I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a nice connection with Japan throughout my life. When I was but knee high to a grasshopper, a Japanese kindergarten (yes – weirdly niche) opened up across the road from where I lived, so naturally that’s where I went. Our family formed a close bond with the Japanese chap that ran the place and he taught all of us kids the wonders of how to do cartwheels, eat raw eggs, balance a chair on one finger and do handstands. Oh, I also learned a bit of Japanese too, and this cool girl came over from Japan and homestayed with us for a little while. In primary school, I learned a bit more Japanese too and then in high school I was fortunate enough to go over there for a few weeks on a school trip. Last year I was lucky enough to go over there again for brief week of snowboarding a Tokyo-ing. And what’s more, I’ve been lucky enough to grow up with a family that loves Japanese food as well. I still remember rolling little sushis as a kid, getting rice stuck on the sushi mat, not rolling tight enough so the filling fell out, and Dad just sighing… :)
Anyway, the point is I freakin’ love Japanese food. I love the korokke, I love the ramen, I love the curry, I love the sashimi, I love the freshness, I love the cuteness – everything.
I’d often walked past this little Japanese joint, walking along King Street in Newtown. It’s just off the main drag and doesn’t look like anything fancy. But having had some of my best dining experiences in underwhelming-looking joints, my dining friend and I decided to give Hikaru Japanese a try.
Although the restaurant was busy when we got there at about 8pm on a Friday night, the waitresses were super polite and quick to fit us on a (really) little table in the (really) little restaurant :)
We started off with a couple of Japanese beers – obviously – a Kirin and an Asahi (about $8 each). Food-wise, well, we went a little mental. I won’t lie about that. As I was looking through the menu, I was thinking, “wow, if the dishes are this cheap, they’re definitely going to be really small” – boy are my estimation skills out these days.
First off the mark was edamame. Despite being what is essentially a plate of boiled beans, I actually really like the slightly salty little morsels with a nice, cold beer. For a mere $5 or so, these soybeans were a steal.
Next up, gyoza. I really enjoy a good gyoza – juicy, flavourful filling, steamed to perfection on the top and fried to a crisp finish on the bottom. The filling of these gyoza was so-so – nothing to write home about. But the biggest killer was the fact that they were totally fried – as in, deep fried. I get that there are different interpretations of gyoza – so I think this was more of a personal preference thing as opposed to a “they got it wrong” thing. I also didn’t love the generous smear of of mayo on top – it was a little bit of overkill. At a mere $5 or so for 3, it was again, a steal.
Korokke. Now, I appreciate that this is a grossly westernised distortion of what should be elegant, fresh Japanese cuisine. But there ain’t nothin’ like a good old hunk of has brown, whatever the culture. A korokke is essentially the hash brown of Japan, but better, including a few specks of grated veg and meat thrown into the mix. From my hazy, hazy memory, this was approximately $6. Flavour-wise, it was good. Texture-wise, I have to admit I’ve had better in terms of crunch – this one was a little crunchy, but mostly just warm.
It was around this point that my lack of estimation skills became vividly apparent. Two dishes in and I was feelin’ pretty full, and realised we were about a quarter of the way through my lengthy, lengthy order (why do people even let me keep ordering??). I failed to take a picture, but the next dish up was the entree-sized mixed tempura (I think it was about $9). As one of the larger sized entrees I’ve come across, we were presented with deliciously lightly battered (but appropriately tender) brocolli, pumpkin, sweet potato, prawn, fish and calamari – about one of each – along with the requisite tempura dipping sauce. It was actually pretty good! The batter was light and the oil didn’t taste strong/old and it wasn’t too greasy. All of the components were well cooked – the seafood was still plump and juicy. Pretty good!
We also ordered sushi – two of my favourites (and altogether a bastardisation of Japanese cooking, again) – chicken katsu and tempura prawn. Below is a picture of the tempura prawn, topped with slices of avocado. Both were so good – crispy, perfectly cooked, a good rice-to-filling ratio and reasonably priced at $9.80.
Just as I was undoing the top button of my jeans, I realised “oh shit” there’s another dish. Chicken yakisoba. The dish was reasonably tasty, despite me not being a huge fan (I can’t get past those insipid maggi-inspired noodles). But the chicken was tasty and the vegetables were well cooked and dispersed. Unfortunately I was in a huge food coma by this point, so I picked around a bit before giving up. A huge serving at about $12.
All in all, I was very impressed with it all. The meals came out quickly (too quickly – but that was really our own fault for the over-ordering). The service was super polite even though the restaurant was packed!
Hikaru Japanese Restaurant
134 King Street,
Newtown NSW 2042
Drinks: we just had a couple of beers really, although there were a handful of sake options
Atmosphere: 7/10 – cute and Japanese, but a little cramped (I think we were approximately 7cm from the next table)
Recommend it? Yes, for a cheap, cheerful, filling feed – bring a few friends, share a few plates and head down the street for a good night out.