Kanton Izakaya

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 November, 2010, 12:00am

2/F, 2A Leighton Road, Causeway Bay
Tel: 2808 0309
Open: Monday-Saturday 7pm-midnight

Cuisine: Izakaya (Japanese pub with food)

Price: about HK$210 without drinks and the service charge.

Ambience: I'd love to have a place like this in my area. The servers are friendly and welcoming (one remembered me from my first visit a month ago) and the food is good. It's a casual place, where you sit and relax with friends, ordering more food and drinks as the mood (and hunger) strikes.

Pros: the menu is quite limited, which is understandable when you see how small the kitchen is. But from that kitchen comes a selection of dishes that pair deliciously with sake or beer.

Cons: the seats, while well-padded (unlike many other izakaya, where patrons perch on hard, backless stools or wooden benches), but they're too deep, heavy and low. Because the place only has about 20 seats, it can be difficult to get a table, especially on weekends. They could do with better ventilation - as we were walking up the stairs we could smell the food being cooked.

Recommended dishes: wine-marinated bitter melon with sour plums (HK$36) didn't have the expected flavour of Japanese umeboshi (marinated sour plums), but instead had the tangy-sweet taste of Chinese wah mui. The dish, with its sweet, sour and slightly bitter flavour, was wonderfully refreshing and palate cleansing, and went well with the fried dishes. My guest doesn't normally eat 'variety meats', but even she liked the salt and pepper duck tongues (HK$56), which had soft cartilage and skin encased in a thin batter. Even better were the hot and spicy frog legs (HK$58). The huge, meaty but tender legs were flavoured with chillies, Sichuan peppercorns and an unexpected hint of what tasted like sweet-sour wah mui powder. A dish of stir-fried clams with pomelo (HK$88, above) turned out to be large, sweet clams in broth that had the subtle flavour of yuzu (Japanese citrus). Double-boiled beef brisket in radish broth (HK$88) was comfort food - thick slices of (mostly) tender beef and soft white radish in a mild broth. We ended the meal with a bowl of steamed Japanese rice with foie gras and sunshine egg (HK$98, right). The soft yolk and fatty liver coated the grains of tender rice. The only thing that could have improved this dish would have been if the rice had a burnt crust, as with bo jai fan (sand pot rice) or dolsot bibimbap.

What else? There's a minimum charge of HK$180 per person. The waitress said they had to implement the minimum charge because guests were ordering one or two dishes and staying all evening.