Normally I’m one of the last people to try out a new restaurant in Hong Kong, but as soon as I heard about a tucked-away Japanese restaurant with a sensational sake and food pairing menu, I was intrigued.
Not only is Godenya hard to find, it is also very hard to book. The restaurant is tiny, it has six counter seats and a table for two. Booking starts two months in advance – via its website reservation system to which you need to know the code. Luckily I managed to find the code, but of course, all seats for the coming eight weeks were booked. Still, I added our names to the waiting list – and by sheer luck we managed to get a table for the Friday after Chinese New Year.
Godenya’s address is on Wellington Street, but the entrance is actually a very discreet and non-descript gray door, in an alley just off Kau U Fong. We had to wait until 7.30pm for the door to open – and then we stepped inside a tiny restaurant, decorated with wood and bare cement walls. The minimalist deco could have been in an old wooden house, somewhere on the backstreets of Tokyo.
Billed as a sake pairing dinner, the evening’s meal consisted of eight food courses (priced at 1,000 HKD per person, with an extra 500 HKD for sake pairing – the prices differ slightly depending on the ingredients used in each menu), seven of which were accompanied by a chosen sake – each time served at a different temperature. Either cooled or warmed to a chosen degree by the owner, and sake master, Shiya Goshima.
We started with cherry salmon in omar source – which was paired with a Kaiun (Shizuoka) sake served at 15 degrees. This was one of the best sakes that evening and I just loved how well it matched the delicate, silky fish in the rich sauce.
Our second dish was raw ark shell, monkfish liver and scallop diced up and simply tossed in a white miso sauce. This is served with a Chotin (Aichi) sake at 21 degrees. A nice, refreshing dish to cleanse your palate, and again a great sake (I think this was my favourite of the evening).
Next up was a dish that looks like an artwork – oyster with butterbur sprout, served with potato chips. A dish that looks interesting, but personally I thought this was the weakest of all eight courses. The oyster was minced like a tartar, but its fresh taste was overpowered by the strong woody taste of the potatoes – not even the warm Sogen (Ishikawa) sake at 43 degrees could help to liven up this dish. It was warming, that’s for sure, but it was all too dark and complex – compared to the other dishes, that are much lighter and vibrant.
Grilled stripped jack in saffron sauce is a lovely dish – combined with Yorokobigaijin (Kagawa) at 46 degrees, it is light, refreshing and heart-warming. The dill added a nice freshness to it too, and I loved that a little bit of radish was added, it helped to sponge up the sauce!
My favourite dish of the night was a very unusual one. It only says soft roe pie with black truffle sauce on the menu. Out of the kitchen came a steaming hot mini pie, looking like something from the Great British Bake Off – very traditional British, but nothing that I would have expected in a Japanese restaurant. We lifted the lid to see what was inside, and it was something white with black truffles… we put the lid back on and just tried a little bite, and it tasted very good! Especially with a little bit of balsamic vinegar that was served at the side of the pie.
Both Patrick and I agreed that the puff pastry was the best we have had for a long time and the filling was rich, and yummy. It went well with the Kakurei (Nigata) sake at 15 degrees. We asked the owner whether we could have a second portion as it was sooooo tasty… He smiled and said no. He asked us if we had any idea what we had eaten – we said no, and he told us it is Shirako – the sperm sacs of male cod. It can be served in both raw and cooked form in restaurants all over Japan, but many Japanese consider it an acquired taste. The word “shirako” means “white children,” and it is in season in the winter… and while it was popular with us, the owner told us that some male customers (predominantly Japanese ones who know what milt is) ask to skip this course! What a shame, I would have loved to have had a second helping! It seems YTSL also liked it!
There is only one meat course in the menu, and it is pork from Okinawa in a butternut squash sauce. The dish is beautifully presented, but we only had three small pieces of pork (which was juicy and succulent) – we would have loved a little bit more. Dried potatoes, walnuts and herbs complemented the dish and it all went really well together. Normally I would have had some red wine with it, but of course, the drink of tonight’s dinner was sake and we were served a Taenohana (Mie) sake at 49 degrees.
The pen-ultimate dish was yellowtail in a steamed bamboo basket – and its seasoning with a little bit of soy and ginger felt more Cantonese than Japanese. That’s also what it said on the menu. Anyway, it was another fantastic dish of the night. The broth was very rich and the fish was cooked medium, to give it some texture but retain its softness. It was served with a Tomita (Totori) at 53 degrees, the warmest sake of the night. I thought it was too warm, but then I also realised that I enjoyed all the cool sakes more than the warm ones… so I guess that it just my personal taste.
Finally we arrived at the dessert – yuzu ice cream with yoghurt and some warm sake poured on top. We both love yuzu, so this was the perfect way to end an amazing menu. The yoghurt was rich and creamy, the fruit sharp and the sake sweet. To die for.
Would I come back? YES. So much that I am already trying to book our next dinner at Godenya. I loved the kaiseki style experience, which is taken to the next level with the amazing sake pairing. The dishes are executed to a very high level, they are innovative and fresh, without having to rely on gimmicks like foam and freeze-dried ingredients, the atmosphere is very welcoming and the two brothers, who run the restaurant (one cooks, the other is the sake master), are genuine and care very much about what they do.
G/F, 182 Wellington St (entrance on Kau U Fong)