Tucked away down a quiet street in South Melbourne lies the premier tempura restaurant in Melbourne - Tempura Hajime.
As its name implies the specialty here is tempura and your menu choices here are as simple as selecting the number of tempura courses (7 or 10). Ms P and I had the 10 course menu for $95, which came with a serve of sushi after the 10 tempura courses. The tempura is 'omakase' style, that is, the chef chooses the 10 best and freshest ingredients to make tempura from (subject to any dietary requirements).
The meal began with a complimentary starter of sashimi and chicken salad - it was pleasant, but unspectacular.
On to the main event. The first tempura we received were a spear of asparagus and a wedge of sweet corn that had been cut off the cob. The asparagus and corn were suitably nutty and sweet respectively. However the batter was in another realm - light, crisp and eggshell thin. It most definitely didn't have that oily stodginess you get when eating fish and chips from your local fish and chip shop.
The dipping sauces supplied were the standard 'tentsuyu' tempura dipping sauce and Murray River pink flakes with lemon juice. I found myself surprisingly partial to the latter combo as it imparted a nice refreshing taste to the dishes.
The next couple of tempura were a hollowed out cucumber filled with pork mince and a blob of sweet potato. I wasn't a big fan of the sweet potato as it tasted like having a mouthful of sweet clag (which isn't a reflection on the cooking or provenance of the produce, that is just the nature of sweet potatoes).
All in all I would highly recommend Tempura Hajime. Being only a 12 seat restaurant with 3 staff (possibly more), the service was exemplary. The decor was also very pleasant, with the highlight being the beautiful Japanese ceramics the dishes were served in.