the white ale battered hirame, yuzu mayo along with a small glass of very cold white ale. The most interesting flavor combination of the evening was the ninth course of fried triggerfish in honey, Kyoto shichimi sauce and crispy chestnut slivers (which looked just like garlic) that they suggested we have with a Japanese Hakushu single malt scotch and soda water. Not being a usual Scotch drinker, I was surprised at how the hot-crispy-sweet-salty fish paired so well with the refreshing highball. The next two courses: wild tiger prawns, bamboo fennel, tomato confit served in a stone pot like a seafood stew and the deep fried quail, orange zest, sansho pepper were a blur and we just tasted bit of each. The final course:unagi, kinome, chirashi was another stunner and this one, we finished up to the last grain of rice. We were pleasantly stuffed at this point, and all we had space for was a couple of sips each of the dessert-like digestifs cocoa nib shochu and coffee shochu.
Two and a half hours later as we stumbled up the stairs onto the street, we happily realized that evenings like the one we just had at Ronin are few and far between, and should be repeated more often. I'm already planning my next trip to Hong Kong.
8 On Wo Lane, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2547 5263
No tables, only 12 bar seats that can be reserved two weeks in advance, Walk-ins welcome at the stand-up counter
Dinner only: 6 pm to midnight, Monday to Saturday