Spring dishes at Censu
What’s new at one of Hong Kong’s buzziest Japanese restaurants?
Censu, the izakaya-meets-fine-dining Japanese restaurant on Gough Street, opened about a year ago to great fanfare. Chef-owner Shun Sato previously worked in some of Hong Kong’s most scene-y restaurants such as Ho Lee Fook, Fukuro, and Belon. I was the first of my group to arrive at the restaurant, which gave me a bit of time to take in my surroundings. We were booked in for the first seating at 6pm (the second seating is at 8pm), so the restaurant was just filling up. Despite the early hour, everyone in there was extremely stylish — from the older couple on a date to the college-age friends catching up.
It is a beautiful wabi-sabi styled-space with both polished and rustic elements. I especially liked the cotton wall hanging and coasters.
The reason for our visit was to try some of the new spring dishes. Of our group of three, one of us had visited before (and had great things to say about the sashimi) and two of us were visiting for the first time. How did we find the dishes?
First out was the mackerel sashimi ($218) which were pickled with yuzu vinegar, lightly torched before serving, topped with shredded parmesan, and served with assorted pickles to balance out the richness. This was a nice, unusual dish — best eaten with the various elements together.
We oohed and aahed over the sawara ($248) which was prepared sous vide and served medium. The flesh was incredibly fragrant and delicious, and we enjoyed it on its own before trying the accompaniments as well in the name of research. Only a light dab of the fresh coriander miso is needed, to add a little excitement without overpowering the flavour of the fish. Pomelo was also a great choice, adding a slight citrus sweetness but still allowing the fish to shine.
The beef tartare ($148 for 2 pieces) was my favourite small bite of the night. Wagyu beef comes enrobed in Arima Sansho, a shoyu and sake-infused pepper mix. It’s sweet and spicy, and loaded onto slabs of toasted Hokkaido milk bread. Delicious.
The bamboo tempura ($98 per piece) sounded really interesting. Smooth Ika mousse sat between layers of bamboo and paired with a house-special ebi fish cake and a generous pour of kombu dashi. However while each element tasted fine individually, the dish didn’t really work together — a bit cumbersome and heavy.
We were really looking forward to the flathead lobster kataifi ($238) having heard such great things about the miso-yuzu flathead lobster dish from the original menu. The spring version sees the lobster slathered in a scallop prawn mousse before being wrapped in thin ribbons of shredded potato (not noodles!) and served with a lobster bisque sauce. It may have been an off night when we visited as we found this dish extremely salty.
Perhaps the highlight of the night was the three yellow chicken paella ($408). This is an incredibly beautiful dish with the chicken absolutely glistening, with the skin evenly crisp. The base is Koshihikari rice cooked in Hainan chicken and scallop dashi broth. For me, this dish was near perfection — seasoned simply so the quality ingredients absolutely shone. It comes with a side sauce made with sansho ginger and shallots which helps to cut through the richness but many may choose to just enjoy the rich chicken and rice. This could feed four, or makes for great leftovers.
Our meal ended with the coco ice cream ($88), served with a smooth and creamy house-made coconut sorbet with pineapple granita and shiratama dango (a type of mochi). Fresh and worth ordering.
Though some compare Censu to an izakaya (a nod to Chef Sato’s dad, who owned and ran a popular izakaya in Japan), it’s not really. Those looking for drinks and casual bites would probably be better off elsewhere. But those looking for a trendy ‘see and be seen’ kind of place with good food would likely enjoy Censu. While there were a couple of misses on our night, we learned on our way out the door that Chef Sato was away that day. Overall there’s a lot to enjoy at Censu — we definitely want to eat the chicken paella again and hope to be back soon. Those looking to feast may want to book their omakase menu for $688 per person.
28-30 Gough St, Mid-Levels, 2997 7009
*By invitation for Foodie