When I come across an excellent restaurant that few people know about, I sometimes find myself in a bit of a cunundrum: do I tell people about it, or keep it a secret? Then I realise that people deserve to know, so that they can enjoy it as much as I did. So here I am telling you about Hige Izakaya, hidden away in an unexpected location in Mid-Levels.
Other than Mosque Street, on which a number of restaurants have recently popped up, once you get past Caine Road, Mid-Levels pretty much becomes solely residential, yet now there’s a Japanese restaurant high up on Castle Road. You’d probably have to either live in the area or know it’s there in order to find it, as Castle Road, in all its steepness, isn’t a road people walk up just for fun. But now Hige Izakaya definitely makes it worth the hike.
As soon as you enter, you’ll be prompted to remove your shoes, in keeping with Japanese culture. You can either remain barefoot or borrow a pair of leather slippers to make you feel at home, for ‘homely ‘is definitely a word I would use to describe Hige Izakaya. It’s a small, cosy space with a few little booths at the front and a private dining room further back, perfect for our group of nine. The tables are set up in a way that makes you feel like you’re sitting on tatami mats on the floor, but thankfully there’s a place to put your legs.
Traditionally, an izakaya was a very casual place where people could go to drink sake, before it also became synonymous with food. For this reason, you’ll notice a strong emphasis on sake at Hige Izakaya. It is presented in a pretty fancy dispenser and each guest is allowed to choose from a selection of unique sake cups, that make the whole experience all the more fun.
The menu is rather vast, including sashimi, gyoza, yakitori, kushiyaki and more, of which we sampled quite a selection. The tuna sashimi was probably some of the best I’ve had, as it was incredibly fresh and simply melted in the mouth. I was a big fan of the fatty tuna, which isn’t something I usually order as sashimi.
Despite some initial hesitations around the table, I insisted we should try the crispy dried puffer fish, which ended up being a huge hit, requiring a second order. Somehow we also ended up with about five orders of gyoza – some with minced pork and some with foie gras – which were devoured in seconds.
Salad is not the first thing I order at any Japanese restaurant, yet we were recommended to try the bacon salad. I think the chef must share my feelings about salad, as this ‘salad’ basically contained a few leaves of seaweed, topped with thick-cut chunks of delicious bacon. That is my kind of salad.
Ordering kushiyaki for nine people can be a bit of a challenge, since each item comes as an individual skewer, so make sure you designate a competent scribe to make a list of who wants what on a trusty iPhone. Between us, we tried almost every skewer on offer, leaving out the gizzards and other odd bits that people only eat to show off. The chicken neck and chicken wings were particularly good, as were the bacon-wrapped asparagus, the hard-boiled quail eggs and the lamb chops.
Between nine of us we ate and drank far more than was necessary, and each paid $700, which I’d say is probably less than what you’d pay for mediocre Japanese food and a mini carafe of sake in Central. The service was also fantastic and staff are friendly and welcoming. Sometimes secrets are worth keeping, but sometimes some secrets are just too good to keep.
Shop A, G/F, Woodland House
9A-9C Castle Road
Tel: +852 2503 3533