Hanabi – A Japanese restaurant like no others in HCMC
When we talk about Japanese cuisine, perhaps the word “kaiseki” is still quite new. Most people associate Japanese food with sushi and sashimi, although in fact, there is a whole lot more to one of the world’s most elaborate cuisines.
“Kaiseki” refers to a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner, including several small dishes which are meticulously prepared and beautifully presented. Nowadays in restaurants, it is served in various ways depending on the chef’s creativity, the availability of seasonal ingredients and of course the price, but in general, it comprises a few different appetisers, some sashimi, grilled dishes, fried dishes (tempura), boiled/steamed dishes, pilaf (mixed) rice and miso soup, plus a dessert.
The whole meal is a combination of both hot and cold dishes that take guests on a memorable culinary journey. Kaiseki is considered one of the most sophisticated Japanese meals – and therefore one of the most expensive. In Japan, the price for one person might vary from US$100-500 excluding drinks. However if you are in HCM City, you can try it at a much more affordable price at Hanabi.
This restaurant was opened a few months ago by Taka san, a 30-year-old chef who used to work at the Japanese consulate in HCM City. He also has experience working in a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco.
Cosy atmosphere with Taka san, the chef cooking in front of you
At his place, guests have three kaiseki menus to choose from: Hasu (VNĐ600,000), Sakura (VNĐ800,000) and Hanabi (VNĐ1,000,000). The restaurant is not that big, there are only about 10 seats plus a private room that can host 11. The chef prepares the ingredients and the food depending on the number of guests coming, so you will have to make reservations at least a day in advance, and advise which menu you plan to use. Basically, what they all have in common is an appetiser tray consisting of several small dishes, different kinds of tempura, pilaf rice (mixed rice) with miso soup and desserts.
For the first time, I chose the Sakura menu which came with 6 courses. First were 6 kinds of appetizer: Pumpkin cream soup, mackerel sashimi with ikura (salmon eggs), rolled scrambled eggs, unagi (grilled eel) sushi, grilled bacon with onion and cheddar cheese, and summer vegetable mariné. Among these, my favourites were the soup, the sashimi and the unagi sushi, as I’m a big fan of grilled eel.
Appetiser set (Sakura)
The second dish was cold slow cooked crab with vegetables:
Next were seven kinds of tempura including shrimp, okra with shiso (a kind of herb), kisu (white fish), squid, pork-stuffed mushroom, slow cooked baby onion and cheese-stuffed bitter melon. These are the highlights of the meal. All of them are fried on the spot, one by one by the chef in front of customers. My favourites were the shrimp, the mushroom and the baby onion, so fresh and delicious.
Okra with shiso
Kisu (white fish)
Cheese-stuffed bitter melon
Slow cooked baby onion tempura
Fourth dish was a seafood cocktail. At this point when the guest is probably already a bit full, especially after many fried dishes, this one – with its mild sourness – comes as a perfect balance, and also as a break to prepare for the next dish.
Fifth dish – Pilaf rice with miso soup, served with hot Japanese green tea. If the above dishes haven’t made you full yet, this one will.
Last one – the dessert – was also my favorite: Orange passionfruit jelly with sweet potato cake and seasonal fruits. The mild sweetness of the cake complements the sour taste of the jelly, making this a perfect ending to such a lovely meal.
These menus aren’t permanent. About once a month Taka san will change, using different ingredients and his limitless creativity. Therefore, guests can have a new experience everytime they go. And enjoy a drinks list with lots of good sake choices.
Taka san – the chef – will be making the tempura right in front of you
To sum up, Hanabi Japanese Cuisine is the perfect place when you want to taste a real kaiseki meal without breaking the bank, or if you are looking for an original dinner idea to impress a partner. The place might only be a few months old, but from what I’ve seen, with the chef’s real talent, passion for food and wonderful Japanese hospitality, plus a cosy unpretentious venue and a clear concept that separates it from many other Japanese restaurants in town, I think I won’t be the only customer falling in love with it.
Hanabi Japanese Cuisine
Address: 36A Nguyễn Bá Huân Street, Thảo Điền Ward, District 2, HCM City
Tel: 0931 115 088
Opening hours: Tuesday – Friday: 6pm – 10.30pm
Saturday, Sunday: 5.30pm – 10.30pm (Dinner only; Monday closed)
Comment: One of the most special Japanese restaurants in HCM City. Diners can try a traditional Japanese-style multi-course meal at a reasonable price. Only fixed set menus are served. Reservations must be made at least one day in advance
The Nomad Quynh