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Hong Kong's New Nikkei Restaurant


Hong Kong's new Nikkei eatery serves ceviche, tiradito and causa with a wink and a nudge. DIANA HUBBELL swings by for a bite.

Published on Jul 20, 2017

 

THE BARTENDER LIFTS THE LID on a miniature treasure chest inked with Chinese characters and a heady plume of perfumed smoke escapes. When the fog clears, I see the scarlet glint of a Smoking Gun, a sultry spin on a Negroni. A basket of miso-brined karaage (Japanese fried chicken) materializes beside it. The latter is dubbed "ki-mo-chi," which roughly translates to "feel good." As for the colloquial meaning in Japan—well, you'll have to ask Google about that.

Smoking gun
The sultry Smoking Gun cocktail. Courtesy of TokyoLima.

"We'd been open for two weeks before I noticed that guys kept giggling every time they ordered it, while the women looked confused," says Luis Diez, the restaurant manager, shaking his head. "So I looked it up on my phone and… Oh."

The man behind the cheeky moniker is chef Arturo Melendez. "I don't want my food to be too serious," he says. "I hate when you have these long descriptions on the menu that take more time to read than the dish does to eat."

His flare for everything fun shows here at TokyoLima, a slick eatery showcasing Japanese-Peruvian cuisine in Central. The sexed-up izakaya, with gleaming brass accents centering on an open kitchen, has a vast selection of ice-cold sakes and clever cocktails that keeps patrons buzzing until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. But don't let the drink menu distract you from the main act: the food. Order the "Feed Me," an omakase-esque experience, where a seemingly endless parade of dishes like tuna tartare with watermelon, la causa (seasoned mashed potatoes with toppings), and tiradito (raw marinated fish) appear in quick succession. The courses may fly by fast, but they are the product centuries of tradition.

La causa
La causa, topped with tempura prawn. Courtesy of TokyoLima.

"People ask, 'Oh, so you're doing fusion?' But there have been Japanese people in Peru for over 200 years. For Latinos, history already did its thing; now we just have to interpret it. The Spanish, the French, the Chinese and Japanese: they all transformed our cuisine," says Melendez, who happens to be part Nikkei. As the first Peruvian chef to open a Peruvian restaurant in Hong Kong, he's been both a passionate advocate of his country's cuisine and a something of a culinary anthropologist. He takes note of how Cantonese words, like "ginger," crept into Peruvian dialect, and how Moroccan escabeche helped produce what we know as ceviche.

While inspired by Peru, his style isn't one you'd find there. "It's my own interpretation," Melendez says. "Nikkei cuisine started as an attempt to recreate Japanese food with Peruvian products, whereas mine is more Peruvian cuisine with Japanese products," like the Hokkaido sea scallop ceviche.

He may get playful with his plates, but he is a stickler for the details, especially when it comes to sourcing seafood. "Hey, a wild chef needs to use wild fish," he says with a laugh. "You could use farmed sea bass for ceviche, but it would lack flavor. If a sea bass comes from the ocean, it tastes of the ocean."

The open kitchen
The open kitchen. Courtesy of TokyoLima.

It's a buttoned-down blend that's one part Tokyo, one part Lima, and all part of the modern-day melting pot of Hong Kong.

 


tokyolima.hk; mains HK$260–$360; "Feed Me" menu HK$480.

 

 

 

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The "Feed Me" menu at TokyoLima is a parade of small plates. Courtesy of TokyoLima.
  • Salmon tiradito. Courtesy of TokyoLima.
  • Pisco sour. Courtesy of TokyoLima.
  • Private dining room. Courtesy of TokyoLima.
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