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Header image courtesy of Roji
Although it may be hard to catch sight of at first, Roji is a secret spot worth searching for. Befittingly adapted from “roji ura” (路地裏), which means “alleyway hideout” in Japanese, this contemporary izakaya concept brings an authentic experience of Tokyo’s street-food dining to the backstreets of Central with a fresh new face.
As the brainchild of Agnes Mu, newly-opened Roji not only pays homage to her Franco heritage, but also her parents’ love story, which unfolded in Japan. Having recently enjoyed our Midnight Diner moment there, here are some highlights that showcase why Roji is the izakaya spot you should definitely take a detour to.
Swaddled away in a narrow, inconspicuous alley that branches off the beaten path of the Lan Kwai Fong slope is Roji, a secluded enclave. Enter and you will encounter a dining room of small tables, slender countertops, a sleek bar, and open-air seating that emulates the feel of a curbside yatai (屋台; mobile food stall).
Here, the atmosphere is at once tender yet buzzing with activity, its dimly lit setting made lively with the sounds of dense chatter and vibey R&B hits. Another noteworthy aspect the restaurant shares with street-side eateries is that it only accepts walk-ins, so be sure to time your visit before the place fills up.
Offering an intricately planned menu covering six distinct groupings, Roji serves up a reimagining of traditional Japanese izakaya fare with sophisticated elements from French cooking. Using top ingredients imported from authentic Japanese producers, as well as local greens from the New Territories, they uphold a semi-farm-to-table ethos that translates into every level of detail in their food.
Presented in a Western-influenced browned butter sauce, a celtuce-dotted plate of beautifully arranged scallops ($138) kickstarted our meal. Slightly charred and seasoned with yuzu and dashi, it pulls together the unique fragrance of seafood without the typical pungent fishiness that comes with marine produce.
The hamachi ($168) soon followed, served as sashimi adorned with savoury pieces of kombu, as well as ikura and bottarga roe. Rounding off the appetisers was the torotaku ($158), pillowy mounds of seasoned negitoro purée best enjoyed when wrapped in its cape of contrastingly crunchy salted seaweed.
Arguably the crowning glory of their fresh seafood section—and a testament to their commitment to sourcing ingredients straight out of Japan—their giant clams ($198) are a sight (and taste) to behold. Mesh together the comforting depths of their flavourful signature broth with the summery lightness of sake, and the accompanying pool of stock under the clams will be the result. Another seafood item that is equally as magnificent is their blanched king crab legs ($248) in a homemade sauce with crispy panko, drizzled with fresh lime. It harnesses simplicity to leave a lasting impression that is solidly in its favour.
If you want to make a square meal out of it, go for the quadrilateral (see what we did there?) seafood box ($268) which packs freshly steamed snow crab, octopus, ikura, as well as a handful of mushrooms and greens over a bed of rice. We were advised to split one box between two to four diners, and to dig in while hot.
For a dish that packs a heftier punch, the A4 Wagyu beef ($298) with vegetables or the Wagyu box ($248) with rice are both brilliant options—the exquisitely prepared beef explodes with savoury juiciness, and although browned just right around the edges, the medium-rare strips remain beautifully tender in the middle.
Alternatively, there is also the chicken katsu ($168), perhaps the most authentically izakaya-style main dish on the roster at Roji. Sinking your teeth into the multi-layer sensation of slightly herbed meat sandwiched between golden-brown breading is an experience not to be missed. For an extra sharp tang, we swiped the mustard-dabbed chicken into the sweet tonkatsu sauce it was plated with.
Before the night came to a close, we ended our meal with a unique and mouth-watering dessert. Sent to the table straight from the oven in an adorable mini-cast-iron griddle, their skillet pancake with homemade hojicha ice cream ($148) was a gorgeous note to finish on. Soft, chewy, and delicate, the white-chocolate-chip-filled blondie cake was a great compliment to the astringent inklings of the tea-infused ice cream.
Equipped with the first-ever Hoshizaki highball machine in the entire city, their specialised refrigerator-and-carbonation-tap hybrid is adept at pulling the smoothest of tall drinks, beautifully fusing together refreshing flavour combinations matched with gin, sochu, or whiskey. Fizz and aroma are maintained, yet never overpowers the fare, serving as a complementary palate cleanser to sip on between courses. Opt for the sochu-based strawberry highball ($75), a dangerously delicious mix of thirst-quenching sweetness that will lead you to underestimate how many fig-leaf-embellished glasses you’ll end up guzzling down.
Aside from the signature highballs, the cocktails at Roji also span a range of unique creations, expertly designed by head mixologist Lok Gurung, and served with a smile. After knocking back a few shots of sake—as per the recommendations of the warm and welcoming team behind the bar—we nursed a delightful vodka-based Kinome ($128) that glows a subtle verdant shade in the light. Intermixed with Fernet Hunter, coconut, and citrus, it washed over us with fantasies of an Okinawan beachside tipple.
Prepared using a mixture of sake, applewood gin, bergamot, floral aquavit, caraway, dill, lime, and cucumber, the Saketini ($125) is another contender gunning for the title of a perfect summer drink. Light and sweet, it provides an icy freshness that wholly rejuvenates you. For those who seek a stronger kick, the Red Bean ($135) is a smokier option that marries Ezra bourbon with sesame sochu, red bean, hojicha, and bitters.
Roji perfectly encapsulates the energy of a hole-in-the-wall chophouse, whilst successfully elevating well-known, Japanese street-style izakaya cuisine through a clearly laid out, modernised vision. It must be said that owner Mu’s deep-felt love for the project shines through clearly, as do her intentions of Roji serving as a space for convivial gatherings. A chic and secluded joint, this is where groups of friends or jovial dates can come and gather for a casual evening made memorable with delectable small bites, frosty drinks, and great vibes.