All right, so I know the Japanese word “yakitori” refers primarily to chicken on a skewer, but nowadays, I think it means any kind of food on a skewer, Japanese-style, right? (If anyone knows, please feel free to comment!) Nevertheless, for me, it just means “splendid!” and I was really happy last week when P made reservations at Nan Tei, which I’d heard of from W and G. It’s a chain robotayaki/yakitori eatery and while there are four locations in Hong Kong, word on the street is, the one in Soho (which we visited) is supposed to be the best. It’s a tiny restaurant with a ring of bar stools around the main grilling station and a few tables scattered about. P said it reminded him of the small Japanese joints he visited while backpacking in Kyoto.
When we sat down, we were immediately given a plate with natural salt and a dipping sauce. It didn’t seem like the usual tare sauce (a sauce of mirin, soy sauce, and sake) that yakitori is served with; this sauce was more dense, kind of like a savory bean paste.
We promptly ordered a ton of dishes, and eyed the grilling station hungrily.
Approximately 10 minutes and the arrival of one Asahi (for P) and edamame (for me) later, our skewers started coming out!
The first batch of our order to come up were the mushrooms – we ordered regular shiitake mushrooms and also mushrooms stuffed with chicken. The regular mushrooms had just the right texture – soft but not mushy – and when dipped into the natural salt, they were divine! The minced chicken grilled on top of the mushrooms were also a hit, with the minced meat softer than I would have imagined for chicken.
Afterwards, our grilled corn came out. It was sprinkled with salt and spread with butter, like corn on the cob from a 4th of July cookout. As you can see blow, some kernels were a bit more chargrilled than others, giving it a smoky taste. Such a great throwback.
Then came the grilled rice balls. I was really curious when I saw these on the menu as I’ve never heard of anything like this before. However, after doing some research, I learned that “yaki onigri”, as it’s called in Japanese, is so popular in Japan that you can find it frozen in many supermarkets, like frozen pizza. It’s food on the go, kind of like a simple rice sandwich, if you will. The rice is brushed with a mixture of mirin, soy sauce, oil, and sesame seeds, and it can be stuffed with a variety of things. P ordered his stuffed with eel and I got mine with sour plum. When they came out, I loved the crisped rice on the surface. I ate my “ball” (they actually looked like little hearts – so cute!) wrapped in seaweed, and loved the salty contrast of the nori with the sweetness of the plum. There was a little bit of sharp, sour saltiness to my plum as well.
My favorite of the evening was the beef tenderloin. I have no idea how the grillmasters managed to keep an eye on all of the skewers under their care, but somehow, the beef was the most gorgeous medium, sprinkled with freshly ground pepper and seasoned to perfection. I would have eaten four of these by myself, easy!
We ordered a slew of other skewers as well, but these were definitely the highlights. Both P and I walked away from our seats fully stuffed (and this was after we’d canceled our order for udon).
To sum up, I’d definitely recommend Nan Tei for a casual, fun night with small plates and big flavors. The best part is, since each order typically has two skewers, you can try a little of everything even if you come with just one other person (or, by yourself…as I’m seriously considering). So, if anyone reading this wants to go, give me a shout anytime!
55 Staunton Street
Cost: ~ $250/person