Hinoki & The Bird
Hinoki & The Bird is a real “hot” restaurant in LA at the moment and it’s easy to see why. It reeks of class, but not in a stuffy ‘fine-dining’ way; it’s dark, moody, trendy, but there’s something quite welcoming about the place. You could turn up in a t-shirt and jeans or in a tuxedo, either way you wouldn’t feel out of place.
It’s tucked away in its own little spot in Century City, so when you pull up at the entrance there will be a little spark of excitement and you’ll breathe a certain air of exclusivity. This is something which characterises a lot of LA establishments, not something I am usually a fan of as I usually like to keep things low key, however on this occasion I quite enjoyed the feeling. The whole restaurant opens up upon entering, from a slightly elevated position you can see the place in its entirety, the buzzy ambience immediately filling your senses, a clever touch.
The garden is stunning, creepers adorn the walls and the glow of dim candle light casts warm shadows around the terrace. Natural wood placement is prominent and contrasted with rusted iron features, it’s all rounded in a clean, crisp finish. I could happily spend a whole evening here with their drinks menu alone. I’m a big fan of a ‘Negroni’ and at Hinoki they have dedicated a section on the menu to the classic European cocktail. Tinkered variations and exciting combinations, ask for the mezcal variation, it’s seriously smokey, bittersweet and fantastic.
Unfortunately I think I’m a bit more in love with the setting than the food. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very nice and some things shone pretty bright but it just doesn’t fill its dress shoes. The menu was confusing in its simplicity, with headers like ‘fun bites’, ‘inspiration’ and ‘simply grilled’. Beyond pretentious. It reminded me more of a morning pep talk at McDonalds HQ about the new additions to the drive-thru menu. Anyway without really knowing the size of anything or exactly what we were ordering, we waited to see the result. I use the word “see” extremely loosely, as frankly the level of light was so low that hovering Californian pearly whites were all that could me made out amongst the tables.
Two of the most popular dishes came out first, the ‘chilli crab toast’ and ‘pumpkin toast’. The crab toast was delicious, it had huge depth and excellent balance, sweet, salty and crisp, luxurious but rustic. The pumpkin toast I thought was pretty awful though, I believe it was the miso jam that shot it miles past the line for acceptable sweetness on a savoury dish. As a result the board sat unfinished on our table for quite some time. The ‘lobster roll’ was underwhelming too, style over substance definitely. The black roll it came in, green curry and thai basil added nothing to the dish and it was no better than any other lobster roll I’ve had, disappointing. The ‘beef tartare’ however was wonderful. It didn’t touch my favourite version of this dish at STK, however seeing as the imbecile new chef changed the recipe completely I am going to go with the Hinoki tartare as my new number one. It had a beautiful subtlety, a delicate balance with small hits of pickled jalapeno, a really great dish.
Chili crab toast, spicy cucumber, coriander | Pumpkin toast, miso jam, goat cheese
Beef tartare, pickled jalapeno, parmesan | Lobster roll, green curry, thai basil
Of the bigger dishes or dare I say “inspiration”, the caramel braised kurobuta pork belly wasn’t bad. Rich, fatty and tender, although mine was a little tough in the middle. It had a lot of flavour but I’ve had better belly dishes, and the extremely bitter mustard green garnish was a tad too much for my palate. The ‘skate wing’ was really good, I’m not normally a fan of its slimy characteristics but this one was just perfect, and the spicy ‘sambal’ sauce brought back wonderful memories of Malaysia and Indonesia. The sides were pretty damn tasty, something I believe to be a mark of a great restaurant, if they can match the main dishes. The ‘roasted yam’ was the stand out dish of the evening, a crisp skin encasing a sweet, fluffy luxurious centre, balanced perfectly with sharp creme fraiche and salty lardon, heavenly. The ‘hinoki scented black cod’ was theatrical, it came adorned with a huge smouldering sliver of hinoki (a species of cypress), it was quite stunning. Well they had to get the unusual restaurant title in the menu somewhere. I would have like to see more game birds on the menu though, and for a restaurant with a Japanese element in the title there should have been a greater presence in that respect.
In terms of dessert, the ones we had were not worth mentioning, I’ve found it somewhat of a rarity for restaurants out here to match their great dinner menus with fantastic desserts and Hinoki is no exception. Just stick with a night cap or three and enjoy the atmosphere.
My suggestion is certainly come here when you can get a reservation. It’s definitely worth a visit, and although moderately expensive, it’s appropriately priced. Try some other things on the menu and maybe you’ll discover a few more little gems, I’m sure that will be the case. If not, grab a seat, breathe the Hinoki ambience (literally), have a tartare and a roasted yam, nail some negronis and smile the night away.
Hinoki & The Bird
10 Century Drive
+1 310 552 1200