Friday, May 06, 2011

Dinner@ICHIGO Japanese Cutlet Restaurant

Sometimes it makes me wonder what Japan and Japanese means to the Hong Kong people. The word 'Japan' alone is sufficient to provoke a sense of novelty among the local crowd in the past. Now what? With the nuclear crisis largely unresolved, the very same term is now feared, avoided, even dissed upon. Restaurants used to feel privileged using freshly imported ingredients from the country; now they feel pressurized or even prohibited from telling the customers that they are serving foods flew from the now 'dangerous' and radioactive country. A bunch of Japanese restaurants tried to cope with the irrational fear by a making a clarification: we are not importing food from Japan anymore as we never had, and we are just doing the ingredients in the Japanese way. Some felt relieved by their public announcement; some, like me, felt ironic how casually it seems for them to disassociate from Japan and how naive it is for us to imagine we were eating a piece of sashimi from Japan just by paying $30 or so. Even more naive were the bunch who paid $130-ish for an all-you-can-eat Japanese meal, now complaining about not getting Japanese ingredients anymore. Everything's just irrational and unreasonable, and when you think about it, a lot of Hong Kong people aren't really that smart and critical with thinking afterall.

No matter what, the second half of 2011 will certainly be a tough year for Japanese restaurants. I aint talking about the pseudo-Japanese restaurants, so down-to-earth serving weird-looking chaa-siu ramen and machine-made sushis. Just the more serious ones that rely heavily on fresh ingredients imported from Japan, which could be substituted but not replaced. Ingredients from Japan are costly for a good reason - they are just tastier, prettier, more nutritive, just better. Australian and American beef, for example, cant beat Japanese Wagyu however you cook them.

For this reason I do deeply sympathize those Japanese restaurants who have to operate against the irrational fear plus an acute shortage of ingredients. Those that are freshly opened just for a few month's time suffer even a harder blow for they do not even have the opportunity of establishing their own brand before having to face the immense pressure. Ichigo Japanese Cutlet Restaurant is among one of the many poor restaurants out there, struggling in the tsunami of the dynamic sea in Hong Kong.

Having read a few reviews about how empty the place was even at meal hours, I went to see if that was really the case. At 6:45pm I arrived. The place was deserted. I could not help but sigh. The Japanese waitress, clearly surprised by our visit, greeted us and led us to our table, and laid it with tea, a mysterious-looking basket and the menu. Then she went back to her counter. The place fell dead-silent again.

The menu was simple, printed in 3 languages on both sides. The English was badly translated, perhaps by an online translating software. The choice of food was pretty narrow and there were only the option of either pork, shrimp or crab cream cake. I sighed. After some consideration we ordered a set of Pork tenderloin and a set of 'thin-sliced pork loin cutlet with garlic and cheese' to share. The set comes with not only the main dish but also a miso soup, pickled cabbage, rice and an unlimited supply of shredded cabbages.

The quiet little restaurant was then enliven with the sound of deep-frying oil after we placed the order. Certainly our pork chops were made freshly only when ordered.

The wait was short before they were ready-less than 10 minutes, during which another table of customers, two picky middle-aged women, came in.

We started the meal by drinking the miso soup. It was different from the instant miso soup from powdered mixture you are usually served with. This one is genuinely boiled from point zero. Using white miso, the soup was not salty but has the sweetness of fermented beans. You could find bits and pieces of pork, beef, reddish and fungus in the soup, and they further convinced me that the shop actually made it by themselves instead of making it out of something instant.

The rice was authentically Japanese - the grains were short, round, and pretty sticky. They were sweeter than the long-grained rice we usually have in Hong Kong, and with the sticky glutinous texture it was an excellent side dish to eat with the crispy pork-chop and refreshing cabbages.

Next I moved on to the little peak of cabbages and pickled reddish. Sprinkled some lemon juice and poured the sesame sauce onto the vegetables, it was very refreshing and tasty. The cabbages were a bit too finely shredded and not dry enough for me, for i remember having something tougher back in Japan. The sesame pasta was also too thick to be evenly mixed with the cabbages. Nevertheless I managed to finish the whole pile of cabbages and even asked for a second round of refill. :P I liked the pickled reddish too - too bad it was not available for a refill!

Shredded Cabbage and Pickled RaddishPork loin with Leek and CheesePork loin with Leek and Cheese(2)

I left the roll of pork cutlet, stuffed with cheese and garlic, to the last. It looked funny in its elongated shape and had I not been told this was pork, I would hardly be able to associate it with the animal since it looked more like a purse to me :P JK. The pork cutlet was molten with the cheese stuffing still in a semi-liquid state, yet it coagulated as it cooled quickly. The cheese might have turned tangy but it was still so rich to taste! The pork was a little coarse in texture but the problem was balanced off by cutting it into thin slices before deep-frying it. The problem of over-cooking was then avoided and juice could be retained in the pork slices - very clever indeed, and it takes a lot of skills to get the job done clean. A little opening here and there would cause the cheese stuffing to burst out and get messy. But the meat itself tasted kinda bland and did not have the distinctive smell and taste of 'pork'. An unavoidable problem with Australian pork i guess?

As for the coating it was very,very thin and nicely fried -so skillfully fried that all oil had been fried out of the flesh,making it so light and crispy. It kinda reminded me of the goodies I had back in Japan. There was no problem of a detaching crust and the flesh as some prior reviews had revealed. I think it tasted even better than the one i had at Tonkichi two years ago!

Pork Tenderloin(1)Pork Tenderloin(2)
Then there was the deep-fried pork tenderloin my mum ordered. I was completely startled by the thinness of the coating as it appeared to be even thinner than mine! :o The pork chop had a stronger flavour but was equally tender. There was some fat along the side of the meat but i couldnt care about calories anymore but to bite into it hard - yum!

One thing you shouldnt miss is their house pork cutlet sauce for dipping - it tasted sweet and sour and help relived the guilty oilish feeling the meat carries-delicious!

Four new customers had come in as we busily ate. A pretty good record-and please keep it up! I am sure that with the quality of the cutlet, the prime location it has and the good service would it be able to attract more business in future. It could be a serious competitor against Tonkichi as the pork chops i had tasted even better than theirs! Its just a matter of time before HK peeps' love for Japanese food returns, and from past observation most of us have a pretty short memory span that we tend to forget soon. Before that comes, please stay strong and keep on! :)
The place is a little expensive for me tho - not a place where i would just pop in casually for a comfty meal alone. Its worth giving a try tho:)

ICHIGO Japanese Cutlet Restaurant
11/F, The Loop, 33 Wellington Street, Central


  1. Oh wow this looks like the only true contender against Tonkichi so far!! All the stuffings make it more interesting too. Thanks for introducing. And yea...about the HK paranoia with Japanese food....sigh. I really hope restaurants can survive!!

  2. Hi! I am a supervisor from Ichigo, i would like to ask you something, would you please email me at, so i can reach you directly? Thanks!


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