Along the bustling lane that is Bridges Street in the district of Sheung Wan in Hong Kong, you will come across this quaint slate and glass paned standalone restaurant. At a glance, this place almost looks too beautiful to be a restaurant, and feels more like an art gallery, but don’t be tricked. This place is one of the tastiest places you will come across.
Yardbird is helmed by Matthew Abergel, head chef who has mastered the art of Japanese cooking techniques. In this world of yakitori-ya, kushiyaki-ya and izakaya, Abergel has managed to create dishes that sing for themselves. With Yardbird, there is one poultry that you never knew could be specialised in so many ways, the chicken.
Yardbird is inspired by izakayas of Japan. We are a family-style, neighborhood establishment focused on producing simple, tasty and honest food. Yardbird specializes in yakitori, literally “grilled chicken”, hence the name.” – Matthew Abergel, Head Chef of Yardbird.
There internal layout of the restaurant is divided into two floors. The entrance opens to the upper deck dining area beside the bar and the lower ground floor hosts the lower deck dining area and the kitchen. Filled with minimalistic designs with pronounced use of slate, glass and black trimming, the minimalistic design of the entire place puts you at ease in its relaxing atmosphere.
Yardbird has a no booking policy, which is a breath of fresh air, especially if you’re visiting from abroad and just want to try it for the first time. When asked why so, Abergel quipped: –
“Yardbird is inspired by the traditional Japanese Izakaya, where you go, wait, drink, wait, drink, eat, and hangout. To maintain this fun and casual style of dining, we knew we had to remove the formality of bookings.”
The dedication to chicken at Yardbird is unbelievable, with each and every part that you would never expect to receive its own dedication and recognition. The menu is divided into 5 sections: Smaller, Bigger, Rice, Soup and you guessed it, Yakitori, a whole section dedicated to each and every part of the bird to be experienced in all its glory. Yardbird also have specials based on what’s in season. All the meat here is locally sourced for ultimate freshness, and emphasis is made on the reduction of carbon footprint and the support of the local produce and local farmers.
From the selection of the Smaller menu, the Asparagus makes a great starter dish in its cast iron pot, simply seasoned with nori seaweed and onsen tamago, egg slow cooked under a very low temperature, hence giving the name a hot spring egg, in nod to the traditional hot springs of Japan. This dish speaks for itself and the balance of flavours from the contrasting sharp flavour of the asparagus is cut by the mild, thick flavour of the egg.
The Sweet Corn Tempura is a definite must try with its unique flavour of the savoury from the batter and almost too sweet flavour of the sweet corn. The fresh corn is perfectly fried in tempura batter which is made perfectly, ensuring that the dish is not overtly oily or rancid. To cook tempura is almost an art form, and if cooked properly, requires a lot of attention to detail, from the use of ice water, to ensuring that the batter is not too cold or not too lukewarm. At Yardbird, they have perfected this.
At Yardbird, there is a good selection of Yakitori, which is pretty much made up from all the parts of the chicken you can think of. The chicken Neck, or seseri (せせり) is a standout dish, where the meat from the bone of the neck is removed, leaving only the delicately tender flesh. This dish is unbelievably tasty, flavoured simply with pepper and yuzu kosho, a fermented Japanese seasoning made with chilli peppers and yuzu peel, a type of Japanese citrus fruit.
The chicken Heart, or hatsu ( ハツ), is also quite the stand out from the rest as it is cooked to perfection, soft to the bite and flavoured perfectly. Unlike most chicken heart yakitori, this one is cooked to perfection with its nice and almost too tender texture, and simply dressed with spring onion and ginger.
As we venture in and down the bird, we come to the Wing, or tebasaki (手羽先). This dish is seasoned simply with sea salt and shichimi, a Japanese seasoning made with 7 spices, including sansho, orange peel and black and white sesame seeds. The chicken wings were grilled to perfection with an intense golden colour on the outside and tender juicy meat on the bone.
The Liver, or reba (レバー), is cooked to perfection, still in crimson in colour. The thing with liver is that it is a very tricky dish, and has to be timed perfectly, and not overcooked. Seasoned with tare and sansho, a Japanese pepper.
Not to be confused by the name, but the chicken Oyster, or soriresu (ソリレス), is probably the best meat you can get off the chicken. This piece of dark meat, taken from the end of the backbone of the chicken where it touches the thigh is aptly named for the shape, as you guessed it, an oyster. Seasoned with sea salt and lemon, this dish needs not much to be great.
Another fan favourite when it comes to yakitori is the Meatball, or tsukune (つくね). Chicken meat is seasoned, minced and mixed creating a uniform texture, then barbecued until perfection. This dish is served with tare, a Japanese dressing, then dipped in raw egg yolk prepared with Japanese dark soy sauce.
Although primarily chicken centric, there are a selection of kushiyaki that is not chicken based, and the Pork Belly, or butabara (豚ばら) here at Yardbird sings. Generously topped with welsh onion and ponzu, a citrus based sauce, this dish is perfectly balanced with its liberal serving of the welsh onion for that kick of flavour.
As most restaurants would do, the Yardbird has a selection of bigger dishes as well, which adds a little more substantial portions as needed. The KFC, tongue in cheek for Korean Fried Cauliflower, is probably one of the best dishes you can imagine. The task of taking a boring vegetable and making it into almost a fast food snack is brilliant in its own. The chilli flavours from the Korean ssamjang, a fermented chilli bean paste, adds the much needed kick of flavours to the bland cauliflower. A definite must try.
As one of the most desired dishes, the Ox Tongue, or gyutan (牛タン), is prepared simply with Japanese herbs and a mustard vinaigrette. This dish is cooked perfectly, where the flesh of the tongue taste perfectly bouncy to the bite, without the rubbery chewiness of being overcooked.
As a Japanese staple, we cant vie away from the traditional Chicken and Egg dish, or oyakodon (親子丼), which is gruesomely named after “parent and child” where all the ingredients come from the same animal. Nonetheless, a classic with a modern interpretation made right with edamame and crispy chicken skin.
The Rice Cake on the other hand is prepared with furikake, a Japanese seasoning with various spices including seaweed, dried and ground fish, is used as a rice topper. Quite an interesting take on the traditional rice cake.
With the changing of seasons, some produce are more in season than others, and Yardbird’s eclectic change of what is needed according to season is a great, for example, the Scotch Egg. Battered and fried to perfection, this meaty poultry dish is something that should be had before it goes off the special menu.
The Yardbird Experience
One thing you will notice about the restaurant is the level of service. It is almost impeccable when it comes to how well they treat you, almost endearing, from explaining the Yardbird Menu, to suggesting the Omakase, to recommending a complimentary cocktail.
“At Yardbird, we have a very strong, loyal, and hard-working team. The Yardbird team is a family as opposed to just colleagues and we work together to demonstrate camaraderie both in and outside of the restaurant. It is our goal to make our customers feel comfortable and “at-home”, but at the same time excited and inspired by what they are eating and experiencing. We are still one of the few restaurants in Hong Kong that does not include a service charge, meaning that guests are encouraged to tip according to service. For this reason, it is even more important for us to pay close attention to our customer’s needs and maintain a high level of service at all times,” – Tara Babins, Communications and Floor Manager
If you are in the neighbourhood, you should definitely consider trying this restaurant out, casual eating with fine dining quality. You will never think of chicken in the same way again.
33-35 Bridges Street,
+852 2547 9273
Opening Hours: 6:00 pm to 12:00 am.
| PHOTOGRAPHY BY: JASON MICHAEL LANG AND NICOLE FUNG | WEBSITE: YARDBIRD |