Food review: griller in our midst
It is difficult not to compare Three Monkeys with the nearby Yardbird. They're both non-traditional Japanese restaurants opened by non-Japanese; they both have an extensive range of innovative cocktails; and they both concentrate on grilled skewers, although Yardbird specialises in yakitori (chicken), while Three Monkeys serves kushiyaki (a more encompassing term, including different meats, seafood and vegetables). The big advantage for Three Monkeys is that it takes bookings, while Yardbird does not.
The Three Monkeys' menu is divided into starters, cooked dishes, and skewers and is peppered with banana symbols indicating the "signature" items. The menu descriptions are brief, and don't always list all the ingredients, which can be a bad thing if you have allergies or a nice or unpleasant surprise, depending on whether it tastes good.
For us, the unexpected truffle paste topping on the lobster chawanmushi (HK$88) was a bonus: the flavour didn't overwhelm but added depth to the delicate custard and lobster. The risotto nigiri with cheddar (HK$32 for two pieces) also had bacon, which might be a problem for vegetarians and others who avoid pork.
Other menu descriptions are inaccurate. The kubi (HK$32) was described as pork neck with wasabi mole but it was obvious from looking at it that the meat wasn't from the neck; upon being questioned, the chef said it was thigh meat. The "mole" (which implies a Mexican spice and nut blend) was actually wasabi paste out of a tube, and the flavour was too strong. On the other hand, the dish listed as anago (smoky conger eel with sea salt, HK$48) was - we believe - unagi, a larger, meatier type of eel with white flesh. It was fantastic, with the crispy skin contrasting with the succulent meat. The portobello mushroom (HK$30) was juicy and firm, but not served with katsuo flakes, as described, but with grated daikon. Foie gras tofu toast (HK$78) came with minced negi (Japanese leeks), not shaved lime skin.
Some of the dishes are standard kushiyaki items. Tsukune - skewered minced chicken served with an egg yolk (HK$38) - was good as the texture wasn't too smooth and the bits of cartilage added crunch. Thick-cut ox tongue (HK$54) was well-priced and had tender meat. The Kurobuta pork belly with shiso leaves (HK$38) needed more fat.
Of the non-standard items we ordered, the Kurobuta pork belly and romaine wraps (HK$168) was a hands-on dish. We wrapped slices of meat and garlic in the lettuce leaves with miso dressing. Kalbi (HK$48) was less successful as the marinade was weak.
Three Monkeys is a two-storey space, with a bar, an open grill, and tables upstairs. We sat in front of the grill to see the action, but it was noisy due to larger groups of diners.
Three Monkeys, 151-155 Hollywood Road, Central. Tel: 3151 7771. Open: 6pm-1am. About HK$300 without drinks or service charge