310 Flinders Ln
Melbourne, VIC 3000
03 9620 1881
I envy those of you with jobs in the CBD, wearing suits and ties, your office high up in those buildings with silent, ear-popping elevators and a heart-aching window view. I will never experience a working life of this kind. Being with animals, the highest I’ve ever worked was on the 2nd floor and even then, it’d be quite a hassle carrying a big animals up and down a flight of stairs. For those of you working in the CBD, it’s so easy to lunch at Cumulus Inc or Earl Canteen, grab a coffee from Elevenses or Brother Baba Budan, and after work, unwind at any number of wonderful bars and restaurants just a mere stone’s throw away.

Hako feels like one of those places that CBD workers would go to after work, and that’s exactly what I did on a Tuesday night. Okay, I had to drive into town during peak hour and circle like crazy for a park. But once I set foot on the ground, it felt like the city belonged to me. The restaurant is located at the less busy stretch of Flinders lane. Once it’s nightfall, the other businesses close down, the lane becomes dark aside for a tavern a few doors down and Hako becomes a place you either know about, or don’t. And I quite like the ‘undiscovered’ feel about that.

It’s really quite a lovely place. Mood lighting from naked bulbs illuminating minimalist dark wood furniture. Entering this space brings about a tidy, uncluttered feeling with a sense of modern Japanese civility going hand-in-hand with the rawness and beauty of nature. You almost don’t notice that the serving staff are there, and yet they appear just at the right time for everything. It was the first time I met Ashley, who’d suggested we try here.
Hatsumago $18
(Junmai – Yamagata Prefecture) 180ml
light fruity fragrance with smooth & rich body and sharp dry finish, served cold or warm.

Ashley and I are not exactly sake experts, but we had some with our meal. I can’t remember anything about its taste but just look at the way our sake was served. Loved everything about it, from the spherical serving vessel, the square wooden stand and the ocean-coloured sake glasses.

pork belly 16.5
mom’s baked pork belly with brown miso and sake

This starter dish arrived very delicately wrapped in crinkled paper. We watched the unveiling with excitement. Ashley and I loved this dish. The pork belly broth was nicely light, with a delightful smoked and milky flavour. I could detect hints of real dashi, tofu, egg and mirin. Delicious. The pork belly meat itself was succulent and perfectly fork tender with a nostalgic rich taste that infuses up your nose. When we finished the pork, I continued spooning out and sipping every last bit of broth.

Actually, the pork belly’s nostalgic taste reminded me of this tin of stewed pork that I grew up eating back home
chingensai 11.5
bok choy with fresh mushroom in a konbu butter dashi broth

Chef Masahiro Horie also did very well with this dish. Such a simple, peasant style dish and yet so light and tasty. We loved the mild richness of the broth and the very idea of konbu (kelp) butter sounded lovely.

bottle holding soya sauce
omakase sushi 28.5
head chef’s selection of sushi

“Omakase” お任せ means “it’s up to you” in Japanese. Within the context of sushi bars, it really means the chef chooses everything and you sit and eat. I love that word, and I love that “let me feed you” concept. Sadly, this platter was a bit of a let down. The sashimi pieces weren’t that fresh in smell and texture, and one of the pieces had a small piece of bone that I had to fish out of my mouth.

anago chirashi 25.5
shredded grilled sea eel with egg omelette with enoki mushroom mixed with vinegared rice

I learnt from Ashley that anago is sea eel, which is different from unagi (freshwater eel). It’s meant o be more firm-fleshed and buttery perhaps…? Whatever it is, this eel tasted very much like unagito both of us. I’d probably need a side-by-side comparison to really recognise the difference. I did not really take to this main dish as nothing really stood out. The dish was on the sweet side because of the unagi-type sauce that’s used on top.

We noticed that groups woud come here after work and have drinks, a few eats… and linger on for hours. These gentlemen were here before we arrived and stayed on after we left.

This place somehow makes you want to stay on, chat and not leave. Ashley and I ordered and shared the green tea ice cream and black sesame mousse. What beautiful ingredients. The black sesame mousse was delicious, except once you dug deeper in, it became a jelly that wasn’t as exciting as the layer of black sesame mousse on top.
This place feels very geared towards business-people working in the city centre. I can imagine small groups of colleagues and friends coming here for quiet, meaningful conversations. People stay on and linger even after their meals have finished. Food-wise, it’s somewhat pricey and a little hit and miss. I’d come for drinks, nibbles and the ambiance. They’ve also got a bento-style weekday lunch menu. It might be interesting to see how this place is like during the bustle of a working day.
Read Ashley’s companion post “Hako Revisited” here.

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