May 23, 2017
A crucial aspect of many forms of Japanese cuisine, from sushi to tempura to even the humble ramen, is for patrons to observe the skill of the chefs. Mastered through years of training, the craft displayed by Japanese chefs are often subtle and understated. Teppanyaki, however, was developed precisely to be flamboyant to cater to tourist taste when it was first developed in the post-war years in Kobe. When teppanyaki migrated to the States and became popularized by Benihana, taste became secondary concern as all eyes were glued to the acrobatic performances of juggling utensils and arranging onion rings into fire-shooting volcanoes.
Obviously people take dining much more seriously nowadays and juggling is no longer a required skill for a teppanyaki chef. Teppanyaki in Hong Kong, at least decent ones, is a mighty expensive fare that can usually be found only at high end hotels. One exception is I M Teppanyaki in Tai Hang, opened in 2013 by Lawrence Mok, the former executive chef of Inayaka and Nadaman who was trained at Yamato in Tokyo.
My last visit was two years ago; in the meantime I M Teppanyaki was awarded a Michelin star. Signs of how immensely proud Mok feels about this recognition are everywhere — the front page of his restaurant’s website where he was standing next to the Michelin mascot; the Michelin memorabilia behind the main grill table; the Michelin star sewed on his right sleeve. Mock all we want about the Michelin’s increasing irrelevance in Hong Kong, it is still a big deal for local players like Mok, for both pride and business.
We ordered a seafood lunch set ($360) and a chef’s special ($380), the only difference being the former included abalone and the latter beef. First up was the petal-decorated crab salad, one that wouldn’t look out of place at a top-notch French restaurant. A fresh beginning to what’s about to follow. I also noticed my point-and-shoot was having difficulty focusing in the dim light.
Iron griddle heated, oil spilled, prawns sliced — Mok began to methodically prepare the second course. His movements were swift, without any unnecessary tackiness. Right before serving he bathed the prawns in a puddle of fish broth.
The prawns were fresh with good seasoning, although a tad overcooked.
I am not a huge fan of abalone, although I understand it is not an easy ingredient to prepare — a minute too short or long on the griddle and the meat would turn into sturdy rubber. From South Africa, the abalone’s texture was chewy but not jaw-breaking, and the seasoning of seaweed and fish broth was adequate without being overwhelming.
Rarely served in Hong Kong, I tend to avoid tilefish because of its high mercury concentration. The preparation by Mok was unusual by Mok; after placing a frying pan on the griddle and half-filled it with oil, he put the tilefish scale down in the pan and cooked it for around five minutes. The pumpkin sauce was separately prepared and the fish was beautifully served on a plate.
This was the highlight of the meal. The skin was very crispy while the flesh retained a little bit of translucency. There was enough flavour even without the sauce.
The final dishes came in rapid succession. Fried rice was the most labour-intensive, requiring constant stirring to ensure all the ingredients were properly cooked and most of the moisture removed from the rice. Served with miso soup, pickled vegetable and stir-fried bean sprouts, the rice was firm and chewy without the oiliness found in poorly made fried rice. Our final dish of sliced U.S. beef with dried garlic was served as a side, cooked perfectly to medium rare.
Dinner easily costs more than $1,000, so even taking into account the difference in ingredient the less than $400 lunch set is a bargain, especially when prepared by chef Mok. I have visited three times since 2014; each time I found the ingredient to be high quality and the cooking meticulous. This is where I go in Hong Kong when I want a teppanyaki fix.
Address: G/F, 134 Tung Lo Wan Road, Hong Kong
Opening hours: 12:00 – 14:30, 18:00 – 22:30