08/05/2007 - 22:00

Not your usual taste of Japan

08/05/2007 - 22:00

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First-time visitors to Mt Hawthorn Japanese restaurant Ha-Lu sometimes find the menu a little puzzling; but not because it’s written entirely in Japanese.

Not your usual taste of Japan

First-time visitors to Mt Hawthorn Japanese restaurant Ha-Lu sometimes find the menu a little puzzling; but not because it’s written entirely in Japanese.

It’s more that the menu has no traditional beginning, middle and end. Rather than a selection of defined entrées and mains there is a broad range of meals, which facilitates more of a tapas style of dining – where diners order a selection of different dishes to share.

And, while staple favourites like sushi, sashimi and tempura feature on the menu, there is also a broad and eclectic range of dishes, which at first glance don’t seem all that Japanese.

Then there is premium diced eye fillet steak served with steak sauce, garlic chips; a dish that gets decidedly more Japanese with the inclusion of wasabi, however.

Also on offer is braised pork belly, a slow cooked tender pork belly with sweet soy broth served with simmered Nitamago egg.

There is also a range of dishes that sounds very Japanese but offers something other than a standard bento box. Among these is the home-made tofu and Mizuna salad with wonton crisps with either a sesame or soy-mustard dressing.

Ha-Lu manager Robert Bahemia says the dishes are a selection of popular fare from various regions of Japan and, with its focus on tapas dining, Ha-Lu is quite different to the many other Japanese restaurants around town.

 “We do see some people sit down and have that blank expression on their face, wondering how to tackle it,” he says. “They are not sure, but that’s where our wait staff come in and explain that you can order one or 100 dishes.

“In Japan they have these bars where people drink some alcohol but they have a range of different snacks and small dishes. We wanted to take that idea, but with the emphasis being on the food rather than the alcohol.”

Owned by Japanese-based Kiyoshi Iwata and operated locally by director Yutaka Yamauchi, the restaurant has been drawing a crowd since it opened earlier this year.

So positive has been the response, in fact, that from next month the venue intends to expand its five-day trading week to seven days.

The owners set up Ha-Lu following great success with Yahachi, which was forced to close down late last year due to renovations at The Colonnade.

Mr Bahemia says he and Mr Yamauchi were still scouring Perth for the perfect site to re-open Yahachi, a more upmarket version of Ha-Lu.

Mr Bahemia says Ha-Lu’s tapas-style eating has put a focus on the food.

“It breaks down the barriers,” he says.“You can’t help but get drawn into the food. If a couple is going out to dinner they order an entrée and main and maybe try a little bit of each other’s and that’s it. In this scenario, the plates are served to the table as they are ready and you both enjoy them.”

The menu items range from $5 to $25, with Mr Bahemia recommending a couple enjoying dinner selects four dishes to share.

While alcohol was never the focus of Ha-Lu, the restaurant does have a broad range of sake, which is more popular with Japanese patrons, but still attracts other curious diners.

“Some people have the same misconception that I first had, that it is fire water,” Mr Bahemia says. “It’s not, but it is an acquired taste.”

The sake is served in a pot and sipped in glasses a little broader than a traditional shot glass.

Ha-Lu is open from 6pm from Tuesday to Saturday and will soon open on Monday and Sunday.

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