Hako remains a solid player in the city's re-energised Japanese scene. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Where and what
So what are we getting excited about this month? Southern US barbecue? Latvian latkes? Food trends come and go so fast that five years on a restaurant's time sheet makes it practically middle-aged, but it can pay to look back. Masahiro and Ji-ah Horie opened Hako on the below-Swanston part of Flinders Lane in 2007 after growing out of their tiny Degraves Street digs. No izakaya, it remains a solid player in the city's re-energised Japanese scene. Tried and true mixed with some surprise packages - it's a formula that continues to work.
Where to sit
The Japanese meatball is a standout at Hako. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
In the door, up the stairs, to a world that has banished the varnished pine of Japanese restaurant cliche for high ceilings, simple adornments and an air of cool. This is shabby chic, done Japanese-style, and the deliberately worn industrial setting wears its age well. Park yourself at the obligatory counter at the bar (although there's no sushi chef behind it - everything is made in the kitchen that opens via a hatch to the main dining room) and comfortable, well-spaced tables.
Sake and shochu, of course - a good collection - while a respectable wine list moves quickly from affordable to a higher price range.
Daily specials aside, some of the most interesting things are on the 10-strong list of otsumami (subtitled ''small nibbly things''), including a tasty Japanese meatball of beef cooked in tomato and soy and on a sticky slick of pureed mountain potato. For $5, I'd order two. The bao craze gets a Nipponesque slant, with the steamed spongy white bread flapped over barbecued pork belly with the crunch of cucumber mayo and a sweet, ginger-tinged soy. Yakitori? Say yes to skewered pieces of chicken thigh interspersed with crunchy onion and revved up with dried chilli and paprika. Hako is a Melbourne pioneer of grilled kingfish collar - that ugly face contains the charry-sweetest flesh. A pile of shredded daikon and a squeeze of lemon is all you need, and the sense of drama extends to cuttlefish fried in tempura batter stained blacker than black with squid ink. There's green tea salt to sprinkle at will - pause to admire the artistry, then eat.
A rose-drinking family and romancing couples.
Hako's still got it.
- (03) 9620 1881
- Opening Hours - Monday to Friday noon-2.30pm; Monday-Saturday 5.30pm-late
- Author - Larissa Dubecki