On Thursday night one of my friends took me out to dinner at Nan Tei on Sun Wui Rd in Causeway Bay. There are many Japanese restaurants in Causeway Bay from Sushi to Teppanyaki, but Thursday night would offer something I hadn’t yet tried: a 100% grilled food experience.
After opening Nan Tei’s heavy wooden door, one gets the feeling of being transported into a cosy, dimly lit, slightly bustling and authentic Japanese eatery. Low tables and chairs filled the space, separated by the occasional screen and the walls were decorated with frames signed by Chinese celebrities. Indeed, one can understand why the rich and famous might choose to hide out here: good food and a sense of privacy. The most brightly lit area of the restaurant is the open grill kitchen where chefs prepare customers’ orders.
The first skewer to arrive was the shrimp skewer wrapped in chicken skin and a perilla leaf. An American friend recently told me that in the US there’s a dish they call “surf and turf” which consists of lobster (surf/sea…) and beef (turf/grass) on the same plate.
In some ways this beginning dish could be considered a kind of Japanese version of surf and turf. I am quite particular about chicken skin: unless it’s very thin and crispy I can’t quite stomach it. But in this case, grilled to perfection, one has the sneaking feeling they might have deep-fried it. But reassurance in its grilled origins lies in the tenderness of the shrimp underneath its wrappings. It was such a great start that I forgot to take a photo until I’d already bitten into it (several times).
Next came 3 thin slabs of ox tongue on a skewer. Complete with a very satisfying BBQ’d flavor, it took me about 5 seconds to decide I really didn’t care that it was a bit of an… interesting body part. After the final skewer of the night, this was my second favorite.
In order to balance out all the grilled food entering our stomachs, Nellie and I decided on a side dish of rice with soup and picked plums. Once again too excited to take a snapshot as it arrived (a dome of rice topped with red pickled plums sitting in a slightly cloudy soup and floating seaweed), I did manage to take one as Nellie stirred it together. I do quite like the movement that the camera captured though 🙂 . And on a side note, the green stuff on the rim of the bowl IS wasabi – to be added according to your preference.
Arriving shortly after the rice was a classic: grilled chicken wings. They were coated with a honey glaze and grilled to perfection. Unfortunately the skin was a bit too fatty and thick for my liking, so I left it behind – but the meat was unbelievably tender and evenly cooked.
Finally came the “ooh, aahh” skewer of the evening. Whoever thought of asparagus wrapped in pork is genius. I admit I may be a biased as asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables, but this was truly divine. The asparagus quality was very high with no stringiness and cooked to retain its watery, refreshing soft crunch (oxymorons are allowed in the food world!).
Even remembering it to write this blog post makes me want to go back and get some right now! Wrapped around it was ultra-crispy and thin pork that didn’t dominate the vegetable but simply enhanced it. Luckily it came on a skewer in a set of four and please note the cross-section photo that reveals the lovely green of the asparagus.
Despite my relatively small appetite that evening, as I had been a bit under-the-weather that evening, I had a fantastic meal as well as a lovely reunion with an old friend. Next time I vow to return with the voracious appetite that this amazing place deserves. It’s the kind of place people keep going back and back – and for that reason I recommend making a reservation as it’s unlikely for Nan Tei to have empty seats on any given night.