Though it’s not at all formal or fancy, Rakuen is where we go when we want something that feels a little bit special. It’s dimly lit and den-like, there aren’t a whole lot of tables, and the bar is a fine place for dinner à deux, surrounded by bottles of shochu, sake, and pots of awamori.
Awamori is a distillate of long grain rice that’s unique to Okinawa, which is where we are, food-wise. Bitter gourd and sweet potato abound on the menu of small plates, along with all parts of pork (knuckles, neck), beef, and seafood.
Predictably, we always get the gyoza, with their juicy pork filling and blistered bottoms, and always the eggplant, stir-fried with miso, pork, and plenty of slightly caramelized onions, a simple enough dish with a pleasing depth of nutty, rich flavor. The pork tempura is ridiculous, a melting piece of meat and fat (already cooked by slow-roast, I’m guessing) outlined by light, crisp batter and topped with a shower of scallions. Once was enough for the watery stir-fry of carrot and egg, though a square of tomato and bean curd jelly, admittedly ordered as a concession to a vegetarian during a rare group outing to Rakuen, merits revisiting.
I like the shishito skewers more than the boy (it’s mainly the salt that appeals, I admit), and the boy likes the beef croquettes more than I do; they don’t taste particularly beefy, and the ground meat is very soft. A tangled mess of radish with pickled plum dressing is a zippy refresher, and much needed if you order the fried Camembert with blueberry Jam (yes, this is a thing that exists in Japan), which is exactly what it sounds like: Kitsch comfort. And speaking of comfort, we’ve now gotten into the habit of ordering the squid ink rice with fried egg, which easily fills any small plates void you may feel.
Orion is Okinawa’s beer, and it features prominently here, as does Asahi, and the draughts are perfectly cold. I haven’t gotten into the Awamori yet, partly because I’m afraid I’ll like it a little too much.
A little scoop of black sesame ice cream is just the thing to finish.
There have been one or two off nights, when the food felt lazy. The eggplant felt tired, the salad that garnishes most plates was starting to wilt, or the egg on top of the rice was cooked too long (I asked for and received a new one, with a good saucy yolk). But they always redeem themselves on the return trip. And we always return.
You’ll want to reserve, but they don’t pick up until after 5pm or so, since they only serve dinner. Oh, and they’re open late, which is refreshing in this town. Actually, there’s something about eating here, far above and insulated from the madness of Causeway Bay, that makes me forget I’m in Hong Kong altogether.
Ku-suya Rakuen 12/F, Circle Tower, 28 Tang Lung St., Causeway Bay +852 3580 8858. Plan on spending $HK300-500 a head, depending on your appetite and the strength of your alcoholic tendencies.