Causeway Bay, similar to New York’s Times Square or Tokyo’s Shinjuku, is mostly a culinary wasteland where easy tourist money rules. There are some exceptions, mainly small Japanese joints tucked inside the upper floors of nondescript commercial buildings. Two favourites among my group of friends are Tori Izakaya and Rakuen. Truth be told I don’t find both as some great shakes, but we keep going back since they usually manage to satisfy everyone’s palates.
Dining out in Hong Kong is often an uncomfortable exercise with cramped seating and uninspiring service. Tori Izakaya takes everything up a notch: dim lighting, poor ventilation, washroom an adult can barely fit in, table packed so close I could smell the breath of the person sitting next to me. On this evening we get treated the special bonus when water incessantly drips on our table from the air conditioner above. Enough ranting — we come not for its ambience but the food, and there are a few items that manage to not let us down every time.
The thick cut beef tongue is consistently great. Overcooked tongue is tough like a mouth guard, but here it is crunchy while retaining some rawness in the middle. Also delicious is the extremely tender Australian wagyu — the metallic taste of lightly grilled meat matches well with the heavy-handed salt and pepper seasoning.
The chicken skewers fare less well. The minced chicken ball is a bastardization of the words “minced” and “ball” — the overcooked meat has the texture of chicken fillet and is completed overpowered by the same heavy seasoning that served the beef so well. Stuffed chicken wings with mentaiko are a little dry.
The worst skewer of the night is the eel. No magic can transform stale eel that reeks of mud into food that should see the light of day in a restaurant.
I can’t tell how fresh the shrimp is, which is wrapped around a layer of chicken skin — that way the freshness of the shellfish is less noticeable. This does taste very good as the chicken skin’s crispiness adds an element to the skewer.
By this point we are about 70% full. We order a few more skewers without any anticipation they will arrive a good hour later. No matter how many times we chase our order or request to cancel them, the waitresses invariably say our order is to arrive in a few minutes without even checking with the kitchen. Remember, this place is so tiny almost every table can see what’s going on throughout the rest of the restaurant. Everyone misses order sometimes, but never have I chased an order for five times and have my request blatantly ignored each and every time.
When the sweet yam, cuttlefish with shiso roll and grilled rice ball finally appear, we have long past the point of wanting to leave this suffocating space where half of our table is covered by air conditioner’s dripped water. All of them taste fine, especially the cuttlefish roll where the shiso gives the otherwise tasteless white flesh some kick, but our attention is solely on the arrival of our bill.
The bill arrives 15 minutes after my third request for it. Even though the waitresses are fully aware of our displeasure, comically they have the nerve to not double check our bill, which includes several mistakes. People who don’t give a damn often are capable of doing the unimaginable. Hong Kong isn’t particularly well known for its customer service, but very rarely does a place that charges $400 per head (without drinks) exude such complete disregard on the basic concept of following up on a patron’s requests.
Tori Izakaya’s service has always been spotty at best, and after this latest encounter I will try hard to steer my friends to another spot on our next gathering.
Address: 17/F, Macau Yat Yuen Centre, 525 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay
Opening hours: 18:00 – 1:00