Sushi restaurants can be found all over Hong Kong, but the revered Kyoto Joe has been a permanent fixture in Lai Kwai Fong for as long as many can remember. The sister restaurant of Tokio Joe just down the road, this modern sushi joint gets crowded most days with the office lunch crowd seeking a fresh and healthy bite with honest prices and portions that pack a punch.
If you’re seeking out the hushed, Zen-like ambience of typical sushi fine-dining temples, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Kyoto Joe brings out the fun side in Japanese dining with a fired up robatayaki grill, open kitchen, friendly service and a diverse menu that includes some head-spinners such as Mexican Rolls: a Westernised maki roll starring cream cheese, avocado and jalapenos.
Leading the kitchen is Chef Dow, an industry veteran who’s helmed the restaurant for over a decade, who ditches the strict conventions of Japanese cuisine in favour of dishes that lean towards the untraditional. Japanese food purists may baulk at some of the wild flavour combinations, but those willing to try something new and experimental will delight in the unique flavours served up at Kyoto Joe.Start with the Kobe Gyu roll, with maitake mushrooms and herbaceous mizuna leaves wrapped in sushi rice, draped with thin slices of raw Kobe beef for a rich and fatty bite. The Spicy Trio Roll is another winner, featuring three types of fish (spicy toro, yellowtail and grilled salmon) and a kick of spice to perk up the palate.
The appetisers just as bold, from the ruby-red beef tatami with fried garlic and spring onion to the Angel Salmon Tartare: pieces of fresh fish chopped up with spicy mayonnaise. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Heartier options include donburi bowls, ramen, udon noodles, beef sukiyaki and rock shrimp gyoza, as well as a plentiful vegetarian selection from mock pork rolls to veggie tempura.
Drinks go hand-in-hand with the creative fare: try a crisp sake, fruity glass of wine, or a Joe’s Special cocktail, ranging from the frozen sake-based Sakarita to the Ume Mojito – a refreshing blend of umeshu, shochu, shiso leaf, syrup and lime, topped with soda water.
The menu may cross oceans, but the decor is straight from Japan – traditional prints and artworks, kosode kimonos and triangular mirror tiles borrow inspiration from the classical Heian period of Japanese history, while a row of leafy plants lends a relaxing and breezy vibe to ease the stress off nine-to-five workers.
Kyoto Joe is by no means traditional, but it has created a fun, unpretentious space that welcomes both discerning Japanese food connoisseurs and those who might prefer a fork over chopsticks if given a choice. No one will judge you here if you put an extra dash of soy sauce on your sushi — but that’s not to downgrade the food. A well-trained kitchen, quality dishes and constant flow of creativity have made Kyoto Joe a perennial favourite with the Central crowd.