My friends and I headed to dinner at Hihou on a Friday night. Hihou, which means secret treasure, is a newly opened classy Japanese bar at the top end of Spring Street, which overlooks Treasury Gardens. It is located on top of Nama Nama – which is another Japanese restaurant which is known for really great Japanese dishes and especially it’s Bento Boxes.
Hihou comes to you from the owner of Izakaya Den – Simon Denton, and replaces what used to be the old split-level restaurant – Verge. Hihou is known for its variety of drinks and cocktails, as well as for its delicious Japanese dishes – the kitchen is open till midnight! In keeping with its name – there is a “secret” entrance to get into the venue. I actually had to go into Nama Nama and ask how I get into Hihou. There is heavy black door and a buzzer that you need to ring to be let in.
Hihou has a sense of elegance from the moment you walk in. The bar is dimly lit and the centrepiece is in the form of a communal black marble table, which has overhanging wooden storage (that stores some of the many drink on offer) which doubles as a lighting fixture. There are accents of light along the tables, in the form of multi coloured candles. The view from the communal tables and the other tables is beautiful – you can look into Treasury Gardens, thru the glass walls that Hihou has. The other main feature is the bar, which is lit up in accents behind the bar and houses various bottles of liquor all displayed in timber racks which add a nice effect to the entire venue. Adding to the splashes of colour at the bar are fruits that could be used in the drinks. Aside from this main dining area, Hihou has a lounge area – where guests in true Japanese style are encouraged to take their shoes up and get comfy on the large ottomans. This place is really full of surprises.
The drinks menu is exemplary – consisting of hot shochu (a Japanese liquor similar to vodka), sake, plum wine, seasonal fruit ‘surprise’ cocktails, Japanese beers and whiskey. The drinks come with orb shaped ice – so round and big (as you can see in the picture above – which adds an essence of difference and I think is super cool. My mock-tail I got which had mango & passion fruit was delicious and was one of the surprise flavours.
We are seated on the end of the communal table (there were 5 of us on this night) and we were given the oshibori treatment – warm hot towels – followed by water, menus and utensils. Once we had time to look at the menu we selected a few dishes to share. We ordered the ‘Cuban’ Spicy Tuna Cigar, Kingfish Ceviche, Yuzu Kosho, Seaweed Crystal and Konbu Cured Snapper Sashimi, Spring onion purée, Crispy Wantan to start. The Spicy Tuna Cigars were tasty and the casing on the outside crisp and crunchy, just the kind of texture you would want when you bite into one of these. They were made perfectly and really did resemble a cuban cigar. The Spicy Tuna filling was fresh and flavoursome – a mix of Japanese flavours such as ginger together with a punchy freshness. The Kingfish Ceviche was another very fresh looking and tasting dish, and the serving size I thought was quite generous. The Cured Snapper Sashimi with the Spring Onion Puree was an interesting combination, but I must say that it worked – yum! For our “main” dishes we ordered Buckwheat Crepes –Tofu, Pickled Mushroom andLeek – for me and the Duck Breast, Pickled Mushroom and Leek for the others. They also ordered the Hihou Dog – Seasame Brioche, Arabiki Pork Sausage,Picked Cabbage (the most anticipated dish of the night).
The buckwheat pancake dish wasn’t one of my favourites but having said that I was a fan of the buckwheat pancakes. The dish came out with each separate element that you build to make your finished dish. I like this aspect of a dish. The rest of my friends loved the duck breast pancakes and I guess the duck is the clear winner out of the tofu and the duck. The Tofu was nicely sauteed and was quite tasty, but as a whole there was something more that I needed. Everyone loved the Hihou Dog and it was nicely sized as well. The sausage they said was cooked perfectly and combined with the pickled cabbage added the extra zing.
The atmosphere is fantastic here especially on this Friday night – it is comfortable, the service is friendly and attentive but not in your face. It really is a place that once you come to you don’t want to leave. The drinks are interesting and varied which will keep things interesting. This place definitely has a Japanese vibe to it and it does feel like a bit of Japan in Melbourne.
Rating : 4 Pandas
Menu – Dinner Menu – http://hihou.com.au/pdf/evening.pdf. There is also a Special Japanese set lunch, $35 plus specials that can be found at http://hihou.com.au/pdf/lunch.pdf
Atmosphere / Ambience: Elegant yet relaxing and comfortable. Great for a first date night as it has a great view overlooking the Treasury Gardens.
Standout Dish: ‘Cuban’ Spicy Tuna Cigar / Hihou Dog
Service: Friendly, Polite and Attentive
Online Booking: Yes via website – http://hihou.com.au/
Restaurant Details and Location:
1 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Tel No: 9654 5465
Monday to Friday: 11:30am-2:30pm
Monday to Saturday: 5pm-1am