Hako is a Japanese restaurant on Flinders Lane just past Elizabeth St, with a subtle entrance that is made up of large wooden double doors, a large window to one side and a small sign up the top. I visited this place based on a recommendation from a friend, and thoroughly enjoyed my experience here.
There's a simple sophistication to the design and layout of Hako, with the small lights and designs. The atmosphere too, reflects this, as there's no staff bustling around, people are engaged in their own quiet conversations, and there isn't any music playing in the background (or if there was, it was very soft and we were didn't notice it above our own conversations). The service was really great, with very attentive and polite staff who kept filling up our glasses of water and presented us with menus as soon as we sat down. We didn't have to wait too long for our food either, and it was great that it all came at the same time, so we didn't have to wait for each other's dishes to come before starting our meals. Something I thought was really good, and not seen at many other restaurants and cafes I had been, was how clean the water glasses were. They looked like they were brand new, or had been washed very thoroughly.
Hako is opened for both lunch and dinner, with slightly varying menus. We went for lunch on a Friday, and luckily it wasn't very full at the time. The three dishes we ordered were the Udon noodle soup with tempura ($16.50), the Sakedon lunch set ($16.50) and the Nikudango lunch set ($16.50). We also ended up getting a starter of Edamame beans to share ($6), as our waitress asked if we wanted some once we had all given our orders. We weren't actually sure what Edamame beans were, or if they were of extra charge or complimentary, but decided to get it anyway. We only realised when we received our bill that it was not complimentary, so it would've been nice if we'd been told it didn't come with our meal for free- this sort of subtle way of getting customers to order more than they were expecting to is not something I've experienced before.
The edamame beans is a traditional type of boiled soybeans in their pods, and the beans here were done with light sea salt, to give it more flavour and taste. The beans taste similar to baked beans but with less density. The way to eat the beans is to gently bite down on the pod and push the beans out one by one (each pod has three beans). The beans were a good starter as we waited for our food to come, though a bit expensive for a bowl of that size.
The udon noodle soup came with prawn and vegetable tempura, diced chicken and a poached egg, and was served in a hotpot. It was quite an enjoyable dish overall, though the tempura did become very soggy as it was in the soup, and it would've been nicer to have on a plate on the side. The soup was a little on the salty side, but the noodles had a good elasticity with a chewy texture. The poached egg was done well, with the egg yolk flowing out when cut open. The small pieces of chicken however, weren't very flavoursome, with only a hint of saltiness to it, and got lost in between all the other flavours from the other ingredients.
The sakedon set consisted of grilled salmon in ginger teriyaki sauce, served on a bed of rice and with miso soup, house salad and a small bowl of pickled vegetables. The salmon was cooked perfectly, with no bones and not dry at all, and there was a good ratio of rice to salmon so you weren't left with more of one than other by the time you finished. The teriyaki sauce had good consistency and wasn't too viscous, with just the right amount of sweetness and salt for good flavour. However, despite being stated on the menu, my friend couldn't taste the ginger in the teriyaki sauce at all, which was quite disappointing.
The nikudango set consisted of three large japanese meatballs in a thick soy tomato sauce, and like the sakedon set, came with miso soup, rice, salad and pickled vegetables. The meatballs had a perfect amount of moisture to not be dry, and still had the juices from the meat itself come out. The soy tomato sauce gave the meatballs extra flavour and texture with the thinly sliced onion on top, but wasn't overpowering. It was set on a thin bed of potato mash, with some salad greens on the side. I didn't particularly enjoy the potato mash, as there was some added flavour in it that I couldn't quite put my finger on. It gave the mash potato an extra flavour that was a bit unpleasant, and similar to what happens when you eat wasabi- the slight stinging sensation in your nose. It did have a smooth consistency though, but because of the extra ingredient in it, I didn't end up finishing it.
The salad that came with the two set lunches was very light and refreshing, and the mayonnaise sauce that was drizzled on top wasn't overly strong and overpowering, and went well to balance the heavier flavours of the dishes such as the meatballs and the grilled salmon. The miso soup had good miso flavour, though not much seaweed and tofu in it, and did go cold quite quickly.
For the prices, the portions were quite generous, and left you feeling quite full by the end. I'd most likely visit Hako again to try some of their other dishes, as this first experience was quite good.