Intimate Social Dining – Japanese Style
Social dining, sharing plates, tapas – whatever you call it, the concept of sitting down at a table with some friends and digging into a table full of dishes is one of the best ways to eat. The trend for tapas eateries in Hong Kong has grown from traditional Spanish style, to American (think Stone Nullah Tavern), Peruvian (Chicha) and now new kid on the block, Tabibito, which brings Okazu (Japanese-tapas) to the streets of PoHo.
Tabibito has a corner spot at the top of Upper Station Street, an area of PoHo that has recently seen a surge of new restaurant openings. The interior is light and simple, and because it’s rather small, lends itself to an intimate dinner with a couple of friends rather than a huge group. You can also sit at the bar and admire the selection of draft light ales and the full range of Hitachino beers.
We started our evening with black truffle negroni and an ozen matcha. The negroni packed a punch, but was still smooth with just a light infusion of truffle, and the matcha had a beautiful rich foamy texture and can be served either cold or warm.
The food menu is divided into ‘raw‘, ‘sea‘, ‘land‘ and ‘soil‘, with an impressive list within each and ideal for group dining and catering for different tastes. Each section has at least six different dishes, and the options looked so interesting and enticing that ordering one of everything was tempting. One thing that stood out at this point was the service. Attentive without being over the top, but most refreshing was the knowledge that the server had about each dish on the menu. He was able to help us to order a balance of dishes to sample something from each section, and we were not disappointed with any of the options he suggested.
To start off, we went for a few options on the ‘soil’ menu, which features a range of vegetable based dishes. The highlights were definitely the moorish charred shishito peppers, and the sweet corn tempura with mozzarella cheese and green tea salt. These little bites were the ideal accompaniment to our rather full bodied aperitifs.
In true tapas style, the table soon started to pile up, with the arrival of a delicious looking plate of juicy razor clams, steamed in Hitachino pale ale and served in a buttery sauce. The presentation of the dish was beautiful and the light sauce with the hint of ale complimented and did not overpower the clams.
Next up came the meat dishes. Again, the menu selection meant we were spoilt for choice, but we settled on the twenty four hour short rib Nikomi. Served on the bone with a red wine demi-glace and kimchi, the meat fell off the bone and the crunch of the kimchi worked very well as an accompaniment. The dish was generously proportioned and would work for up to three sharers.
The juicy lamb chops served with karashi mustard, shisho, panki and a wasabi reduction were cooked beautifully, and still perfectly pink with a crunchy layer of fat. The wasabi reduction added just enough heat to the dish, although I would have welcomed more of this on the plate to accompany the generously sized lamb chops. To accompany the meat dishes, we had the potatoes, wrapped in bacon with truffles, red miso, chives and a chicken dahsi broth. The broth was packed full of flavour and worked well as a side dish for both the short rib and lamp chops.
All the dishes that we sampled were executed beautifully by chef Noriyuki Sugies, who comes to Hong Kong via Asiate at The Mandarin Oriental in New York. The service was some of the relaxed, but attentive and it was refreshing to be assisted by such a knowledgeable server who really understood the menu and our preferences.
With so many restaurants opening in Hong Kong, it’s important for new arrivals to have a strong concept that is not just about the interior or the food, but is delivered throughout the dining experience. Tabibito has created an intimate space that delivers quality dishes with a relaxed but knowledgable level of service that ensures diners can enjoy the ideal social dining experience.
HK HUB Verdict: 4.5 Stars
For two people including cocktails and a couple of glasses of wine, the bill was $1,600, which was settled for us by the team at Tabibito. Dishes range from $50-$208 but we ate a lot!