As Yardbird takes nest in Sheung Wan after many years in its eponymous NOHO location, I was anxious to discover whether the much-loved izakaya had lost any of its unique character. Upon entering my mind was immediately put at ease. With reassuring familiarity, the pretty girl on the front desk melted my heart, right before crushing it with news of a 90-minute wait.
The beguiling smile and prolonged wait are not the only things to be transferred a little too literally from Bridges Street. The much larger area retains the utilitarian canteen feel and Bauhaus-inspired fixtures. However, like the retro sound system, the décor now struggles to fill the space. So, whereas Bridges Street felt like an intimate party in a Berlin loft apartment, Wing Lok Street feels more like a bun fight in a Dresden train station waiting room.
The new location also seems to have attracted a broader spectrum of patron. Yes, you still have ironically bespectacled dandy in abundance, but the crowd was noticeably older and we had to jostle with more backpacks with Lonely Planet guides poking out the top.
After a few Sapporo, our energetic waiter showed us to our seats and we promptly ordered some edamame and pickles. The edamame had an unusual, but very welcome, hint of butter which made the little soy beans even more moreish. The sourness of the ginger and cucumber pickle provided a very pleasant contrast.
Given its popularity, Yardbird must be commended for not rushing proceedings (unlike Ho Lee Fook who almost manhandled us out the door this week). However, with a larger open space, you’re more acutely aware that there are people waiting to take your table. As my chopstick went down so did the collective brows of those awkwardly leaning on the designated waiting tables (which could quite easily be set up to host food). To their annoyance, as much as my own, we had to wait 15-minutes for our first yakitori. This was especially frustrating when you consider our first skewer was chicken skin and would have taken mere seconds to grill.
However, the ‘ume thigh’, ‘miso breast’ and ‘oyster’ yakitori then arrived in quick succession. The thigh divided the table, as the sourness of the ume and bitterness of the shredded shiso proved too unconventional for Mrs. A. We could both agree on the success of the miso breast though, which glistened, bursting with succulent sweetness. It was however, the Oyster that was the pick of the bunch. With just a light brush of lemon juice, they may have looked like scrotal fruits on sticks, but they delivered an incredibly intense chicken flavour with a cleansing citrus finish.
We ordered three larger plates. The brussel sprouts were an unexpected hit. The sweet and syrupy black garlic gave the spouts a cloying tamarind coating, from which crunchy pieces of fried garlic clung.
The cabbage dish was treated with a similar level of care and appreciation. The charred vegetable was lightly pickled in mustard miso and accompanied by softened garlic and sesame seeds.
Our final dish was duck fried rice. Although the duck pieces were generous and juicy, the dry nutty rice, fried onion and shiso hid any flavour the meat might have provided.
Overall, the food was good, but not great. But, Yardbird didn’t become the darling of the Insta-food scene because of the dishes. Chicken on a stick is infinitely pleasing, but also infinitely imitable. The nightly queues were more a result of a perfect location, a great setting and easy ambiance. Sadly, a little too much of that has been lost in transit.
Yardbird has successfully moved its body to become the second-best restaurant on Wing Lok Street (see Serendib), but its heart and soul still remains north of Hollywood.
How much? $682 for two
Where? G/F, 154-158 Wing Lok Street Sheung Wan
Who goes? A few too many tourists for my liking