The Tsunami's Aftermath in Hong Kong's Japanese Restaurants

In recent months since the March 11 earthquake that caused a tsunami to devastate the Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures in Japan, the Japanese restaurant business in Hong Kong has been feeling the detrimental effects.  Due to mass paranoia by the Hong Kong public and their fear of radiation tainted products from Japan, many Japanese restaurants have experienced a great loss in profits, some even closing down for good.  

In an article written by Lynn Fung at , she highlights the issues Japanese restaurants have had to face, and their solution to the problem.  She reveals that some establishments have chosen to stop using Japanese products all together and seek alternatives from other countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Norway and Alaska while others continue to use selected ingredients from the western and southern parts of the country after inspection from the Japanese Ministry of Health.

To gain perspective on the situation, Asian Palate sat down with the owner of Gyotaku, John Liang, to discuss the measures he’s had to take in order to stay afloat in the troubled Japanese restaurant business.  Gyotaku opened its doors on Stanley Street in Central this past January, targeting higher end fusion sushi-lovers with artful creations.  Before the tsunami struck, Liang imported products and ingredients from all parts of Japan.  Now he chooses alternatives from Canada, Australia, Taiwan, Spain and Brazil, with the exception of a few products coming from the unaffected southern area of Japan.

Liang says, “We’re now using uni (sea urchin) imported from Canada.  The taste is a little different than the one we previously used from Japan, but nevertheless, it’s still good, and slightly bigger in size.  We tried using yellowtail imported from Korea, but the quality was not the same, and it wasn’t cost-effective.  I invested in a radiation detector in case my customers felt uneasy about consuming the yellowtail but I can assure you, all the fish we use is radiation free.”

Gyotaku enjoyed their moment in the sun until the tsunami struck, causing them to lose significant profits, and to close momentarily.   Liang took this as an opportunity to reinvent his menu and began working with a new team of chefs to create more traditional styles of sushi and sashimi.  “I wanted a team of chefs that can produce great tasting dishes for the Hong Kong taste bud with innovative ideas while adding a slightly modern twist to traditional Japanese food” explains Liang.  With the new menu, Liang was able to lower prices and stay competitive with other Japanese restaurants, while also offering a 10% discount for the months of May and June to attract more customers. 

Now that the menu has been revamped to feature traditional dishes with a slightly modern twist, Liang highly recommends the Omakase Sushi Set which includes a seared salmon sushi giving it the modern twist he desires, wagyu beef foie gras fried rice with tobiko, ox tongue marinated in XO sauce, grilled cod with melted cheese topped with onions, and fried scallop stuffed with oba leaves and foie gras.  Gyotaku also brews a variety of homemade fruit sake alongside their selection of light-bodied sakes, as it compliments the sushi and sashimi available on the menu.