Ishiyama used to be a hangout for Japanese expatriates in Hong Kong, and its chef owner has been running the izakaya for over a decade in an old residential building just across Sogo on Lockhart Road. The entrance says “Members Only” but you just book like it was any restaurant and get in.
How long does it take for the present to become history?
The place is a miniature space that takes me to an imagined zeitgeist of 90s Hong Kong. The hosting team, the chef himself and their clientele are all aged men and women. Their definition of a great meal or an authentic experience may have diverged from a younger crowd. This is a forgotten place in a bustling foodie world of urchin and truffle porn.
But the people who have been doing what they were always doing continue to live life their way. The restaurant is an incredibly busy place even before 7 and I can hear conversations about how much diners are enjoying the food.
Arriving at 6, we were seated by the chef counter and I was able to see how a lot of the simmered/ boiled dishes were actually made in advance, plated in individual portions and sitting on the table waiting to serve the evening crowd that would be pouring in at around 7.
To be sure, we enjoyed the simmered dishes that were all seasonal but the standard of execution felt more like a homemade meal. Sashimi also turned out to be a big disappointment. Servers were women in their 50s or 60s who, despite being knowledgeable about their job, felt more like old aunties. They weren’t rude or unprofessional at all, but you wouldn’t want to test the limit of their irritability.
I wouldn’t identify myself as a trend follower when it comes to food, and as much as I wanted to appreciate the place, whether it was because I admire chef owners who dedicate themselves over decades for an honest living, or because I feel drawn to places with history, I must conclude (after sampling ten dishes) that this is a place we will be writing off.
I am sure its own loyal fans will continue to frequent the place, but if you are looking for an interesting new find, I would propose not to take the risk.
Flounder sashimi (~$200) / Simmered sea snail ($60) / Simmered tofu ($45)
The flounder was paired with a vinaigrette but it was completely tasteless. The snails were really tender. The tofu was the spongey kind–it was good.
Simmered beef tendon ($65) / Simmered pumpkin ($50)
Pumpkin was super sweet. Tendons were excellent.
Pacific Saury sashimi (~$200) / Grilled Mentaiko ($60)
Both were a total disappointment. Mentaiko was too dried out and the sanma was like a 5/10 for us.
Grilled A4 Wagyu ($380/2 pieces)
Excellent. Some fried garlic pieces inside and it was a mouthful of pure ecstasy.
Octopus sashimi (~$100) / Okra ($35)
Both were fine and standard.
Our meal came down to $1314 for two, excluding drinks.
1/F, 513-515 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay