I will never tire of visiting yet another Japanese restaurant. When you know you’re eating only the freshest seafood that’s simple yet delicious, what’s there not to love? This can be said for relative newcomer YOUKA on Wan Chai’s Johnston Road, which flies in its seafood straight from Japan daily.
Although YOUKA has been open for six months, you’ll be forgiven for never having noticed it. From the outside, all you see is a black box that gives no indication as to what’s inside. Whilst some restaurants like to shout their presence loud and clear, others simply don’t need to.
Inside is a small, slightly awkwardly shaped yet cosy space. Since most of the seafood originates from Hokkaido, the design is inspired by Hokkaido’s coastal location, with subtle accents that represent the ocean, whilst a fresh sushi bar at the back shows the region’s produce in action, prepared by well-respected Japanese chef Ito Katsuhiro.
YOUKA translates to ‘eighth day’. From both a Japanese and western point of view, this symbolises creation, rebirth or rejuvenation, which is the concept behind YOUKA; a meal at YOUKA should leave you feeling healthy and full of life. There’s nothing super fancy about the food, but there’s a focus on quality ingredients prepared well.
I must admit that seeing ‘tuna intestines’ on the menu filled me more with fear than excitement, yet, given it is one of YOUKA’s signature dishes, I had to try it. Served atop a mound of cream cheese, to be eaten with crackers, I was pleasantly surprised. Whilst slightly slimy in texture, it had an addictively salty flavour that paired beautifully with the cream cheese.
Following this came a selection of sashimi – bonito, sea bream and sea urchin – served with sheets of dried seaweed. Each piece was deliciously fresh, so you could taste the real flavours of the fish, and although I’m not usually a huge sea urchin fan, this one, again, took me by surprise.
From the sushi menu we only tried three kinds – the fried bean curd, tamago (sweet egg) and kohada fish, each, again, delightfully fresh. I have never come across kohada before, but enjoyed its intense flavour that was similar in a way to mackerel.
Whilst the pickled eggplant was good, it was the grilled eggplant with miso paste that completely wowed us. Texture-wise, it was perfectly soft, whilst the sweet miso flavour gave it another dimension. The deep-fried tofu, encased in only a very delicate batter was also a pleasant vegetarian option, but be sure to ask for it without the slightly bitter tasting bonito flakes if you are a vegetarian.
Whilst tempura can often be boring and bland, served merely as a filler for anyone who dislikes raw seafood, YOUKA offers some more creative options. We loved the pumpkin and sweet potato from the vegetarian selection, whilst the mantis shrimp wrapped in shiso leaves was also fantastic. The ayu fish, however, was unpalatably bitter.
After a delicious chicken meatball served with egg yolk and tare sauce, the grilled miso-marinated codfish was also excellent. Both dishes had a wonderful texture and simple yet flavoursome seasoning.
Just as we were about to burst at the seams, we were served what we decided should be called a ‘Japurrito’. Really it was a rice ball wrapped in seaweed and stuffed with a choice of dried bonito, plum or salmon, but Japurrito just sounds better. Again, it wasn’t anything fancy, but it didn’t need to be; it was comforting and tasty just as it was.
To finish, we shared a bowl of yuzu sorbet (the other option being a standard bowl of green tea ice cream), which was light and refreshing and contained lovely little chunks of yuzu to cleanse the palate.
Dinner at YOUKA costs upwards of $700 per head, whilst set menus range from $550 for the most basic to $1280 for the special set, before drinks. Whilst service was friendly, it was rather painfully slow, even taking over 10 minutes to serve us our dessert. Perhaps this is just part of YOUKA’s charm – it’s the kind of place where quality outweighs anything else, and you know you can enjoy a leisurely meal in an unpretentious setting, prepared by an excellent Japanese chef. If you see the nondescript black box on Johnston Road next time you’re passing by, give it a try.
Shop 1D, 35-45 Johnston Road
Tel: +852 2833 5188