Spring has sprung! Well, technically spring has sprung, but somebody better get Spotty to go tell Mother Nature because it doesn’t quite feel like it yet. Regardless, a friend and I thought we’d celebrate spring’s arrival the best way we knew how – some good old fashioned eatin’.
Another friend recently told me about a Japanese restaurant called Ha-Lu up the northern end of Oxford St, almost where it meets Scarborough Beach Road. I can remember that there is a pet shop, an op shop, and I think also a sex shop of some sort up there, but I had no idea that a Japanese restaurant was hiding up there too amongst the dog biscuits and old copies of National Geographic. After checking out their website, and indeed confirming that was where they were located, I was very curious to check it out.
According to their website, the dining style at Ha-Lu is “izakaya style”, which “encourages social interaction around the table, with the idea of a number of dishes to be ordered and shared. Most diners will order two or three dishes per person to be placed in the middle and tried by everyone at the table. Various dishes will arrive as soon as they have been prepared by the chef ensuring the highest quality of freshness and flavour”.
I called to make a reservation the day before we wanted to eat there, and requested a table for 7:30. The softly spoken girl who answered the phone asked if I could instead make it 7:15, which puzzled me a little but I agreed to. As it turns out, I managed to get away from work at a reasonable time and we actually arrived at the restaurant at 7:00, which didn’t cause any problems (apart from me saying we were early for our ‘appointment’ rather than our ‘booking’ or ‘reservation’…. I think I’ve been seeing too many doctors lately!).
The decor inside is quite modern, with a few nice touches such as fabric hangings to walk through to get to the toilets. No cool Japanese touches in the toilets though I’m afraid – the toilet itself was totally analogue.
After checking out the sashimi of the day – salmon, tuna and kingfish – we spent some time going through the rest of the menu. It really is quite interesting and had a number of dishes and ingredients that I was unfamiliar with. The waitstaff were all absolutely lovely, and very happy to explain anything to you. We eventually settled on some miso soup ($2.50), sashimi of the day ($18.00), agedashi tofu ($8.50), octopus kara-age and lotus root hasami-age ($12.00), spicy ginger pork ($14.00) and Patagonian toothfish nitsuke ($18.00).
There’s something about drinking miso out of these little wooden bowls that makes it taste better, I think. I really should buy myself one for home, as my coffee mug doesn’t quite have the same effect (despite being beautifully decorated by my goddaughter’s crayon expertise).
The sashimi was wonderfully fresh and thickly sliced, and went down an absolute treat. The tuna was so creamy I could have eaten all three pieces but I value my friendship with my dining partner and restrained my chopsticks. The super thin curls of carrot, zucchini and spring onion were also nice and fresh.
This dish was intriguing to behold, as all the little feathery pieces of thinly shaved something (which I now know are bonito flakes) continued to ‘flap’ in the air after the dish was placed down, and looked exactly like a swarm of little moths had latched onto the tofu. Silken is the perfect word for this tofu, though you could also say ‘goopy, but in a great way’. The coating around each piece was very light, but due to the silken texture of the tofu inside it was much easier to pop the whole thing in your mouth instead of trying to break it into pieces.
The octopus pieces were well seasoned, hot and crunchy, and not at all tough (mind you, they were pretty small, so toughness wouldn’t have caused too great an issue with chewing anyway). When our waiter brought this dish over he told us that the sauce was a plum sauce, but it’s not sour because they put something special in it. We were intrigued, and I’m not sure why we didn’t ask what this special something is. It was actually quite sweet, and paired well with the fried morsels.
Although I’m not a fan of eating fat, and admit to picking out the bigger bits of it before eating my pieces of pork, I really liked this dish. The sauce surrounding the pork belly was deliciously yet lightly spiced, and I used more than my share of the cabbage to mop up the leftover dribbles. The mayonnaise remained untouched by either of us. Poor mayo.
I don’t think I’ve had Patagonian toothfish before, and although I liked it I don’t know if I’ll have it again as I’ve just learnt that it is fished by trawling. I found it very soft and quite fishy in taste, which suits me but may not be everyone’s cup of broth. The broth itself had an interesting flavour – the first adjective that comes to mind is “dirty” which clearly isn’t a terribly appetising word but I’m not sure how else to describe it. It was a nice dirt, I can assure you.
I wasn’t quite full after having more than my fair share of these dishes, so quickly agreed to having a look at the dessert menu when it was offered. It is a pretty limited dessert menu, and didn’t take me long to choose the “chocolate berry sundae” ($9.50), which I asked to not have any cream in, although my friend made up for this by ordering the “home made cream caramel” ($7.50).
He enjoyed the creme caramel, saying it had a nice flavour and texture. I was more concerned with the cute little dish it came in, which he posed perfectly for the photo :)
And, I’ve saved the best photo for last! Check out this for a crazy sundae. Coco Pops? Cornflakes? It was a bit difficult to eat at first, given how full the glass is (with coco pops!), and I sadly lost a raspberry to the table. Hiding down the bottom was more icecream and berries, and thick chunks of chocolate. I wasn’t feeling particularly breakfasty so I did my best to dig around the cereal but ended up eating quite a lot of it anyway and I guess it added a nice crunch.
The service was fantastic, really friendly, helpful and efficient. Overall I really enjoyed our meal here, and am looking forward to going back to try all the other dishes that caught my eye but weren’t the chosen ones this time (although I’m not sure I’ll be trying the “deep fried crumbed camembert cheese served with blueberry sauce”). They also have a smaller takeaway menu, and quite a few people came in during our meal to pick up takeaway bento boxes.
I would definitely recommend booking a table, as we went on a Tuesday and it was pretty packed, with some tables turning over a few times while we were there. Although, if you just rock up and have to wait for a table, at least you can amuse yourself browsing in the sex shop or reminding yourself what you look like in flares.