Peeling back the hype at Yardbird, Sheung Wan

So Yardbird, the hyped gweilo yakitori place in the depths of Sheung Wan.  Near another Sheung Wan fav I’ve yet to try, Oolaa.  “Yardbird” is ancient American slang for chicken, which makes sense as they use almost the entire chicken!  Any good?  Find out below.

After months of waiting, the opportunity presented itself: fellow food explorers, vehicular transport, early start.

Rule one: no reservations; walk the walk and show up.  We got in there at 6:30pm on a Sat evening and the small bar area upstairs was already full!  Predominantly Caucasian/overseas Chinese clients – well with the location (the middle of nowhere), it’s definitely a pre-planned trip.  Thankfully there’s a (rather cramped) downstairs cellar.

BUT!  Rule two: your entire party must be present before they seat you.  Meaning?  Two hungry guys vs one lady whose hair salon appointment was overrunning until who knows when (who knew a dye job could take over five hours?).  We made the call.  I’m sorry.  Table for two.

Just so you know, we managed to squeeze in another chair 1.5 hours later (told you it was a good call).  So all’s well that ends well.

We opened things up with two Yebisu malt beers ($58 x 2), because yakitori = beer.  Too bad no draught Asahi.

Open kitchen. Upside – cool; discourages the chefs from spitting on your food.  Downside – at one point it got very, very smoky.

Long staircase down – from my seat I could see the receptionist peek her head down every 5 minutes to check the seating.  Primitive but it works.

Specials on the wall.  At this point we just fired off a few choices from the wall and the menu.

OK so the food!  What unfortunate morsel would come first?  It was the sweetcorn tempura ($85).  Great start I have to say.  Sweet, crunchy, and good, I don’t think there’s anything like this elsewhere in HK.  You must try this!

From the wall specials – my fav ox tongue ($110)!  Buried by a bunch of herbs.  It was the thin cut kind, not as thick and juicy as Sumi Yakitori, but still good – just too few!

Here comes the chicken, starting with the chicken oyster with sea salt and lemon ($42).  Had a chuckle cause Friend One thought the chicken oyster was an actual chicken plus oyster combo.  Edutaining part coming: turns out in poultry there are parts near the thigh which are apparently the most tender and flavourful.  It WAS pretty juicy.  My friend who has a salty palate said it could’ve been just a tad saltier though – guess that makes sense.

Another wall special was this chicken fillet with yuzu miso sauce ($38).  What can I say, pretty good…tasted like a regular chicken skewer?

Chicken wings with sea salt and shichimi ($38).  These were mostly bone and were gone in like two bites.  Not very special.

Chicken meatball with tare sauce and egg yolk ($42).  You mix the sauce and yolk and dip it in.  Moist, funteractive and coated with flavour.  A shot of awesome.

The short rib with Japanese curry and pickles ($240).  Seven pieces of what looked, smelled and tasted like char siu.  Really tender char siu.  But at $34 per piece, I hope this dish extended my life by at least five minutes.

(Note: somewhere around this point, Friend Two arrived)

Rice cakes with furikake and sesame ($80).  Was totally thinking of yaki-onigiri (grilled rice balls) instead, but it was actually mochi sticks.  For my friend though it was a very pleasant surprise, and he just gobbled it up.  For me though it was a bit too salty and overwhelming.  The seaweed and the sesame brought me and Friend Two back to childhood Ginbis animal biscuits…(which, by the way, are 30% fat and 14% sugar)

I like the maitake mushroom (舞茸 / “dancing mushroom”) tempura ($100), although it wasn’t really tempura looking.  Healthy and good.

Everyone gets this free chili powder packet to take away.  As I’m not a spicehead I didn’t take mine.

After reading a bunch of reviews I think we missed out on the KFC – Korean Fried Cauliflower, which everyone seemed to get along with the corn tempura.  Oh well, if there ever is a next time, I know what to order.

Another amusing thing to watch was that a waiter was about to sneeze as he carried a dish to another table, but aimed it downwards and inwards.  Still, I’m glad we were done!

Time to pay the piper.  $1,180 for 3, or $393 each (although Friend 2 arrived late and didn’t reach her full eating potential).  No service charge was a nice touch, it makes you feel more generous when you tip them anyway!

Conclusion: so this place is definitely a novelty, with some unique dishes.  Service is a selling point and they took the time to explain everything, ask you how the food was, etc.  They also put a good amount of heart into the food, which is refreshing.  The SF/LA/NY/London/gweilo vibe is hard to recreate in HK and they do it successfully here due to the bar decor, loud hip music, young hip English-speaking staff, young hip crowd, and all-English menus.  But the dead-end location, plus the wait and the price, all take it down a notch.  The whole experience makes Yardbird worth trying once as a destination restaurant.  But if we’re just talking about food, for sheer value for money while still keeping the quality, of the yakitori places I’ve tried so far Sumi Yakitori is your best bet.

Restaurant rating: NOM NOM NOM NOM (out of five)

Opening hours: Mon-Sat 6pm – “late” (closed Sun)

Tel: 2547 9273

Address: 33-35 Bridges Street, Sheung Wan 上環33-35 必列者士街

Web: Openrice 中文, Openrice English, Sassy HK review

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