Roji: A Youthful Izakaya With a French Twist Hidden in LKF
September 15, 2022
Roji fronts itself as a modern izakaya, crept underneath the gaze of Lan Kwai Fung in a setting suitable for serene romantic dinings and rowdy sake-fuelled tastings of salty and umami-powered Japanese plates.
Named after the Japanese word rojiura, meaning alleyway, Roji has stood as a no-reservation restaurant-bar that trades three cultures under its belt in one of LKF’s coolest spots since 2020: Japanese bar food with an infusion of French influence, and a casual sprinkling of old-school American hip-hop and RnB.
Roji occupies the former space of now-closed Brickhouse Restaurant, where Xuan acted as a founding member of restaurant powerhouse Maximal Concepts, previously operating the hip Mexican restaurant-bar. The place is owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Xuan and Agnes Mu.
Hidden in an LKF alley, it is easy to miss the entrance of Roji, benefitting its best-kept secret of a powerful contemporary French-influenced izakaya menu and venue that masters both a Saturday night party and an intimate weekday tasting.
Taking architectural inspiration from Brickhouse, Roji’s dining room consists of sleek Japanese zen aesthetics in light wood-panelled countertop bar seating, cushioned group space for long dinners along polished tables, and semi-outdoor bench tables, harping onto an izakaya-vibe.
Our introduction to Roji began on a quiet Wednesday night, but weekends see crowds swathe to the alleyway cove for confident drinking of Roji’s strong drinks menu boasting premium sake, whisky, gin, and highballs.
The LKF izakaya offers a menu that blends premium Japanese ingredients and cooking principles with a French twist, owing to Ms. Mu’s bi-cultural heritage and adoration to classic French elements.
With imported ingredients sourced directly from Japan, Roji markets a page-long menu of its expertise into a litany of umami-powered appetisers, starters, rice, hot plates, mains, and desserts.
In the debut Roji visit, we began our savouring with the Cartilage (HK$98), soft chicken bone lightly fried in a breaded batter and dusted with yuzu salt, and the Three Tomatoes Salad (HK$98), served in a refreshing kombu dashi with shizo. Foreign to eating chicken bone prior, I loved the greasy texture, which fed into providing an extra crunch with the mix of acidity and salt. The tomatoes were pickled, removing the tanginess of the salad, whilst keeping the pleasant umami flavour.
The Torotaku (HK$158) stole the show early in the meal, featuring five quaint dollops of red-fin tuna mixed with scallion and sesame oil, offering a profound nuttiness to each bite. The dish was complemented with the sweetness from the pickle yellow daikon and the crispy nori for added texture. We recommend pinching each tuna serving with the nori for ease of eating.
I am a sucker for karaage, often presented and tasting well in Hong Kong’s numbered izakayas. Roji’s iteration of the fried chicken breast dish is surprising, employing the skin and gizzard to better texture each ball: more surface area for better Maiyard reaction and crispiness. Each bite of the karaage (HK$118) is best paired with the umeshu mayo and sprinkled spicy salt to add a tangy-salty kick to the blank chicken canvas.
The worst-kept secret of Roji is the Udon (HK$95), famed by Instagram foodies and journalists as one of the finest udon bowls in the city, served warm with a mix of salty mentaiko - lightly spiced pollack roe - fried garlic chips, ginger dressing, oba leaf, and fresh shiso. Roji’s powerful udon is cooked in earnest with few ingredients, tasting powerful with a bouncy sea taste from the popping roe and a succulent salty cream that sticks to the noodles and provokes a lightly acidic aftertaste with the floating ginger.
A high-rated favourite in my tasting at Roji was the final main served, the Wagyu Box (HK$248), thinly cut M4 wagyu and Japanese rice braised in soya sauce, topped with onsen egg, shichimi, garlic chips, and saffron. With a tip to mix all ingredients together in the box, each bite explores the umami and salt bursting from the beef, a pleasant salty aftertaste in the rice, with the onsen egg literally tying (like a glue) the bitter shichimi and garlic together with the faint sweetness of the beef.
Roji is for foodies like myself who require a careful entrance into the gastronomic rules and regulations for eating in an izakaya. With non-offensive ingredient lists and recipes following French inspirations, the umami-focused and acidic spread is best paired with a steady flow of highballs and sake shots to cut the grease and start the party with close ones.
On your first or next visit to the alleyway party venue, we recommend ordering the Torotaku (HK$158), Karaage (HK$118), Wagyu Box (HK$248), Chicken Katsu (HK$168), and Black Cod (HK$248) for a well-rounded sampling of what Roji does finest.
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