After the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March, the business for some Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong suffered. However, being Hong Kongers' favourite cuisine, that was short-lived. We saw the opening of many Japanese restaurants in the past few months, including ramen joints, tonkatsu spots and lots of Japanese smokes - yakitori, yakiniku - and the latest addition is Kushiyaki Beco.
Chef Satoru from Sushi Kuu is the brainchild behind this new Japanese, tucked away on a side street off Gough Street. It has been soft-opened for just over a month. On the night of our visit, we ran into two chefs from other restaurants coming here for a bite. That already tells you something. The interior resembles an izakaya with various posters on the walls (and more to come!) and an open kitchen-cum-bar that takes up quite some space in the cosy dining room that seats less than 20 diners. The understated décor is lit up by the flame from the grill from time to time - the chef sprays konbu-infused sake on the skewers to keep them moist - and the whole place is brought to life as the evening wears on.
Beco means small cow or calf in Japanese. While yakitori joints specialise in chicken, the meat of attention here is beef and the type used here is Australian Wagyu. The more common parts, such as tongue, short rib and oxtail can be found on the menu. There are also some unusual cuts for kushiyaki like oyster blade, sweet bread and tri tip.
We started with the Potato Salad ($38), the recipe of which is from chef Satoru's mother. The potatoes are first peeled before being boiled in chicken stock so that they drink up the flavour. Raw onion, cucumber and crispy bacon are added to the mashed spuds. Paprika is sprinkled on the finished dish, which has more layers of flavours than the potato salads we are familiar with.
Next up was the Beco Pork Miso Soup ($65), which is the soul food of Beco. Think of it as your comfort food, like mac n' cheese. Known as tonjiru in Japanese, the soup is made with heaps of sliced pork belly, gobo, carrots, daikon, konjac and a small mountain of raw spring onion is placed on the surface before the soup is served. The miso is merely used to add saltiness, while all the vegetables and fatty pork lend the soup its complex taste. The crunchiness of the gobo and spring onion, the softness of the daikon, the chewiness of the konjac and the meaty texture of the pork belly make this a soothing nourishment for the body and soul.
The first skewers served were the oyster blade ($45), a small piece of the shoulder cut, and the tri tip ($65) or sirloin butt, since that is where it is located and there are two pieces per animal. The former has the texture of a fillet but the flavour of a strip loin. These thimble-sized beef cubes are best dipped in wasabi soy sauce to enhance the taste.
Coming from the other end of the animal, the tri tip is a nicely marbled, strongly flavoured piece of meat. It doesn't melt in your mouth but rather, has a slightly chewy texture and releases the subtle fatty savour that lingers on your palate. It definitely has a better "mouth feel" than the oyster blade. Oyshi!
For a more substantial dish, the Spicy Pork Kimchi ($65) and the Saba Stew (special of the day) are great choices. The former is spicy without overpowering, while the latter is salty and sweet, thanks to the miso and mirin in the sauce. Both traditional izakaya dishes are ideal with a drink or two.
The atmosphere of Beco invites diners to stay and graze - start with some "Japanese tapas" and a beer, and then move on to something more appropriate for weekends - and we can see it getting whipped into shape by the chef. Is Beco going to be a party spot or a hide-out for chefs? With chef Satoru himself making Hoppy + Shochu for diners, we think both.