In the second of our new food column I went to Here Japan in the centre of Hatfield, just above Market Square. It is about to celebrate its first birthday, and this hidden gem is well worth a visit if you haven’t discovered it yet.
I took a friend who lived in Japan for two years, and we both really liked the light interior; there are a few booths near the windows and beautiful lamps and table settings.
It is quite a long menu; in Japan restaurants tend to focus on one type of dish, but Here Japan includes a few options for all, including noodles, sushi and tempura. They are known for their beautiful dragon sushi rolls, which include duck and tempura prawns variations, and one of these would make a good lunch to share. I need to go back to try one, but I was keen to try something new while I had an expert with me. While Liz explained some of the dishes I didn’t recognise, we were given a delicious tray of pickles to nibble on, which included preserved tuna tail and a crunchy cucumber relish.
Our first course was the goma wakame salad (shredded seaweed) and it was beautifully crisp with a lovely dressing. We also shared a dish of agedashi tofu which was three generous cubes of tofu in a very thin, light batter. Each cube fell apart with a gentle slice of chopsticks and was soft and melt-in-the-mouth; I would go back for this alone. At under 4 pounds a dish, this is good cooking and terrific value.
Our next course was the okonomiyaki pancake which was very large and would easily be a meal in itself, as it contains vegetables and seafood too. Liz explained that there are towns in Japan that specialise in okonomiyaki pancakes, and every restaurant sells their own version. I thought the mayonnaise dressing rather overwhelmed the pancake, so this wasn’t my favourite dish. More successful for me was the tempura vegetables and prawns; the tempura batter was very light and crisp and I loved the thin slices of sweet potato and aubergine tempura. We ordered too much but we were both keen to try unagi don, which is a main course bowl of glazed smoked eel with rice. This, along with a bowl of seaweed would make a hearty meal in itself. If you have never tried eel, I would really recommend this; each slice was juicy with a delicate texture. There was a lot of rice with it so you don’t need to order extra.
Service throughout was calm and efficient and there were lots of Japanese customers when we went in, which is probably a very good sign. Our waiter wore the most beautiful jacket, and I loved the plates, chopstick rests and serving dishes: I don’t tend to comment on jackets and plates but it was all so pretty that it does help to create a memorable experience.
We think Here Japan must get lots of regular customers as we could see labelled bottles of Japanese whisky behind the counter, which Liz explained is quite a traditional approach: when customers return they continue with their bottle.
Here Japan is ideal for a delicious and surprisingly affordable lunch, especially if you focus on the sushi. There was a good selection of maki rolls and nigri (finger) sushi, with plenty of vegetable and fish options, including avocado, which is a nod to Western tastes. If you want a special evening meal out there are some sharing options too, and as everything is so beautifully presented, I think it would be a lovely experience.
Here Japan is amazing value for such fresh and authentic Japanese food, and there is plenty to enjoy for ex-Japan residents and newbies alike. They do takeaway too, but I really recommend you go to experience the Japanese style and hospitality.