Friday, 8 August 2008

What is Unctuous? - Hako Japanese Restaurant

The dining room of Hako Japanese restaurant is a pretty sexy place in the evening. And by that I don't mean brash bordello sexy as in red lace and black leathers (too bad if that's your thing), but rather a classy jazzy sexiness exuded by its monochromatic base colours and dimly lit aesthetic. Politely demure wait staff dressed in black, flickering tea-lights on tables and sparse moody rows of bare tungsten globes add to the romantic feel. Though I'm not sure whether noise reverberating off all those bare wood surfaces when the room is full would spoil it for romancing couples, since we ducked in unannounced just on start of Saturday evening service and the place was quite empty. But that meant we could nab a table provided we promised that we'll be done in an hour and a half. Fully booked out for anytime later.

Tea by tea-light at Hako, or could it be matcha with matches :)

We began with a Main serve of Sashimi ($27.80), which could've been more generously plated for its price. The usual suspects salmon and tuna, and two different white fish (swordfish and possibly snapper) were appealingly presented with specklings of tobiko (flying fish roe), some grated daikon and a little wasabi (though where's the pickled ginger?), and served with dashi and soy dipping sauce. Nothing too adventurous but at least two different cuts of flesh were offered for each fish, tastier and more sought after fatty slices from the belly region or equivalent were contrasted with the firmer almost springy muscle. And all sparklingly fresh as one would expect. Next was Nasu Dengaku ($9.80), a whole eggplant scored deeply at intervals and deepfried, following which a thick sweet miso glaze is slathered into the gashes before a brief charring under the griller. The slippery and savoury pulp that was punctuated by points of nuttiness from toasted sesame seeds was simple and delightful, as was the communal sparring of chopsticks required to compete for one's fair share!
(A recipe version of nasu dengaku using just the griller can be found here, though if large eggplant halves are used I'll be inclined to brush them with oil and pre-grill them wrapped in foil until a little soft before continuing. This should avoid over burning the skin while leaving the insides still insufficiently cooked).

Unagidon is a favourite and Hako's in-house version ($22.80) was quite satisfactory. A sweetly gelatinous length of Kabayaki eel fillet over a generous box of rice sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds. More sparring! It came with a bowl of surprisingly standard miso broth. The serve of rice with the unagi was appreciated and timely, since nothing else came with rice. A request for more was provided in a miserly amount in an already small porcelain bowl ($2); unecessarily stingy. Matcha (green tea) at $3.80 per person was more subtle larceny despite refills of hot water (which by the way doesn't quite work as successfully with powder as with tea leaves).

Sublime flesh offered by Hako's Chargrilled Kingfish Kama

Despite these glitches, the highlight of our evening came in the guise of the poster Special of Chargrilled Kingfish Kama (yellowtail kingfish collar) ($19.80), a great value-adding offering of the pectoral 'wing' and 'collar' behind the head of the fish. Based on other reviews of Hako, it seems to make quite a regular Specials appearance and now we understand why. To date, I have tried to avoid use of the word 'unctuous', a somewhat clichéd descriptive for what I guess applies to a slippery and deliciously oily (in a very good way) mouthfeel in certain foods. But the heck with it, I now have to get it out of my system! Hako's dengaku eggplant was certainly unctuous, the unagi was most definitely unctuous and brother, was the rich and flavoursome scalloped flesh that fell from that chargilled piece of kingfish ever bloody unctuous! I have no idea how they achieved the sublime effect of smokily charred skin yet leaving the generous amount of flesh within so devinely moist and um, unctuous! A light marination with oiled sake or mirin and white miso may also have contributed to the flavour but otherwise it was seasoned simply with salt and a squeeze of lemon. I'll go as far as declaring it as one of the more memorable dishes we've had out in the past 6 months. That it is a simple, carefully prepared street-style portion of chargrilled fish offcut makes this seem rather absurd and more than a little ironic given some of the establishments we'd been to in that time.

Food: 16/20 - Clean simple Japanese with some rustic surprises
Service: 15/20 - Polite and unobtrusive
Value: 14/20 - Cost over compensating with standard staples unecessarily spoils perception
R-Factor: 16/20 - Atmosphere and Specials will make us return
Spot Score: 15/20

Hako Japanese Restaurant
310 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC.

There seems to be a growing disenchantment in bloggers' accounts of meals had at restaurants of late, especially when judged in context with the size of the bill. But that doesn't change the fact that we all enjoy eating out in anticipation of a great meal or an eye opening dish. In the spirit of this enjoyment, will anyone else share and describe one surprisingly memorable dish that they've had eating out in the past 6 months or so, and where?


thanh7580 said...

Towser, I've only lately learnt the word unctuous too. I haven't used it yet though.

I have eaten many dishes that were really good in the past six months, but I'd had them before so expected it.

But for a few surprisingly good dishes, here goes. At Vue de Monde, despite all the great dishes, the one that has left the biggest lasting memory on me was the Risotto with Truffle emulsion. At Pettavel winery, the grilled calamari was amazing. I didn't know that calamari could be so good. It was paired with a tomato foam, chilli, spring onion and a garlic mash thing. Finally, at the bloggers meet up at Purple Goddess' Dromana holiday house, the Soy Bombs by Cindy from Where's The Beef was fantastic. I hate vegetarian stuff but these soy bombs were great. I know technically this wasn't a restaurant, but it was surprisingly good. I even made the soy bombs again at home.

Agnes said...

Good question, Towser!

I have two - one would be the french toast at Cafe Plum. Nothing fancy, but it was amazing - I never would have thought french toast could be so good!

And the second would be the pumpkin risotto at De Bortoli (and a bonus mention goes out to their bread!). The risotto had the most intense pumpkin flavour. And the bread... ohmygod the bread.... I could've eaten a whole loaf of it!

Towser said...

Isn't it fantastic when a meal or dish all comes together and is able to provide such long lasting memories. The experience, and perhaps even the taste, linger on to be reminisced with fondness. Now that's what I call good 'value'!
Think I'll have to give those soy bombs of Cindy's a try, and also that french toast!