Tempura Hajime Park St South Melbourne

Behind a non-descript door in Park Street, a little slice of Tokyo has dropped into South Melbourne.

Tempura Hajime Park St South Melbourne

Tempura Hajime is a tiny restaurant which only serves, you guessed it, tempura. Now I’m not such a great fan of tempura (how much fried stuff can you eat in one sitting?) but the restaurant had come with rave reviews from M and B, my generally non-tempura eating friends, plus a host of other food reviewers and bloggers. Given that the restaurant only seats 14 people around the wooden counter, bookings are hard to come by. So this dinner had been 2 months in anticipation!

Tempura Hajime Park St South Melbourne

There are no menu options – it’s $72 for the tempura set menu. I’d forgotten that my friend M didn’t eat fish or seafood but the staff were generous with providing her with alternatives. Although frankly I thought she was a bit cheated not being able to experience the delicious sashimi…

Tempura Hajime Park St South Melbourne

…..fried prawn (note the cute bird-shaped lemon juice squeezer in the background)…

Tempura Hajime Park St South Melbourne

…seared tuna with avocado and a dab of Japanese mayonnaise…

Tempura Hajime Park St South Melbourne

…scallop stuffed with rich sea urchin…

Tempura Hajime Park St South Melbourne

…whole whitebait….

Tempura Hajime Park St South Melbourne

…and mushroom stuffed with prawn. I like the Harry Houdini moustache of this morsel!

Tempura Hajime Park St South Melbourne

What she did receive was lots of vegetables, including this beautiful leaf. I couldn’t work out whether it was actual leaf, or a precisely cut piece of vegetable in the shape of the leaf. But so pretty!

Tempura Hajime Park St South Melbourne

We also shared a tofu stuffed with chicken (or pork)…

Tempura Hajime Park St South Melbourne

…mixed tempura with rice in a teriyaki sauce…

Tempura Hajime Park St South Melbourne

…and for dessert, a silken yoghurt pannacotta with sweet muscat juice.

Tempura Hajime Park St South Melbourne

Now for the main question – how was the tempura? Given that we’d eaten a series of fried dishes, it was quite miraculous that we didn’t leave the restaurant feeling laden with batter and grease. Tempura Hajime presents tempura at its best, giving dishes an added layer of textural crunch without overpowering the food. In fact, sometimes it was barely discernable. I still remember the asparagus spear we had which tasted of…fresh asparagus.

Tempura Hajime is definitely worth trying once for precise, refined Japanese cooking. While M insisted that she enjoyed her meal, I’m not sure I would recommend it for anyone who doesn’t like seafood. Also, given that the menu doesn’t change too often and there’s no menu choices, it’s not the kind of place that I’d be attending regularly. It’s more the kind of place for a once-off visit. Just make sure you do go at least once, as there’s rumours that the owners are intending to move back to Japan in 2010.

For more high-end Japanese cuisine, try Nobu or Shoya.

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