The Japanese cuisine spectrum is astounding. At one end, $2 hand rolls; at the other, perfectly crafted mouthfuls of art for which you would happily part with $75. Being almost impossible to find, and seating just 12 people, Hajime is definitely at the latter end of the range. This is a real tempura house, and the quality of these morsels of magic compared to some of the Japanese available in Melbourne is like the difference between line-caught blue fin tuna and the fish John West rejects.
Upon entering you are gently ushered through the tranquil waiting room and seated around a semi-hexagonal bar where you are invited to choose either the tempura or the tempura sushi set ($75/$85). Aside from the impressive list of sake and adequate wine selection, this is where your choice ends, but relax: you’re in hands far more capable than your own. First, you are presented with sashimi that is everything the dish should be, with real wasabi and firm, fresh-as-hell kingfish, tuna and prawn. Next, you are set up with a dipping station featuring dishes of salt, lemon juice and a soy broth into which you disperse a ball of grated radish. Assorted tempura of asparagus, scallops filled with creamy urchin roe, prawn and smoked eel are then presented piece by piece with instructions of “lemon only”, or “dip please”. Finally, the chef prepares the sushi main, his hands moving with such speed and accuracy it’s like watching martial arts mixed with brain surgery. Diners watch in silent awe as perfect nigiri are assembled in seconds, flambéed with a torch and basted in lemon. The skill is so sublime and the service so gentle and efficient that you sit there feeling like an ungainly rhinoceros. This cannot be helped, so just try to behave nicely, and enjoy.