Sunday, March 04, 2012

Yardbird - Hong Kong's hottest yakitori joint is smokin'

Chicken meatballs
I hate hype for the sake of hype. The bad thing about that is, once I smell hype, I think, "uh-oh, this could be horrible". I don't know why my immediate thought isn't, "oh wow, so many people are raving about it, maybe it really is awesome". I think it's a terminal illness they call cynicism.

Sea urchin and nori
Yarbird is probably one of the hottest openings Hong Kong has seen in the past year. For food people (geez, can I just say "foodies" without those crazy-bacon-donut-eating or Michelin-star-chasing connotations?) who are tuned in to the Hong Kong food "channel", so to speak, the name Yardbird is like Spice Girls on late 90s radio - it keeps cropping up.

Hokkaido scallops
Naturally, I was skeptical. An ex-Zuma chef with a yakitori joint just west of Soho? Smells like just another Soho restaurant. (And in case you didn't know, Soho is not known for a high frequency of good restaurants). But I got interested when I heard that when Matt, the chef, recs a food city in Japan, he suggests Fukuoka, as opposed to the usual suspects - Tokyo or Kyoto. In fact, when I went to Fukuoka, I went by his recommendation to Hachibei - to this day it remains one of the most awesome restaurants I've eaten at. All this means there's a good chance that he knows what he's talking about.

Tempura maitake
Since then, I'd been wanting to visit, but every time I arrived, there was a wait and usually we were too hungry. But finally, thanks to super-Yardbird-devotee @dimsumdiva, I finally made it here. Yes, there was a wait - there always is - but if you can nab a perch at the bar, you're set. The beverages are no afterthought, there's a great range of cocktails, wines, beers, sakes etc. I wanted to try everything.

Chicken knee
I wanted to try everything on the food menu too. (Another thing about being a "foodie" - you wish you had 5 stomachs and never got drunk so you can try everything.) It's mostly chicken, but you'd be missing the point if all you're looking for is breast and thigh. We're talking the whole bird here - from joints - neck, knee - to innards - gizzards, heart, liver - and even skin. There was thigh, actually, inner thigh. Talk about knife skills!

Chicken skin
We started with the uni (sea urchin) and nori - a celebration of all that's good about the ocean. As I was eating it, I kept imagining them taking a cubic metre of the sea, including all the marine life, and compressing it into that little bowl. I was also given the task of mashing up the sea urchin - I felt so naughty crushing up something that had always seemed so precious.

I think this was neck
We had pretty much the whole menu of skewers, except chicken breast. For a moment we thought we weren't going to get the coveted chicken oysters as they were sold out, but luckily we managed to get some. (Being a regular at a restaurant has it perks, so lucky that I was with one!)

Chicken hearts
My favourites were probably the chicken hearts and chicken skin. The former was served with spring onion, which really adds a spark (the green parts of spring onions are usually quite tasteless, but their wasn't - they must have good suppliers!), and takes away and fear of eating innards. We went before Valentine's Day and I joked that I would be happy to get a dozen of these instead of flowers, or even chocolate for V-day. I didn't, of course, because my boy doesn't read my blog, Twitter nor Facebook. I guess that's romantic in its own way? Oh well. Moving on.

Chicken oysters
These oysters were deliciously juicy, and with the skin on, they retained those tasty chicken oils. Speaking of skin, I should go back to that - the skewers of skin. It's like pork crackling or fried lardons, but the chicken version, and goodness, how can that be bad? The thing these have in common is that they all have plenty of fat of their own, so all you need to do it give it some heat and once the temperature's right, it'll basically start deep-frying itself inside, outside, in between layers of protein and whatnot, because that's where the fats are.

Chicken gizzards
Yes, it was mostly skewers - it is a yakitori restaurant after all - and with all these skewers, there was quite a bit of drinking, which is what makes the bill a little scary.

Chicken and egg rice
If you're with people who must have some sort of large-looking dish in order to feel full (I wasn't, we were just greedy), get one of the rices. We had the chicken and egg - the fried bits on the top there are chicken skin. The rice was wet and risotto-like, especially once you mix the onsen egg through, so the crisp shards of chicken skin did wonders for the texture. I do wish the rice would crisp up a little more at the bottom of the pan (like socarrat in a paella or the fan jiu in Chinese claypot rice) but this was nonetheless a great way to finish up.

Shiso mojito
Yardbird is a restaurant that knows what it is and is doing it well. It's a fun, quality addition to the Soho(ish) neighbourhood. You can get yakitori in a lot of places, but not packaged/delivered like this, and it actually has substance.

Bloody Kim Jong-Il
Everything is done with great care here, from food (ingredients to cooking), drinks to service. How often in Hong Kong do you find competent and truly friendly service, for example?

Yardbird Junmai
That's why I don't think Yardbird is just about hype. It has real value, at least for a segment of the market that wants and appreciates food, drink and service in one slick, independently-run operation. And if it gets more so-hip-it-hurts types eating chicken heart, then all the better for it.

33-35 Bridges St.
Soho/Sheung Wan
Hong Kong
+852 2547 9273
Dinner from 6pm Mon-Sat, no reservations*

*I hate queuing for food, but I'm okay as long as I can wait with a drink at the bar, or if I can leave my number and they'll call me when a table is ready, both of which are done at Yardbird, so voilĂ . (Plus, the business model of having people drink while they wait, whether or not it was intentional, is pretty genius. Everyone knows you make larger profits from drinks!)

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  1. looks good! haven't hv chicken hearts for a long time, should pay a visit soon!

  2. These look absolutely delicious, especially the chicken neck!