Roji—a New Izakaya in the Heart of Lan Kwai Fong
Taking over the space that previously housed the infamous Brickhouse, Roji has quite the reputation to live up to—but it's well on the right track. The buzzing izakaya joint sits within a nondescript LKF alley which, upon arrival, will take you aback in comparison to its surroundings. Brimming with a cheerful crowd and the scents of delicious Japanese bites and scrumptious highballs to kick off the evening, we dropped by the late-night hotspot to try some of the signature dishes and recommended drinks on a busy weekday evening.
Roji is aptly named after the word roji ura, meaning alleyway in Japanese. The walk-in restaurant was surprisingly very busy when we arrived—full, in fact (the picture above was taken before leaving, after dinner and around closing time). Being surrounded by chatter and laughter in a chic drinking environment brought waves of joy—a well-deserved perk of the recent post-semi-lockdown openings. Inside, R&B and hip hop tunes fill the air, adding to the cool atmosphere which is evident from the moment you walk in. For founder Agnes Mu, Roji's setting brings back memories of her home Japan and its late-night casual sanctuaries for light bites, cold drinks and music. Here, the food adds a touch of French fare to the traditional Japanese dishes to honour Agnes' two favourite cuisines.
Image courtesy of Faye Bradley | CSP Times
We started with a couple of refreshing highballs to toast to an exciting new opening in Hong Kong. First, we tried a variety of starter dishes (from left to right):
'Torotaku' tuna, yellow daikon, crispy nori
Scallops, yuzu dashi, celtuce
Hamachi, umami, ikura, kombu, bottarga
Ingredients on Roji's menu are all sourced directly from Japan, with emphasis on the fresh fish which is flown in daily. The only exception is the vegetables that are grown in the New Territories and brought in to support local farming. The nori dish was a unique take on sushi variations, offering a 'DIY' playful experience for guests to tuck into, using puréed seasoned tuna and chives with pickled yellow daikon for a subtle sour uplift. Meanwhile, the scallops were lusciously soft and paired with a sweet yuzu dashi sauce, exuding a subtle charred surface to bring out the umami flavours. My favourite of the three was the hamachi—usually, it's my top pick actually—a thinly-sliced, delicate dish with the right amount of sweet and savoury.
Roji's interpretation of the classic chicken katsu was incredible. Although this is usually a staple that never really stands out from other Japanese dishes, Roji proved me otherwise. The exceptionally crispy 'secret panko mixture' exterior was gold and crackling while the chicken thigh meat comprised a myriad of flavours spanning rosemary and chilli for a complex taste that I hadn't experienced before. Paying tribute to the traditional pairing, the chicken was complemented with a bed of sharp and sweet tonkatsu sauce to dip.
With izakaya, everything is for sharing, including the main dishes. The indulgent A4 Wagyu beef steak was served with an array of fresh vegetables (the aforementioned New Territories farm-to-table picks) and soaked in a rich shiso ponzu sauce. Each delicate slice of beef was tender and non-fatty, paired perfectly with the ripe white daikon, baby corn, snap peas and contrasting nearly-raw baby carrots for an added crunch.
Many guests come for the little sharing dishes, but some are here for the big reveal of the King Crab legs—an incredible, winner piece. Using the traditional blanching method, Roji adds a modern touch with the side split presentation and added spices and herbs—pepper, parsley and shiso leaves. Although this dish was devoured in a matter of minutes due to its small portion (lots of shell but not so much meat), each bite was as delightful as one could've hoped. If you're a real crab meat lover, we'd recommend grabbing one of these for yourself.
For dessert, we tried the decadent comfort-food skillet pancake. The fluffy pancake was filled with chocolate chips and topped with a homemade Hojicha icecream for a bittersweet aftertaste.
Although Roji only opened in April, it seems like it's already a staple post-work spot—it's also 'the place' to be. Following in the footsteps of its predecessor which also attracted a trendy, sophisticated crowd, the ambiance remains casual and lighthearted to go with the izakaya theme and what these bolthole drinking and dining dens are most loved for.
Roji, G/F 20A D'Aguilar St, Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong, facebook.com/Roji.hongkong