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A seafood tribute to Hawaii in Melbourne - with cocktails
One day in the middle of Melbourne winter, I went looking for Hairy Canary. I remembered a long, dark venue with cocktails, somewhere on Lt Collins. In its place, I found Hana (212 Lt Collins Street, Melbourne), a new restaurant I'd read about but hadn't realised it had replaced the long-standing Canary.
I was intrigued, because HALLELUJAH, here was a new restaurant in Melbourne that was NOT yet another fried/slow-cooked/smoked/overdone tribute to Americana. Though technically still American, Hana celebrates and proffers the exotic flavours of Hawaii. Which basically means a lot of fish. Which is good. Because fish is good for you. And delicious.
So anyway, cut forward a few weeks to when my equally-foodie-friend is in town from Sydney for work. Let's try Hana! I said. Sure! he said. (We actually ate there at the end of June, and I have been incredibly slack in putting this post together, but I'm hoping-slash-fairly confident that most of our experience would still be pretty relevant.)
We had a booking, but I got there early and was seated by a charming, down-to-earth young lady called Alex, who offered me coconut or sparkling water. Unusual, but refreshing. Naturally, I went with neither, and instead focused my attentions on the drinks menu, which I was pleasantly surprised to see listed multiple biodynamic wine options - music to my sulfite-allergic ears. Tongue. Whatever. I tried an orange-style fruliano which was quite nice, but then switched to a slightly fizzy biodynamic verdelho, so delicious that I ended up having several glasses of it, as did my friend - so really, we should have just ordered a bottle. Who am I kidding; two bottles.
Now the venue is much the same as it was previously, in that it's long and thin, with a bar running down the middle, more of a drinking section towards the front and more restaurant-style seating towards the back. However, the place has now been tiki'd. Everything is adorned with fake, dark green, leafy foliage, light wood, and the odd pink neon sign demands your attention. It's all rather appropriate to the theme, and a bit of fun. I almost felt out of place, not wearing a grass skirt, coconut bra and lei. I also didn't order any cocktails, not being much of a cocktail drinker, but apparently this place is good at them, and unsurprisingly they're also somewhat tropical-themed.
Whilst waiting for my friend to arrive, I asked for an oyster, and received the last one - muahahaaa! Remember, this was the middle of winter, a point at which decent oysters can be hard to come by. This one, although accompanied by vinaigrette when I had expected natural, was huge, meaty and fresh, and the vinaigrette flavours were perfect, so I was pretty happy.
Once my friend arrived and we'd chosen a few dishes to share, I found it rather difficult taking photos of the food due to the dim pinkish-red light - so please don't let that deter you. I did enjoy the light on the night, though. When else can you say you spent an evening bathed in pink neon? (That is definitely rhetorical.)
Pretty much all the food we ate was light and fish-based, beautifully fresh.
Crispy baby shrimp - slightly sweet and deliciously crunchy:
Octopus terrine with pickled ginger and chilli - thinner and more delicate than I expected (it broke apart easily) and the rocket salad was kinda hard to eat. Tasty, but a bit of a mess:
Snapper ceviche with kumquat and tigers milk - the snapper was just beautiful with the tiger milk (which included coconut milk, lime and something else):
Tuna, watermelon, coconut and lime - one of those combinations you'd never think to put together, but it goes so well. This was beautifully presented, great textures, tasty... just great:
Chocolate haupia - I'm still not entirely sure what haupia is, but this was a gelatinous kind of coconut and chocolate dessert on a biscuit base and scattered with crunchy crumbs - awesome:
I'm actually relieved there's another type of cuisine to eat in Melbourne (and it's decent); I was beginning to think there was no originality left in what used to be a great city for food. Try it while you can. Vive la revolution!