Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hattori Hanzo, Cheltenham by Benny

Quentin Tarantino fans will know Hattori Hanzo as the master Japanese swordsmith who comes out of retirement in his 2003 movie Kill Bill. The original Hattori Hanzo was a samurai and ninja of the Sengoku era (16th century). This modern incarnation in suburban Melbourne is a restaurant that describes itself as ‘focussed on hawker style food halls throughout Asia’.

hattori hanzo, cheltenham, Twice cooked duck in red curry
Twice cooked duck in red curry

Entering through an initially empty modern bar/waiting area for an early dinner (about 6:30pm), my first impression is that this restaurant is noisy. Voices are echoing even though there are only a few other diners. Bare brick walls and a scarcity of soft furnishings are responsible and give a utilitarian feel. But rather than channelling the full hawker vibe of table-sharing and impromptu seating, individual tables are augmented by a shared breakfast bar and stools across the front window. Old black and white samurai movies flicker silently on the wall behind me.

hattori hanzo, cheltenham, singapore soft shell crab
Singapore soft shell crab

While the name suggests mainly Japanese cuisine, the menu confirms the pan Asian focus, mixing Japanese with distinctive dishes from China, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Vietnam, Laos, Korea … (you get the picture). There is also a “Feed Me” degustation option for the indecisive. While Feed Me is given serious consideration, we move past an enticing selection of Street Eats (ie. entrée’s) and settle on the Singapore soft shell crab and twice cooked duck in red curry from the Shared Dishes, accompanied by green papaya salad and jasmine rice from the Sides.

hattori hanzo, cheltenham, green papaya salad
Green papaya salad

The food arrives very quickly and is stunning. The servings are generous, the sauces are delicious and spicy, with the right amount of heat to complement rather than overwhelm. The duck is presented as a whole leg and thigh, but is so tender that the provided serving spoon easily divides it into bite-size portions suitable for eating with chopsticks. Chopsticks are sufficient to dissect the crab, which is perfectly cooked and presented. Somewhat surprisingly, the main ingredients, good as they are, do not provide the highlight – this accolade goes to the sauces, for which we order an extra serving of rice to soak up them up and ensure that none of the moreish flavours go to waste. The green papaya salad is an excellent accompaniment that deserves a better description than ‘side’, and the rice is perfectly cooked.


We liked it


So was this the ideal dining experience? Unfortunately no. As the tables filled, the noise level increased to an uncomfortable level. While the quality of the food successfully distracted from the cacophony while we were eating, it was difficult to conduct a pleasant conversation. Although overall the service was good, on more than one occasion we had to make a concerted effort to gain the attention of the wait staff, and communicating with them was hampered by the background noise. Finally, when offered a choice of chopsticks, cutlery or both, choose both. Bilby and I are dab hands with chopsticks, but we ate off plates rather than from rice bowls, and no matter how good your chopstick skills, collecting those last few grains of gravy soaked rice is pretty difficult from a plate.

By 8pm the restaurant is full and the bar/waiting area is jumping with expectant diners. The volume is loud and harsh, and as we leave the noise spills out with us onto the street. It was a physical relief to leave it behind as we strolled away.

Hattori Hanzo is not a cheap night out (at least for us), coming to nearly $100 for two, excluding drinks and dessert (we were too full). The food is well worth it, but I’m not sure about the noise. Would we go back: yes, but with earplugs.

Find it at

15-17 Station Road

Hattori Hanzo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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