Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tempura Hajime

60 Park St, South Melbourne
Telephone 03 9696 0051

I am an unashamed, absolute, stereotypical girl. I calorie-count, weight-watch, fast-fastidiously, snack-sparingly*, diet-desperately, and exercise-exhaustively.

(*Okay, this is a lie.)

So what could induce me to postpone my persistent and pestilent pursuit to purge pounds in a show of defiance not seen since I tearfully chomped cookie after cookie of Arnott's 40% Premuim Chocolate Chip to the tune of Katherine Heigl consuming an entire stick of buttter (and infinite trays of muffins) after the untimely death of her fiance (who has since returned to haunt her now that she's finally in a healthy (!) relationship with Karev)? What made me pick up the phone a month to the date to book us in for a deep-fried degustation so devillishly decadent it would cost me more than any singular dress I've ever bought in Melbourne at the expense of being able to fit into every other one already purchased?

Unadulterated, pure, unselfish love, that's what (and the Bible-wielding G would have you believe there's no other kind.) Exactly half a year's worth. And goaded by warnings of their imminent closure to return to Japan, we dive heedlessly into tempura wonderland - like Alice, recklessly consuming all and anything that remotely hints 'Eat Me'.

We begin with an enchanting appetizer of Kobachi and Sashimi - a cornucopia of fresh salmon, kingfish, and ocean trout accompanied by a small serving of the Japanese vegetabable 'Nanohana' and calamari drizzled with sesame seeds and sauce:

And then, almost immediately after, the Dream Master emerges from the kitchen and in less time than it takes G to crane his neck around the stove to salivate over the man's deft handling of delights disguised in batter, we are served our first tempura experience.

An achingly gorgeous king prawn. Adorn to your personal taste - pick from pink salt flakes with lemon juice freshly squeezed from the most darling bird-like juicer or a lovely tempura dipping sauce with white radish mixed in. "But not a combination of both - not good."

And then comes what I refer to as the M&M experience (though a comparison to the over-the-counter, artificially-coloured confectionary seems almost like an insult). Despite a quick swab of the pink salt (which G implored the waitress to reveal the source of - Murray River) and lemon juice, the batter remains light and crisp and its combination with the crunchy juiciness of the prawn tastes blasphemously unearthly. It literally melts in my mouth. And now I know what John Lethlean was on about (and I hardly ever do) when he said "you've never really tasted a prawn" until you've had this one.

And we're off.


Scallop with Sea Urchin - this was G's pick of the night for its briny freshness. I thought it was bit of an acquired taste, personally, and so he acquired my other half.

An interlude of seaweed salad - the seaweed is of what I can only describe as the jellyfish kind - all rubbery (in a good way!) and delicate. And the avocado made for a meltingly fine accompaniment.

Sweet Potato

Mushroom with Prawn Mince - big, bad, beautiful. One bite of this had me eyeing G's even before he'd touched his. Ridiculously juicy considering its crisp coat.

Whiting - and what a whiting wit was - sorry, couldn't resist the lure of alliteration. I ate the whole thing, down to the fins (and the one G discarded as well). Fresh, fried fish. How can you lose?

Eggplant with Chicken Mince - an excellent, temporary departure from seafood with a distinct onion flavour running through the meat. In a shamelessly pompous gesture, I closed my eyes to savour this one.

Eel with Teriyaki Sauce - G proclaimed this the best unagi he's ever had - and he's had plenty. And then proceeded to lament that no eel would ever taste the same again. So eat at the peril of your own future satisfaction.

And (regretfully), we conclude with a sushi roll of ___ fish with sour plum, and calamari with seaweed running through. The calamari had perfect texture - slightly resistant to the bite and then yielding with juicy contrition. G waxed lyrical about the perfect combination of the sour plum to the fish, so I gave him two-thirds of mine. Personally, I think the sour plum needs a bit of getting used to.

With the end in sight, we're served with a bowl of rice and tempura-d seafood and vegetable combination.

We spy corn in the mix, and are told that prawn, scallops and fish contribute to the seafood half of the donation. All very good but I'm very full, so G devoured most of two bowls (which we discreetly switched so as not to insult the chef).

And finally, just as I was thinking, Colonel Sanders-esquely, that perhaps deep-frying is the way in which all food should be served - and in the two decades I've lived so far, I've just been corrupted by other cooking styles, we float back to earth with a gentle, yoghurty flan, accompanied with a single mint leaf (which G unashamedly chewed up cow-style even before we'd received our spoons), and two bites of orange.
It's the perfect ending - the ubiquitous green tea ice cream other Japanese restaurants favour would have been too, too much.

And so we pay our compliments to the chef, settle the bill (unprecedentedly leaving a tip - hey we're students!) and step outside the hidden entrance (a wooden door in an office block with no signage whatsoever) and stroll to the tram stop, the frigid night air rousing us from the waking dream that is Tempura Hajime.

Revision 26.10.2009: Tempura Hajime never did end up closing because the owners couldn't afford to move back to Japan after the GFC hit. I'm not sure whether this is something to celebrate?

Tempura Hajime on Urbanspoon



  2. What do you mean you hardly ever know what I'm on about?

  3. What's wrong with Japanese??

    And dear God woman, you are pushy. :oP

    Just thought you should know upon reading the post immediately looked up calendar to find a special enough occasion to warrant a visit.

    I think 7 years 4 months and a day is very significant.

    "..oh Chonggg...."

  4. Lin (Vee's friend!)November 25, 2008 at 1:38 PM

    Japanese - yum.... fried Japanese - yum-mer.....!

    Your review's awesome... I totally wanna eat there now!

  5. Aaah...I see you're as smitten with Tempura Hajime as I am :-)

    It is such a shame that they will soon pack up their bags and head back to Japan :-(

  6. woman!!
    you know, this is actually the 1st time im seeing your bf's face this close. hahhaa..

    when are you coming back laaaaaaa???
    i want to eat japanese food too!!!
    im shit stress now.... =(

  7. Aw Vee, its 6 months already?? :D Its so fast huh. And that is a really sweet picture of the both of you.

    Oh, lets go for Japanese when we meet up?? Haha. Or maybe we could make sushi together cause I am kinda broke right now. Lol.

  8. Your dishes looked slightly different to ours, it's inspired me to visit again soon...

    Jetsetting Joyce