Ore-No Hong Kong review: Feb 13, 2015
Set lunches range between $80-400. À la carte options also available. Menu here.
I’m guessing somewhat, but I’d imagine that most 69 year old Japanese millionaires are content to live out their retirement and kick back with a glass or two of Yamazaki 50 as they enjoy their hard-earned fortune. Not Takashi Sakamoto. Having made his millions through bookstores, he then decided to open a chain of restaurants that have quickly revolutionised the country’s food and beverage industry.
The idea sounds, frankly, a bit nuts. Take serious, Michelin-level cuisine and serve it to diners at unfeasibly low prices, with bottles of wine at supermarket prices plus a one-off markup of no more than 999yen – ($99 in Hong Kong). Oh, and most diners eat standing up.
Sakamoto launched the first Ore-no (which means ‘my’) in Tokyo in 2011. Three years later, there are more than thirty, but this is no gimmick, where style masks substance. One of their Tokyo branches serving kaiseki, Ginza Okamoto, went from zero to two Michelin stars – in five months. This week sees the launch of the first Ore-No outside Japan on the sixth floor of Lan Kwai Fong’s spanking new California Tower.
While the building’s reception is still unfinished and the elevator whisks you past empty shells of floors, Ore-no is the finished article. It immediately feels Japanese through the extensive use of ‘masu’ or wooden sake boxes which form decorative pillars and a beautiful, unusual ceiling:
There are also regular tables with chairs, although a number of standing tables are available for those after the full-on Japan experience. Overall it’s a dining room that’s easy on the eye, if a bit incongruous for the restaurant’s aim of ‘Michelin for the Masses’. But, as always, the proof is on the plates, not in the decor. And what proof.
Chefs Hidetsugu Okamoto and Hiroshi Shimada oversee a menu of more than 60 dishes where 90% of the ingredients used are imported directly from their suppliers throughout Japan, including Tokyo’s Tsujiki market. The quality, size and price of the dishes at lunch – offered by their PR company as pre-opening publicity – is genuinely remarkable. Now while I quickly learnt not to take tasting lunches at face value, if these levels can be consistently matched and delivered when the place is full, then Hong Kong looks set to have a genu-wine dining phenomenon on its hands.
Uni comes in the form of a mousse under ‘chicken soup jelly’ and some striking but unnecessary culinary bling of gold leaf and caviar. It’s not needed because the uni mousse is so rich and strong, fresh from the Hokkaido coast, while the jelly is like a set consommé that retains all its feel-good-for-the-soul factor. Most of all, somehow these two ingredients from land and sea work beautifully together.
‘Today’s sashimi’ brings three wedges of otoro so fatty that for a split second I’m bamboozled and think I’m tasting wagyu. The photo doesn’t lie. How they can serve this for such a low price – alongside kelp noodles, black seaweed and three more slices of sashimi – is just beyond me.
A dashi soup with shrimp ball and konbu seaweed is light and cleansing, the perfect counterpoint to the previous Omega explosion.
The only off-note for me at lunch was the lobster with lotus root and Tosa vinegar, still a decent mouthful but not reaching the lofty heights of the other dishes through comparatively muted flavors.
But Ore-No get straight back on their horse with an absolutely sensational A5 Kuroge Wagyu tenderloin with pan-fried foie gras, potato pureé and truffle sauce. Sweet Lord. It’s just one of the best pieces of meat I’ve eaten in Hong Kong, a brilliant ingredient carefully and appropriately cooked. It would feel right at home in any one of the two and three Michelin-starred French restaurants in Hong Kong – and would shame a lot of high end steakhouses at the same time. À la carte, it’s $460, which is nothing short of madness for these ingredients and this level of execution. It’s also more than enough for two.
Interestingly we finish with mackerel sushi. Not my usual post-steak dish, but again it’s a salutary reminder that you are in a little corner of Japan. It’s served onigiri wrapped in seaweed and naturally – as with all sushi – celebrates the rice as much as the fish.
What may represent the most interesting element for diners is that they offer a range of more than 40 wine and exclusive sake options – and sommeliers will be on hand to guide diners. I can imagine fellow Hong Kong restaurateurs going somewhat ballistic and freaking out at the thought that customers will see how are they getting ripped off elsewhere on wine. For that alone – and much more besides – Ore No seems to be set for a very rosy future.
Ore-no Kappou, 6/F, California Tower, 32 D’Aguilar Street, Central; Tel:+852 2328-3302 https://www.facebook.com/orenohongkong
In case you’re interested, this ABC news report shows one of the Tokyo branched in action: