Sensational Japanese Cuisine @ Ha-Lu, Mount Hawthorn, W.A.

A and I have been venturing to Ha-Lu for a while now, as we live only a few streets away. We went through a period where we ordered take-out from Ha-Lu nearly every Friday night and it only ceased when A wanted to try something different. I could never, ever get sick of their Chicken Teriyaki Bento box! So when it came to organising a place to catch up with our friends T & Ness, we decided to finally dine-in at Ha-Lu.

The dining style at Ha-Lu is “Izakaya” style, which encourages social interactions and the sharing of food. Each person is to order 2-3 dishes and share them with the rest of their table. The dishes will come as soon as the chef has prepared them, to make sure the highest quality of flavour is delivered to your table. Between the four of us, we didn’t really make a decision to pick two plates each and instead picked the plates that stood out to us.

The food menu is quite extensive, which is great as there are many options to choose from regardless of your eating preferences. Each dish is provided with a description under the title so there’s no blind ordering if you aren’t in the know about Japanese cuisine. The four of us enjoyed choosing what to order, as each couple ended up picking dishes the other duo wouldn’t normally try. I especially love this aspect of small plates and tapas dining, as new experiences and new favourites often eventuate.

Our wine for the night was a bottle of 2008 Blind Trial Pinot Noir ($43) from Central Otago, New Zealand. Ha-Lu also have plum wine, sake, beer and wine by the glass. The wine list is quite small however it has a few gems, leading it to still be seen as a great wine list. I sometimes prefer a short wine list every now and again, as it elimates a drawn out decision of your beverage and instead allocates that time to choosing your food.

For starters we ordered the Sashimi of the Day, which comprised of Salmon, Scallops and Kingfish ($18) as well as the Wagyu Beef Tataki ($18). The sashimi was quick to arrive at the table and the presentation was brilliant. The colours of the salmon, scallops and kingfish looked like they were in HD, with the colours being very vibrant. There were three pieces of each seafood and each element tasted extremely fresh and was melt-in-your-mouth soft. A lovely way to kickstart our evening.

The Seared Wagyu Beef was thinly sliced and served with soya beans and deep fried burdock (which is a type of plant). This was a standout dish for both Ness and I. The presentation, again, was superb and the texture of the Wagyu Beef was soft and delicate. I especially liked the deep fried burdock basket which was dark and crispy and you were able to crack off a piece and enjoy. The soya beans were also a nice accompaniment.

For mains we got a bit of everything – The Chicken Kara-age ($13), Vegetable Tempura ($13), Duck, Aubergine, Madeira sauce and Wholegrain Mustard ($24), Grilled Fremantle Octopus ($18), “Ishi-Yaki” Grilled Okonomi-Yaki ($15), Nikujaga (potato dumplings) ($14) plus Miso soup for T & A and steamed rice for T, A and I.

Another favourite aspect about small dishes is the way they are served – segmented throughout the evening. The first main that arrived was the Chicken Kara-age, which is deep fried chicken served with sweet soy Iwanori sauce and ume mayonnaise dip. I especially love Ha-Lu’s chicken kara-age, as it comes with the majority of the take away bento boxes. An added bonus for me is that normally A doesn’t eat the majority of her serving, so she’ll pass the leftovers to me. On this occasion, A stated that she thought the Chicken Kara-age tasted really nice and much better than when it was take-away. The Iwanori sauce was a lovely accompaniment and could be described as a very strong version of soy sauce which is made from seaweed. This sauce seemed to match the light and crispy chicken perfectly. The ume mayo is Japanese mayo which is thicker in texture and stronger in taste than the mayo we see everyday in Australia. This was the second dish that Ness particularly enjoyed for the night.

The Duck with Aubergine, Madeira sauce and Wholegrain Mustard came out next. The duck was slow cooked and then grilled, leaving the duck breast (which had very little fat in it) soft but texturised. The presentation of this dish was a definite standout as you can see from the picture. The flavours were amazing, as the combination of the delicate duck with the madeira sauce and wholegrain mustard was especially good. This was a definite clear favourite from both T and A.

Before leaving home, I went online to view Ha-Lu’s menu. There was only one dish that I needed to order on the night. I have a strong love of octopus and squid and if there is either of them on a restaurant’s menu there’ll be a strong chance I’d try it. Ha-Lu has Grilled Fremantle Octopus which is grilled and pressure cooked with garlic panko crumbs and shallots, served with ume plum and sesame oil. Panko crumbs may be my new favourite coating (Japanese breadcrumbs that seem to produce a crunchier exterior after being fried). I have recently noticed that panko crumbs have been featuring on a few of my favourite dishes in other establishments around Perth. The octopus was amazingly well cooked, as it was delicate and flavoursome on the inside and lightly coated in the crunchy panko crumbs on the outside. A definitely standout for me.

Vegies only get better when they are lightly coated in tempura batter and fried with sanscho pepper and served with natural salt and Tentsuyu sauce, so we ordered the Vegetable Tempura ($13). Tentsuyu sauce is a specialised dipping sauce for tempura and it was a perfect accompaniment to the vegies. The vegetables on this plate were eggplant, carrot and broccoli, however there could have been more which I didn’t try, as all of us were very interested in trying this dish as soon as it arrived.

The Nikujaga was ordered by A, who was intrigued to try the deep fried potato dumplings with slow cooked beef and onion filling served with a light soy dashi sauce. When it arrived at the table, it was a bit overlooked by the other dishes that surrounded it. A and I liked it however it was a bit bland in comparison to the other amazing dishes on the table, and when recalling our dishes from the night it was overlooked in my first draft. It definitely wasn’t bad though!

When we were ordering, the waitress told us that our mentioned options would not be enough for four. She suggested that we order a bigger sized plate to share. I jumped in at this point and said that I would love to try the “Ishi-Yaki” Grilled Okonomi-Yaki ($15). Poor T and Ness didn’t like this dish at all but A and I happily ate it. The Ha-Lu style tender okonomi-yaki (which is a Japanese savoury pancake) cooked in a hot stone pot had a distinct flavour to it that was quite strong and semi-smokey. I really liked this dish for it’s variety, as I haven’t been to Japan and have not tried anything like this previously. I would definitely order it again though.

A and T had the miso soups and finished them quickly. When we order takeaway from Ha-Lu we always order a side of the miso soup, as I see it as the best miso soup in Perth. The steamed rice was very fluffy and a perfect amount to have with our mains.

By this point in the night, we all felt quite satisfied. We had an amazing dinner with smooth service and new experiences. After our empty plates were removed from the table, the very friendly waitress provided us with a dessert menu. It was decided quickly that we’d have two desserts to share between the four of us. I chose the White Chocolate, Organic Houji-Cha and Berry Pannacotta with Ume Gelee ($9.50) and Ness chose the Cotton-Soft Azuki Cheesecake ($9).

Unfortunately, the panacotta wasn’t well received by T, Ness and I. The organic Houki-Cha (green tea that is roasted) added an interesting element to the layered dish however it wasn’t to our particular taste. Neither was the ume gelee (fruit jelly). Each element was quaintly layered in the glass which looked very pretty. A didn’t mind the dish, however she was more taken by the Cheesecake.

Luckily, Ness had the foresight to order the Cotton-Soft Azuki (bean) Cheesecake which was well received by all. The name of the dish really does say it all – it is ‘cotton-soft’ in texture and super light. There was a distinct smell of cheese in the cheesecake but it tasted really nice and wasn’t overpowering.

It was noticed by the four of us how knowledgable and friendly the service was throughout the evening. The atmosphere is lovely inside and we were lucky enough to sit in little booths of four. There are also quaint tables for two throughout the restaurant, which would be great for date nights.

I really enjoyed our night out to Ha-Lu and it would be safe to say that all four of us would recommend it in a heartbeat. We really enjoyed the service, atmosphere and especially the food. Plus the price at the end of the night was quite reasonable ($55 a head).

Highly recommended to those who enjoy beautifully presented and quality food.

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