Iwate-Kin: Mom-and-pop izakaya (7.5)

I saw news about Iwate Kin’s opening in a Japanese magazine. It’s operated by a local chef who has quite some experience as a chef in Japanese kitchens and who I suppose had just decided to venture to open a shop of his own.

I tend to feel that sometimes people who do that are simply too aspirant or uppity to accept life forever after as an employee, or it could be people who have a vision of how things should be and who has taken action to try and make it happen—although of course it is equally easy to underestimate how much more challenging it is to take charge versus how it would seem to be. As it is, most restaurant ventures fail, and even those that we find to be wonderful are not insured against the fate.

Let’s set expectations straight. This is an izakaya, and even the most crowded izakayas in Japan will not be serving the kind of grades of sashimi that are served at a proper sushiya. The food menu is typically diverse and pretty large to suit drinkers who are out for an evening to socialize. I wouldn’t be benchmarking food here against fine dining sushi bars or thinking about their ingredients in fine detail. For me my judgment would be based on the consistency of the dishes presented across different types of foods on an all-rounded basis, the ambience of the place and the hospitality that we receive.

On our visit, we had the restaurant entirely to ourselves and we found the chef and our server to be more than courteous and accommodating, which helped us off to a great start. We picked some fresh items off the “Specials” board and ordered two sets. Some items were great, some were just okay. Pricing is in the reasonable range, although à la carte sashimi are priced just like anywhere else with no discount just because it’s a mom-and-pop. I would say that for a place that just opened, it’s doing fine, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the place to someone who’s in its immediate vicinity and just looking for a casual Japanese meal.

However, the décor is a bit crude and the interior layout a little awkwardly shaped, with spaciousness and ventilation being somewhat of an issue that reduces comfort and could be a real deal breaker for evening diners. Lighting is dim, but not in a particularly mood-lifting way. The place could benefit from some professional redesign work if it is to make diners happily seated for entire evenings–and still feel like returning. Unless, of course, the place offers an edge in pricing. But that’s just my view.

P.S. the English part of the menu can be misleading, so please check with the server. For instance, a sashimi lunch set was named a sushi set, the tokachi beef shoulder clod set wasn’t accurately named, and a salmon roe and raw salmon rice bowl dish was named “salmon sweet egg broth rice bowl”.

Food Rundown

Giant conch shell sashimi, $468
This was the real highlight and was super fresh. Crisp texture with a wonderful sweet flavor. Highly recommended.

Pacific Saury (sanma) fish sashimi, $198
The quality of the sanma was a bit subpar and the way it was cut really didn’t give its texture and mouthfeel an extra lift.

Tokachi beef shoulder clod (marinated with koji and miso) lunch set, $178
This was good. The shoulder clod is an inexpensive cut that I tend to avoid when I cook, but here this was full of flavor with a well-balanced mix of fat and lean. The koji marinade also made it a bit tenderer than usual, but not excessively so. Pleasantly surprised.

Assorted sashimi set, $329
This originally comes with a mini sea urchin don but I requested it rice-free so the entire set became two pieces each of four types of sashimi–sea urchin (uni), tuna (maguro), rosy seabass (akamutsu) and scallop (hotate). If not for the impeccable sea urchin on the day that was really quite fine dining standard, I might think the set was slightly overpriced. Akamutsu was great, the rest was just fine. Steamed egg, miso soup and appetizer (marinated ox tongue and cucumber) were all okay.

Monkfish liver
This was okay. Velvety but one piece tasted very off.

Honeycomb with sea salt ice cream and banana
Apparently the honeycomb was flown in from Japan and it was quite divine. Looks unrefined but was quite a dessert to remember.

51A Gough Street, Central, Hong Kong
$$, Japanese