Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tempura Hajime

60 Park Street, South melburne

Last Tuesday night, I finally got a chance to go to Tempura Hajime. Tempura Hajime first made its appearance in the ‘press’ when reviewed by tummy rumbles, and was subsequently and elegantly reviewed by ed at Tomatom, Jack at Eating with Jack, and esoteric rabbit, and probably more. Then of course, the Age reviewed it, and within a day, the place was booked out for months. I am a very lazy booker of restaurants, I only think to book one week ahead and then when I am rejected, give up. It is usually Nathan who books us in to nice places to eat (usually at my suggestion!), and this was no exception – after I tried twice to get in last year I gave up and told Nathan to do it… and he delivered!

I am not going to go into the details of the food, as the photos and reviews of the above sites are beautiful and made me want to go in the first place. What I am going to say though, is that it is a lovely experience. We had the 6:30 booking – the restaurant only serves 12 people a night (hence the long waiting lists!) and they are staggered so the chef is not rushed (630, 7 and 730pm slots). I liked getting there first, as it gave us a chance to speak to the chef. There was American couple there also, who asked questions like ‘What is a sea urchin’ to which the chef replied by hunting down a book of seafood and showing them a picture! We asked him abut the oil he used (soy bean oil, sesame oil and tea oil) and where he got his supplies (Vic markets and Footscray markets), and he was happy enough to talk with us.

Nath later said that what he liked most about the place was the chef was just a normal guy and it wasn’t stuffy – a bit like being invited to someone’s house for dinner (albeit a Japanese guys house with lots of tempura). It could have gone that way though… there is almost a day spa feeling to the place when you first walk in – dark lighting, candles, a large bunch of flowers, and a ‘waiting room’. The 12 seats arranged around the main stage (the two tempura oil baths and the preparation table) made it feel a bit like a dinner party.

And the food really was magnificent. Simply prepared, the freshness of the ingredients were allowed to shine, and I forgot I had just eaten over 10 courses of tempura as it didn’t really feel as if I had eaten a lot of fried food – it is not overly oily and the tempura is not fried too long, leaving things crisp and fresh. Surprisingly good courses were the baby corn, left quite crispy, and the sweet potato, which upon frying became remarkably sweet. And the oyster. Oh yes the oyster. I am a bit of a purist with oysters, I think they should be eaten with lemon, salt and be freshly shucked. But these were not overcooked so though they were warm and crispy on the outside, the oyster still remained fresh and dipped in the lemon and salt was so good I had to eat it in. little. bites.

And the other good thing about this place? Set menu means I don’t have to go through the agonising process of choosing what to order, and the food comes straight away meaning I don’t have to wait for the food. If only all places were like that!

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