Walk through a non-descript entrance under an office building in South Melbourne to find yourself in a very private dining room. This is the entire restaurant. Tempure Hajime (Japanese for meet tempura) seats 12 diners for dinner, with one seating per evening and some lunches.
With one man at the helm of this operation, the sushi chef Shigeo prepares and cooks the entire meal right in front of you. As one might assume, this is a tempura counter restaurant, a degustation of mostly battered and fried morsels of Japanese food artistry. The menu is either $85 or $92 per person (seven or 10 pieces of tempura), and for that you are served an array of small dishes.
These will change regularly but it is likely to begin with an appetiser of cucumber and minced chicken in miso-sesame dressing and sashimi of ocean trout, kingfish, tuna, gurnard and wagyu beef.
Then the battered dishes begin. These may include asparagus, sweet potato or corn tempura alongside a succulent piece of john dory or eel, both in tempura. Other dishes of sea urchin, scallop and nori tempura will follow, while you sip on sake. There is also a large wine list, including plum wine and several Japanese beer options to quench a thirst, before desert of yoghurt panacotta with grapes.
The interior of the small room is stark and a little bright, but we have to come to a happy medium for the chef to perform. It is like a show after all; which gives good reason for the circular seating arrangement around the open kitchen in the centre.
Despite the deep fried nature of the dishes, they are remarkably light and fresh, and leave you feeling like you’ve just stepped out of a small izakaya in Tokyo.