HK’s answer to Tsukiji? Not quite …

Yamataka Seafood Market above the Wan Chai Star Ferry Pier has everything to be a great Japanese Marketplace like Eataly for Italian food in New York. However, as it stands, it lacks what it takes to bring visitors for a second visit. Hong Kong’s “answer to Tsukiji” ain’t quite there yet. However, the 11,000 square foot harbour view space and hardware offers potential for a Japanese gourmand’s hub in Hong Kong. Let’s see.

Let me save you the trouble of getting lost. Tell the cab to take you to the Wan Chai Star Ferry Pier. There’s no proper place to disembark due to the DIG OF CHAOS in the Wan Chai Harbour front, but there IS an opening by the road that leads to the pier. So insist on getting off there, and don’t let them drive you off to the bus terminal, coz that would be quite an unpleasant (and dangerous) walk to the pier.

The Plum Wine Bar: Perhaps the Only Highlight

The bar, interestingly focuses on Japanese plum wines: offering a wide selection of red, green, apple, yuzu plum wines and more. Perhaps because it was lunchtime, no one was at the bar downing umeshu. It’s smart of them to have focused on a more niche offering in plum wines, when most have chosen to focus on Japanese whiskey or sake. Interest in ume, and in creating home brew plum wine in Hong Kong are on the rise. I could definitely see myself stopping by on a lazy afternoon for a pick-me-up before a cross-harbour ferry ride.

It’s smart of them to have focused on a more niche offering in plum wines, when most have chosen to focus on Japanese whiskey or sake.

The Food: Nothing to Write Home About

The most popular food outlet in the marketplace has to be the Donburi Joint, where we had to wait in line. For the price, hk$180–300/donburi, you can get a much more decent meal in Causeway Bay or even in-land Wan Chai. Here, you just get a donburi and even have to order a drink separately, even green tea (by the cup). Plus squeeze yourself in to the bar seating on stools. Why would I opt for this when I could get my donburi fix at any of my go-to Japanese joints in Causeway with a full course complete with side dishes, appetisers, meal, and coffee/tea. This food isn’t bad per se, but it is probably only a tiny step up from eating from a donburi take-away out of a plastic box.

Dining outlets must place care in the quality of rice use and its temperature too. Oftentimes, even decent CWB Japanese joints loose credibility overlooking this finer element.

The only probable reason for a line at the Donburi Joint is that the other options are not too enticing: the Sushi Seafood Bar serves up a panoramic view of the harbour (and maybe better food), but it’s standing room only. While it might work for Japan, no one in Hong Kong would opt for standing. (Unless we’re at some outdoor carnival!) And if the restaurant think that’s a way to make sure people won’t stick around and clog tables, they might want to think again about the essence of hospitality, where in they are located, and cultural norms. Ore-no Kappou, also a Japanese satellite, in LKF is the first non-fast food place I have come across offering standing room, and I didn’t see single person there having their meal standing — all opted for the seated tables.

The other options was a grill/skewers bar, and a lobster roll joint. The menu offering needs a re-jig.

Live seafood

These edible critters were available fresh in tanks, but variety-wise, I didn’t notice any especially enticing options, nor any deals. Maybe if they offered better communication on pricing, promotions and cooking ideas, I’d be more tempted to give them some business. At the end of the day, Hong Kongers are spoilt for choice between the large department store supermarkets as well as the fresh wet-markets. Gotta up the game.

(Right) that’s the line for the donburi place. Sign in the foreground asks people to refrain from sticking their hands into the tanks.

Matcha, Green Tea, and No Desserts

When the whole city is practically trending on green tea everything, I was looking forward to discovering a new Matcha House import. To that, I found this: a paltry tea menu of one hot, and one cold matcha.

It’s questionable how long this Matcha Corner/Lobster Roll Kiosk would last. They may be better off 快刀斬亂馬 finding a collaborator, like Nakamura Tokichi or even Lady M, or better yet hook-up a totally fresh-to-Hong Kong collaborator to draw in traffic and fill the gaping gap of dessert & hot drinks purveyors at the space.

… kudos to Yamataka, a seafood wholesaler in Tsukiji Japan and the people behind this Tsukiji.Yamataka Seafood Market venture, for successfully designing a superb venue that offers much potential as a Japanese culinary hub.

The Delicatessen

Surely, there are a handful of “harder-to-find” items, but nothing of the “harder-to-find that gives-me-the-urge-to-buy-now” type import. The product assortment hasn’t been totally developed yet. My hope is that it would be eventually such a cool assortment that I’d make the trip here to shop for goodies that one won’t easily find elsewhere like at the usual sogo/city ‘super. (Home-delivery would also be much appreciated)

To be fair, I didn’t even know a second floor to the Wan Chai Star Ferry Pier existed. So kudos to Yamataka, a seafood wholesaler in Tsukiji Japan and the people behind this Tsukiji.Yamataka Seafood Market venture, for successfully designing a superb venue that offers much potential as a Japanese culinary hub. As with any business, time may help iron-out some kinks as the business gets a hang of the cultural interests of the local market. I look forward to seeing more dessert and authentic food options, as well as events and collaborations to make this marketplace a success.

Tsukiji.Yamataka Seafood Market

2/F Wan Chai Ferry Pier
www.yamataka.hk
Open daily from noon to 22:30.

*This piece is based on a visit in early December 2016.