beauty is in the eye of the Ha-Lu beholder
When it comes to favourite cuisines, I am pretty quick to admit that Japanese is definitely up there at the top of my list. There's something truly wonderful about their style of cooking where ingredients are respected and showcased in a humble but exciting manner.
So based on this I think it goes without saying that when my friends and I recently caught up for dinner and they suggested Ha-Lu, I was pretty happy to go. And why wouldn't I be, since the last time I ate at this fine establishment in Mount Hawthorn, I fell completely in love.
The four of us arrived for a 7pm seating, and were immediately met with an incredibly unpleasant odour. Turns out the building next door to Ha-Lu is renovating at the moment and painting their walls, which has led to the sharp tangy scent of the paint permeating this little restaurant. How unfortunate for them because it was really intense (almost intoxicating) and resulted in some other diners actually leaving.
If you haven't dined at Ha-Lu, it's an izakaya style eating experience where attendees are recommended to have 2-3 dishes per head to share. We decide to pick two each and then if we'd like more after, we'll continue ordering.
To start things off, Linda chooses the Agedashi Tofu ($10.50) which is deep fried tofu and aubergine served in a tentsuyu sauce. It comes out as four perfectly crisp tofu squares that have a satisfying crust on the outside and silky soft centres.
Tofu for me is a staple in my diet, so I'm incredibly satisfied with this dish, loving the sweet and salty balance of the sauce, and the nice topping of shredded seaweed. The aubergine inside is soft, fleshy and basically melts in your mouth. I never used to be a big fan of this vegetable but Japanese food has turned me into a fan these days!
Linda's other dish is one Vee and I enjoyed last time we were here, the Succulent 'Teriyaki' Chicken ($14). For me, I have never experienced teriyaki chicken better than the one here at Ha-Lu. It's pan-fried chicken thigh cooked with a chicken jus and sweet soy sauce.
The meat is extremely tender and juicy, but cooking it in a sauce creates an amazing crust that adds another textural dimension to each bite. I love the sauce, it's not overly sweet but still caramelises and works well with that deliciously creamy Japanese mayonnaise. It's such a seemingly simple dish and yet it has incredibly wow factor!
Vee chooses two dishes that we shared during our last Ha-Lu dining experience. First off was the Mushroom Croquettes ($12), which are lightly deep fried and come with a ume plum gelee to add some sweetness to each bite.
I have to say, while I love mushrooms and I love croquettes, this was my least favourite dish for the night's dinner. And that's not because these weren't nice, it's because everything else was much better!
The croquettes and crunchy and firm, the inside filling of mushroom keeping its shape. The flavours inside are not as earthy as I would normally like from a mushroom dish, but that plum gelee is fantastic and just as good as I remembered from last time. Sweet, sugary and completely addictive!
Grilled Fremantle octopus
Her other dish of choice is the Grilled Fremantle Octopus ($19) which was one of the standouts from my first trip to Ha-Lu. It's a long strip of char grilled octopus with garlic panko crumbs and shallots, served with ume plum and sesame oil.
As a big seafood lover, this dish holds so much appeal to me. That octopus is absolutely moorish - succulent pieces that are soft and only slightly chewy. I love the combination of textures with the garnishes on top and the way that the tiny serving of the plum and sesame oil on the side compliments the natural flavours of the octopus.
Wagyu beef tataki
It was Jay's idea for us to come here for this meal, and he's come prepared with a couple dishes to order. One of them is the Wagyu Beef Tataki ($18) which is seared, thinly sliced and served with soya beans and fried onions.
I think that's all anyone can really say when eating this. The beef is so melt in your mouth tender its ridiculous, the quality of the meat really highlighted by the simplicity of the dish. I love the accompaniments of the salty soya beans and the crunchy fried onions. I could snack on those sides all day happily!
Jay's other dish chosen was one that I would highly recommend to anyone going to Ha-Lu to eat. It's the Linley Valley Pork Belly "Kaku-ni" ($16). It's two cubes of fatty, slow cooked and completely soft pork belly with a soft boiled egg in a light soy jus.
For me, it's magic. Pork belly has such appeal that a great piece of it can make the hairs rise on the back of my neck. While I do love a good piece with some salty crackling, I actually prefer one that has been slow braised so that the fat is rendered and the flesh falls apart as it touches your tongue. Like I said, its magic.
For my dishes, I decided to get something I hadn't had last time. My eye immediately goes to the Ebi-mayo ($17) on the deep-fried dishes part of the menu. It's a dish made up of lightly deep fried tiger prawns in oriental mayonnaise sauce served in a wonton basket with an onsen style poached egg.
It comes out as pretty as a picture with the recommendation to 'smash and mix' the ingredients before eating them. A bit of fun to be had with this one! We do so and then watch as the prawns, soft egg, sauce and the shallots on top combine with the crisp wonton.
Texturally this has it all, creaminess, crunch and those perfectly cooked prawns which kind of pop as you bite into them. The flavour works well too and I love the decadence of having that much mayonnaise - it's rich and delicious.
Duck and aubergine
The final dish I choose is the last one for the night - the Duck, Aubergine, Madeira Sauce and Whole Grain Mustard ($24). It's visually beautiful and I'm really excited to eat it after spying the plentifulness of my favourite meat - duck!
The dish is chilled and char grilled slow cooked duck breast with aubergine and Madeira-Tamari sauce with a hint of Japanese mustard. There's a blob of whole grain mustard, spring onions, and additional wasabi and hot english mustard on side. Basically you get a great selection of different flavours to work with on this to suit all different palates.
The two rows of duck sit atop of soft, mashed aubergine and a slick of sauce. Alongside there's a little rosette of duck on its own which you can add the mustards too for more flavour. I love adding in the wasabi and spring onions for one bite, and a big slick of hot english mustard with another. These are flavours right up my alley and made for a very enjoyable dish!
While we consider ordering dessert after we finish our meals, the paint smell is making us all feel a little high, so we decide to call it a night here and head over to Superstar Waffles for dessert. The fresh air is incredibly welcome as we make our way outside!
It's such a shame that they couldn't stop the fumes from the paint making their way into this restaurant because besides that, our dinner was incredible. It's so easy to see why this place is loved by so many, and thought of as one of the best Japanese eateries in Perth. I'll be back, but I'll give it a little while so that the place next door is completed and won't interrupt my meal again!