Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hajime Tonkatsu and Ramen at myVillage, Serangoon Gardens

It has been 6 months since ... our amazing trip to Tokyo and boy do I miss eating Japanese food every day for a week and the whole kawaii vibe. I have a feeling that Paul feels the same way too as he would still talk about our trip every now and then.

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Luckily, Singapore has a lot of good Japanese restaurants should we suddenly have the craving for ramen, gyoza, katsudon and more. Recently, we traveled all the way to Serangoon Gardens to check out Hajime Tonkatsu & Ramen, a new Japanese restaurant that's said to serve really good tonkatsu and ramen. Was it really worth our trip? Let me tell you more about it below.

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Hajime Tonkatsu & Ramen is a casual eatery that promises to serve you authentic Japanese dishes at really reasonable price. Let's face it, Japanese food is really delicious but eating it repeatedly can definitely cause a dent on your budget. That wouldn't be the case at Hajime as I was surprised to see that most of the dishes are below S$20! That's really a good deal.

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We started our dinner with a couple of starters under the Side Dish category. First was my favorite Roasted Edamame (S$3.90) which has a very nice smokey flavor. I've never had roasted edamame before as normally this is just served plain with salt. Paul is not a fan of edamame but he loved this one. Who would have thought that a bowl of roasted edamame would make him change his mind? My only gripe is since this is roasted, expect to get your hands dirty after finishing the entire bowl. I had my wet wipes ready to wipe away all the black charred marks on my fingers.

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Our next starter was a plate of Gyoza (S$6.90 / 5 pieces). We both love gyoza and no Japanese meal will ever be complete without it. I like how you can get a bit of juice when you bite into the gyoza and the wrapper perfectly holds itself even after several bites. I just hate gyoza wrappers that would fall apart on your first bite or even worst, those that are just too tough or rubbery to be enjoyed. This one was just right and it's the kind that I would love to have over and over again.

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If you love deep-fried Japanese sides then go for the Ebi Fry (S$6.90). Admittedly, I was never a fan of ebi fry as I always felt like it comes second to Ebi Tempura but hey, Hajime makes a really yummy one! For one thing, the ebi (prawns) are HUGE! Those huge pieces are made of 100% prawns with just the right amount of panko breadcrumbs. Expect to wait just a bit for this one though as every plate is made to order. No pre-breaded, pre-fried ebi fry at Hajime. This is probably why each piece has a nice crisp to it. I also love the slightly sweet tartar sauce that was served with it. I think I just changed my mind about not liking Ebi Fry. ♥

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Moving on to the star of the night, we had the Premium Pork Loin (S$19.90) which is Hajime Tonkatsu and Ramen's signature dish. First of all, the pork is air flown from Japan and Chef Tan-San only chose a specific cut which ensures that his tonkatsu has a good balance of marbling and lean meat. Similar to the Ebi Fry, they only make this upon receiving an order so this means that there's no pre-frying happening before you get to the restaurant. I love the Tonjiru Soup which is a good break from the usual miso soups out there. I personally don't like miso soup so I was so glad that Chef Tan-San decided to be different and prepared this refreshing pork and veggie soup instead. It makes sense actually. Given that the tonkatsu is deep-fried, it's good to have a clear, light soup to balance it all out.

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Now, let's take a closer look at that glorious pork strip, shall we? 

This complete set consists of a bowl of polished Niigata Rice, Tonjiru Soup (vegetable pork soup), sesame seeds for you to grind and add into your sauce, fresh shredded cabbage and a slice of watermelon. I can't believe that this set is only worth S$19.90! Not only that, the rice and cabbage salad are refillable so you can just ask for more if you want to.

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Moving on, we also tried the Miso Fillet (S$17.90) which was my favorite dish that evening. It's similar to the premium pork loin where you get a tender cut of pork but with lesser fat, this time, and it's coated with a generous amount of miso sauce. I've literally been daydreaming about this Miso Fillet for days after our visit. It was just so good! If you want something different, then I highly recommend this.

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For ramen lovers out there, you got to try the Tonkatsu Ramen (S$14.90). I got to admit that I'm not a ramen fan but if you serve al dente ramen with a flavorful, slightly spicy stock and a generous piece of deep-fried tonkatsu, then I might just reconsider. I actually have this bad habit of just eating the noodles, all the fillings and leaving the ramen soup behind. This time around though, I love how the soup has this creamy and spicy balance that I couldn't help but finish up my bowl of ramen down to the last drop of soup. Yummy!

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Lastly, we had the Katsudon (S$12.90). Now this is my ultimate favorite donburi and I've had a lot of versions for the past 30+ years. I was simply expecting this to be just like all the other katsudons out there but of course, Chef Tan-San surprised me again. He added a sheet of nori (seaweed) in between the katsu fillet and the fragrant Japanese rice thus giving it a very interesting flavor profile. Who doesn't love seaweed, after all? Served with runny egg with caramelised onions and homemade Donburi sauce, I really wanted to finish this but I was ready to burst after all the yummy dishes that we had earlier. I think this calls for a return soon so I can have my bowl of Katsudon all to myself.

Honestly, I arrived at Hajime Tonkatsu and Ramen with little to almost zero expectations. Sure, I've heard about their yummy tonkatsu but with hundreds of casual restaurants serving the same thing, I wasn't sure how authentic this will be. After our dinner that evening, I was convinced that this is truly a gem and it's definitely worth traveling to the opposite side of Singapore for.

*photos by Paul Ang

Did my blog review just made you crave for good, authentic Japanese food? Check out Hajime Tonkatsu and Ramen at myVillage @ Serangoon Gardens, 1 Maju Avenue, #02-7/8/9, Singapore 556679. Check out their official website here. 

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