Wading into the fray in the cramped confines of Lan Kwai Fong, the famous food and entertainment neighbourhood west of Central station and comprising just a few small blocks and lanes, can be a daunting proposition. However, if you’re looking for truly a upscale Japanese yakitori-style bar and restaurant you can’t go wrong with Keyaki, tucked down Wo On Lane. Keyaki distinguishes itself by having put in the hard yards to license its small but efficiently utilised venue for the installation of a real Japanese charcoal grill, pitting expert chefs against the vagaries of traditional technique to serve up a wide range of perfectly-grilled skewers, best washed down with a sample drawn from the more than 80 Japanese sakes and 30 craft beers stacked behind the bar.
Lan Kwai Fong is known as a warren of a neighbourhood even in the sprawling labyrinth of Hong Kong’s Central district, making it tough to seek out that recommendation a friend of a friend scribbled on the back of a napkin that bleary night out in Soho. Tiny, cramped, and packed to the rafters with dining options, some of the best Japanese food and drink in this small square of streets is to be had at Keyaki, instantly recognisable down Wo On Lane thanks to a frontage that blends manga with traditional lanterns. Step inside and the smell of chefs at work at an authentic Japanese charcoal grill is unmistakable – Japanese yakitori cooked this way, the proper way, is blessed with a superlatively rich and smoky flavour.
Take your reserved spot at the bar or at one of the tables – you’ll need a booking given Keyaki’s diminutive size – and be prepared to be bowled over by what might be some of Hong Kong’s most unassuming yet mature Japanese yakitori cuisine. Basic skewers like negima, chicken with leeks, and tsukune, minced chicken, all take on the robust aroma of the charcoal used to fire up the grills. More intricate options (and it’s not all skewers here) include octopus tartare with wasabi, Miyazaki Nozaki A5 Wagyu beef, gingko nuts and dried pufferfish. Better take precautions if you’re going for that last dish – order up a rare sake or a craft beer and pray that the chefs are as careful as their license would suggest. Enjoying yourself? Why not try a blind sake tasting paired with gourmet Japanese food: Keyaki hosts regular events such as these.