What to make of Yardbird? One of the reasons we wanted to go was that the FAQ section of their website specifically states that they “offer some gluten free options”. You are also encouraged to “alert your server to any allergies or dietary restrictions you may have”. Encouraging stuff you might think.
As it turns out their use of the word ‘some’ is going a bit far: they actually have the two options pictured: the seared yellowtail salad with yuzu and radish and the mushroom rice . Having been turned away once, and waited an hour to be seated, this was a disappointment. We were looking to try their Japanese chicken yakitori and korean fried cauliflower: it wasn’t to be.
The lovely waitress explained that people dealing with gluten intolerances often turn up at Yardbird with medical cards explaining what they need to avoid, gluten and sesame seeds being the most frequent. She says she has to explain that even if g-f soy sauce is used in the yakitori (and it wasn’t entirely clear that it would be g-f) the food would be cooked on racks where regular yakitori had previously been. She could ask for it to be wiped down before ours was cooked, would that be all right?
Seeing how tiny the open cooking area was, with four people only just having room to move, could we be assured there wouldn’t be cross-contamination? The answer inevitably was: no, that wasn’t all right. Unfortunately, a ridiculously small amount of gluten can cause a problem.We wish it was otherwise…
Maybe she asked in that way just in case we didn’t mind a bit of gluten in our diet, after all some people without a medical reason for doing it are eliminating or cutting it out, but it seemed as though it was the answer she expected as she went on to describe the two properly g-f options they have. Not to say they were bad: the salad was fresh and quite an interesting mix of tastes. The rice wasn’t bad either but was slightly marred by the singed garlic. It is just that having put a reference to gluten on the menu, it was surprising that there wasn’t any choice.
Interestingly, the waitress was very sympathetic: it must be difficult eating out she thought. Actually, eating g-f in Hong Kong really isn’t as limiting as Yardbird made it seem. Nearly everything on nearby Grassroots Pantry’s delightful menu, is g-f, and they are just a few streets away from Yardbird. In Soho in the other direction, everything but the spring rolls on Chom Chom’s menu is g-f – and they don’t even put this on their website. We felt Yardbird are getting people into their restaurant under false pretences: they should take their reference to g-f catering down rather than give people a misleading impression.
Incidentally, Yardbird don’t offer any desserts but welcome guests to bring in their own and don’t levy a cutting charge. The restaurant is a lively place, mostly populated with late twenty or early thirty somethings. That said, there was also a multi-generational family there at the same time as us. In keeping with its relaxed vibe there is seating on high stools at the bar and in the window. Although it is on two levels, the restaurant is small. Also, not taking reservations makes things more difficult for the wannabe diner. The first time we were told there would be a table in an hour to an hour and a half: this was repeated the second time round. Given how limited the menu is, it is unlikely we will be back for a third.
Despite the fact it was full (space is definitely a problem here, not only for the chefs) we decided to stay for a cocktail. Although there were a number of intriguing Japanese inspired drinks on the beverages menu, I played safe and chose a Yaki lime which described itself as Barrel Aged Rum, Grilled Lime, Mint and Muscovado Sugar. Like the rest of the restaurant it sounds a lot more appealing than it turned out to be. Served as a mojito in a tall glass, I really wasn’t aware of the rum and the lime just looked a bit old rather than grilled as the menu suggested it would be. I didn’t think the addition of sugar worked either, and it was very weak so, all in all, not something I could recommend. Instead of ordering another, we took ourselves off for a short walk before being called back when our table was ready.
There are some fascinating little shops in Sheung Wan, including one selling old paraphernalia like sixties photographs of John Kennedy alongside ancient typewriters, signs and phones. A little bit of a junkyard really but one that might throw up a find or two. Even without that, it was worth spending a few minutes of our time in here.
Yardbird, 33-35 Bridges Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong: Tel: 2547 9273: no reservations