Jun Yakitori

About

There are surprisingly few proper yakitori restaurants in Hong Kong. Places like Sapporo Ramen and Watami offer it as well as other things, and others do full on barbecue, but there’s not many dedicated to the little barbecued skewers. Which is why I was so eager to try Jun Yakitori when I read it was one of the best yakitori restaurants in the city.

The restaurant feels like one of those hidden backstreet restaurants you get in Tokyo. Entering through swinging wooden doors, you step into a slightly gloomy, tavern-like interior. There are small wooden tables and writing scrawled over the lumpy clay walls. To one side is a bar counter behind which a woman busily tends to skewers on the hissing grill, sending smoky smells wafting through the room.

The slightly confusing menu has a wide selection of meat, fish and vegetable skewers to be grilled, costing from about HK$20 upward. We started with a few chicken skewers. The ‘Chicken With Long Onion’ turned out to be small pieces of meat interspersed with pieces of leek. These were nicely cooked so the leek was just lightly charred and still had a freshness and crispness, while the meat was well grilled to leave it with a smoky and succulent taste. Unlike many satay skewers, which have very chewy and fibrous bits of chicken, these were pleasingly soft. A few pieces were perhaps a little too salty, but it was a promising start.

Next came skewers of Chicken skin that looked depressingly small and shrivelled on the plate, but made up for their size with the flavour they had – indulgently fatty and juicy. Following these where a couple of chicken heart skewers which had wonderfully soft and smooth texture and had been done in a way that really brought out meat’s potent flavours.

The dried mushroom skewers were somewhat disappointing. While they had the nice woody flavour typical of these big brown mushrooms, the grilling had dried them out and they really could have done with a bit more moisture – their lack of juiciness contrasting with all the pieces of meat. Quail egg skewers were better though, coming garnished with strands of seaweed that contrasted nicely with the smooth creamy white of the eggs.

Then came the highlight – a wonderfully cooked piece of grilled saba (mackarel). The fish’s skin was beautifully charred and blistered by the grill, leaving it tasting really moreishly salty and smoky. Its crispness contrasted perfectly with the soft white fish flesh inside, the flakes of which were all infused with a subtle smoky flavour. I felt like I could easitilyorgo the rest and come here just to eat this dish.

To finish off, we had a roasted rice ball with cod-roe inside. This was also really excellent.The big plump grains of pearl rice round the outside a nice golden colour and deliciously cirspy, while the rice around the roe stayed soft and perfectly cooked.

The portion sizes of a lot of the dishes here are admittedly quite small. But this is made up for, in my opinion, by the quality of the cooking and ingredients. This is definitely a good place to come to have yakitori.

Directions

33A Hillwood Road, Tsim Shah Tsui, Hong Kong
+852 2311 9291

Japanese Style Grilled Salmon

The Japanese are masters at preparing fish. Whether precisely slicing it into sushi and sashimi, or grilling it lightly, they always succeed in bringing out the natural  flavours of the fish so well. Their knowledge of the fish, and the techniques they use to prepare it have been carefully refined over more than a thousand years.Whilst I really like Japanese raw fish dishes, probably my favourite part of the cuisine are the different grilled fish. I remember the first time I had grilled tuna jaw in Hong Kong – breaking through that crisp charred skin with my chopsticks to reveal soft flesh that parted into small pieces when touched. Each piece was spongy and loaded with flavour, bearing a subtle hint of smoke from the grill.

Unfortunately getting Japanese grilled fish in the UK is much harder than getting sushi and ramen, which have spread widely around the world. Because of this, I decided that I would try to cook my own. Searching the shelves of a local Korean store, I picked out some special citrus infused soy-sauce that said it was ideal for dipping fish and meat. I hoped this might make a decent enough version of the sauce usually served with fish in restaurants.

I also picked up a huge white daikon radish from my local Chinese supermarket, chopping it up into tiny pieces. I bought a few chunky pieces of salmon from the local market. To prepare these, I first rubbed salt into them on all sides. Then I put them to soak for five minutes or so in a mixture of salt and boiling water. I was loosely following this recipe.

I used a top down grill. Technically, you’re supposed to grill the fish from below using a special oven but I didn’t have this option. I first placed the fish skin down directly onto the metal bars of the grill tray. I wanted to let the flesh toughen up a bit in cooking before I laid this down, fearing it would break apart and fall through the grill. I left it for about 10 minutes on each side, about 10cm below the hot grill, until the surface of this fish and the skin began to blister a little.

Overall, this seemed to work pretty well. The skin and the upper surface of the fish both had a nice, salty crispness to them, but this wasn’t as good as the smoky charred taste a real grill would give. The salmon flesh didn’t dry out at all and had a good full flavour. It wasn’t quite as succulent as the versions I have had in restaurants, and I wonder if trying recipes which marinade the fish might help with this. Unless somebody wants to tell me of a Japanese restaurant doing great grilled fish in the UK, I shall have to keep experimenting.