Restaurant Review – Yakitori Omakase at Toritama
Winters are all about warming comfort foods, and yakitori is a particular favourite of mine when the temperature drops outdoors. There’s something primeval and seductive about the sizzle of animal protein over fire that beckons to my inner caveman. This is perhaps, why man discovered fire.
Toritama, one of the hottest (excuse the pun!) yakitori restaurants in Tokyo, has flown the coop with a new location perched on steep Glenealy Street in Central, Hong Kong. Modelled after the Tokyo location, the new HK edition is a mix of bar and counter seating surrounding an open grill theatre tailored in modern clean lines and dark wood. The term “yakitori” literally means 焼鳥 (grilled bird), and Toritama’s menu takes diners on a grand tour of the beak-to-tail experience. More than 20 parts of the chicken are currently on offer on Toritama’s Hong Kong menu, with “unusual” additions slowly being added to entice adventurous palates.
In Hong Kong, the yakitori master behind the grill is Hironobu Matsumoto, a Japanese celebrity chef who’ve stared in popular TV programs back in the land of the Rising Sun. Once seated at the counter, our party of 4 decided upon the “omakase” 12-course skewers course at a tidy $588 per person. I absolutely adored the menu, which doubled as a colourful little map of a chicken’s anatomy. Very friendly, personable Head Chef Hermanus van Dyk helped us decipher the menu, and told us that Toritama takes apart around 20 freshly killed local chickens each morning in preparation for the dinner service. They always use freshly slaughtered chicken from the same day.
We began our omakase dinner with ice cold glasses of nama-beru (draft beer), and sweet refreshing sake. There was a selection of flavoured seasoning to accompanying our skewers, ranging from a lemony pepper to traditional seven-spice powder, to a peppery concoction. We were also given a dipping sauce of grated radish centered with a raw quail egg.
We first refreshed our palates with a simple salad before dipping into the skewers.
(Clockwise from left) First up, was mini balls of chicken tsukune. There were subtle bits of cartilage mixed into the meatballs, although I’d much rather prefer the long sausage-like variety for its meatiness and silkiness. The best tsukune I’ve had thus far is still at Tokyo’s Teki, where their plump juicy tsukune is so full of savoury broth, that it resembled a xiaolongbao. Next up, we were served a velvety skewer of soy-glazed leba (chicken liver), with just the right amount of briny metallic note. The vibrant green skewer of kinshinsai (golden needle flower) was sweet with a subtle fragrance, while the sunagimo (chicken gizzard) made for hearty chews oozing with robust meaty flavour. It was also my first time trying misaki (hen’s tail) which was indulgently fatty with just a hint of ammonia, and crisp, caramelised skin. I ate it so fast, I forgot to take a photo – sorry!
(Clockwise from left) The skewer of peta (thick back skin) was beautifully golden with a slight crunchy skin enveloping succulent, juicy fat. On the more predictable side, the negima (chicken thigh with leek) was juicy and complimented the sweet caramelised leek perfectly. The grilled asparagus was crisp and tender, while the tokkuri (chicken neck) had addictive crispy skin.
(Clockwise from left) The best part of a chicken is the oysters, and the skewers of soriresu (chicken oyster) were simply heavenly, with juicy succulent flesh covered with just the right amount of crispy blistered skin. After the rather ordinary gingko skewer, we came to our final skewer of mitsubamaki (Japanese wild parsley wrapped in chicken breast). This was my first time tasting mitsuba, and the closest I can compare the flavour to is a cross between chervil and celery. We concluded our skewer feast with rich, creamy chicken soup, sprinkled with a confetti of garlicky negi. The broth was so rich with collagen, that our lips almost stuck together.
Chef van Dyk asked us if we wanted to try any additional skewers, and I couldn’t resist venturing into the “weird eats” territory by requesting an unborn (or dropped) egg. This item, is currently an “off-menu” selection, and only available by special request. Since the opening, they’ve only served 2 orders of this, and we were the 2nd order! I remember my childhood in Beijing, when my nanny would slaughter live chickens in our kitchen, and then I would be in awe of the yellow yolks of unformed eggs that we’d find like hidden treasures inside the hens. Well, the unborn egg is exactly this, the golden yolk of an unformed egg. In Japan, they will traditionally serve this still inside the fallopian tubes of the chicken, but for the Hong Kong crowd, the yolks are skewered like fat creamy orbs. I am so puzzled as to how they manage to skewer the yolk without having it leak everywhere. Needless to say, apart from the chicken oysters, this was my favourite skewer of the evening. The outside of the yolk was slightly caramelised, with the inside gooey centre oozing out at first bite. This was, egg porn, at its best.
At this point, we were pretty much up to the neck with food, but we couldn’t pass out on the oyako donburi, a chicken and egg rice bowl simmered in sweet soy and mirin. This could possibly be the BEST oyako donburi I’ve had in Hong Kong – the eggs were extremely buttery and silky, and the chicken cooked to juicy tenderness.
There’s only one dessert on Toritama’s menu, and at first glance, we were not sure what to expect. The mitarashi ice cream (soy sauce ice cream) had us scratching our heads, but Chef Hermanus van Dyk assured us that we’d like it, and that “the flavour will taste very familiar to you”. The small ball of dense, richly textured ice cream came with an extra dot of soy, and at first bite, we immediately recognised the “familiar flavour” the chef alluded to. It’s………salted caramel! Who knew soy sauce could taste so good as a dessert!
Verdict: The best yakitori experience in Hong Kong. We loved everything about the meal, the flavours, the quality ingredients, the refined yet laid-back environment, and the friendly service. Highlights include the chicken oyster, unborn egg and soy sauce ice cream. And at only HK$588 for a 12 skewer omakase meal with top ingredients, a very reasonable price. The skewer combinations in the omakase experience varies, so you will never get the same set twice. In fact, even the other diners that night who ordered the omakase set didn’t get the exact same skewer combinations that we got. There’s a surprise, every time, and we will certainly be back for more.
Toritama, 2 Glenealy, Central, Tel: +852 2388 7717; toritama.hk.