Yardbird, Hong Kong review date July 8 2015
60 Second review so no score
It normally takes a fair few decades for a restaurant to become what you can call an institution (see my review of Jimmy’s Kitchen this week). Yardbird has somehow managed it in under four. After quickly becoming the hottest restaurant in town, it still maintains an enviable and much-loved reputation – just try finding someone who went and left disappointed.
Their formula started by taking on an old building on a pretty quiet dead end street in those hard-to-define borders of Soho and Sheung Wan. I spent five years living smack opposite it, so knew the block inside out – the cramped but always-popular Oyster Station, the lady selling cigs and sodas from her front room with her cat on a string, the subterranean bar where I’m told Cantopop stars would head judging by the occasional paparazzo outside – but most of all the lovely, dilapidated end block with what real estate agents would call ‘potential’. This is where Yardbird eventually made its nest and four years later it’s the sole survivor.
The key to their success – and to becoming something of an institution – has been their consistency. Time and again the service is on point, the cocktails well mixed, the tunes just so (although Curtis Mayfield needs a rest), the atmosphere buzzing. Most of all, of course, it’s the food. If you’ve been before you probably end up ordering more or less the same things each time. If not, here are the go-tos that can’t go wrong. There’s no order to your order, it’s all about sharing.
Cucumber salad takes the world’s dullest vegetable to a whole new place under a simple combo of tahini, miso and pine nuts. The only issue is the size which, given the cost of the ingredients, could definitely be more generous for $98.
I’ve had something of a Brussels Sprout epiphany recently – and even voluntarily started cooking them – thanks in part to Yardbird showing that all they need is some black and crispy garlic to have the table fighting over the last one, something that never happened in my childhood:
Garlic again, this time pickled with the eggplant salad and tosazu, a Japanese sauce made from vinegar and soy. Slightly sweet, slightly pickled, slightly textured, it’s another great balance in their trademark chipped metallic bowls.
Sweetcorn tempura is super simple, dusted with sea salt and pepper. Hot, sweet, crispy bar food of joy.
Before the birds arrive which give the Yard their name, a penultimate dish of tempura maitake mushrooms served simply with a flavoured salt whose nuance I missed. Again it’s not clever, constructed or fine dining, but just great sharing food with good base ingredients.
The last vegetarian hurrah for arguably their most talked-about dish, the Korean Fried Cauliflower or KFC. It’s a ride: It mixes the first sweet and caramelized bite of a toffee apple with the unexpected base of steaming hot cauliflower, before the fizz of lime juice and only towards the end a discrete but determined hint of chilli that lingers on the palate. If there’s a more compelling use of cauliflower, I’m yet to find it. It’s actually a criminal offence to order just one bowl.
The yakitori sticks come towards the end, first up the chicken oysters that the French so wonderfully call the ‘sot l’ y laisse’ – i.e. ‘only a fool would miss it’ – as many carvers forget to remove it from its hiding place above the thigh. My vote is with the purists that it’s the most densely flavoured part of the bird, a unique mouth feel enlivened by charcoal, seasoning and a squeeze of lemon:
The chicken meatballs round things off, sculpted meat karaage to be dipped decadently in their mix of egg yolk and soy basting sauce.
With some cocktails and waters, dinner for four came in at $1800. There’s no denying that’s a pretty reasonable price point for Hong Kong and food that keeps you coming back for more. Owners Lindsay Jang and Matt Abergel are still working their magic in the city’s latest institution.
(The no-reservations policy has deterred a few in the past, but on this Monday there were a couple tables free when we left happy and replete at 8pm.)