Nestled in the quiet neighbourhood of Serangoon Gardens, Hajime is slowly garnering its own base of loyal customers since it opened its doors 6 months ago. Far from a run-of-the-mill neighbourhood Japanese bistro, Hajime is helmed by Chef Tan-San, the first Tonkatsu chef in Singapore! You may not know, but Chef Tan was hand-picked 25 years ago, to travel to Japan to master the art of Tonkatsu. No surprise that he brought his experience over to Tonkichi and later, Tampopo. You know the crowd’s favourite tonkatsu ramen? That was pioneered by Chef Tan as well! Impressive, impressive! Now, he has realised his dream by being his own boss. 🙂 This is a one-of-a-kind tonkatsu story – read on!
By lunch-time, the whole restaurant was packed with families! With high ceiling and full-length glass windows, Hajime is bright and cheery. Apart from the affordable pricing, there is no service charge and GST here! Nett prices!
Before I go into the wonderful tonkatsu, let me introduce you to Chef Tan – the man behind all the delicious tonkatsu and ramen I’ve had my whole life. Previously, I actually mistook Chef to be a Japanese! However, when we started conversing, the Singaporean spoke in colloquial Mandarin. Chef started cooking when he was very young, shadowing his father in whipping up delicious Hainanese cuisine – think Hainanese pork chop. His passion in cooking grew from there. You see the connection in pork chops? Well, I certainly do!
I was very touched by the fact that he wanted to deliver tasty tonkatsu to his customers while maintaining the affordability of it. We all know how expensive premium tonkatsu can be, but Chef consciously chose to lower his profit margin, to the benefit of his customers. At the same time, he continues to plough in the kitchen, ensuring that food quality is consistently high – if any piece of tonkatsu does not make the cut (pun intended), that’s extra supper for the staff. The dedication that Chef puts into his food is tremendous. This is what makes food at Hajime soulful. This is indeed, a true chef’s promise. The inspiring story of Hajime aside, the food is truly, truly amazing. Here we go!
Edamame ($3.90) – For the record, I never touch edamame. I always find them too plain and earthy. However, for the sake of review, I tried my first edamame in the longest time. Surprise, surprise! These roasted beans were so addictive! Instead of boiling them, the beans were roasted till the skin gets blistered. The beans within still kept the moisture but the smoky aroma lingered in the taste. A must-order starter at Hajime!
Gyoza ($6.90) – Even the gyozas were timed to perfection. A few seconds off and the skin will go burnt. As you bite into it, the juice will burst out from the gyoza skin, revealing those tender meat. Dip it into the homemade gyoza sauce, and you’re on the way to gyoza heaven!
Ebi Fry ($7.90) – As the menu does not include prawns in the tonkatsu sets, I’d highly recommend you to take this ala-carte! The crunch was intense and the prawns were so fresh! Did you notice that the tails of the prawns are fanned out? Apparently, that takes a real chef with precise technique to achieve!
Premium Pork Loin Set ($19.90) – Each set comes complete with rice, soup, pickles, choice of meat and fruits. All at $19.90 and below nett. 🙂 Each element has gone through much detailed planning. For instance, the rice comes from Niigata, grown in pristine waters from melting snow, then milled locally to lock in its freshness. Also, the soup is not your usual miso soup. It is actually tonkatsu broth simmered with Japanese pork and yuzu! I definitely couldn’t get enough of the soup.
Premium Pork Loin – This is truly some amazing meat. Do you see the dual tone in the meat? Each piece of premium pork loin is carefully selected to ensure that there’s an even distribution of lean and fattier meat. This translates to an extremely tender texture – a soft bite and the meat is off. Coupled with the really shiok crunch, this is the real deal.. I’ve also learnt that tonkatsu must not have breaded flour separated from the pork and the crispy top must have jagged edges to achieve that desirable crunch. The art of tonkatsu indeed.
Special mention goes to the tonkatsu sauce! It’s made in-house! I can’t even imagine how Chef Tan does it – from tonkatsu sauce to salad dressings and tartar sauce, he ensures that they are all freshly made in batches to the best of their quality. #respect Unlike how mass-manufactured tonkatsu sauces taste like old socks (don’t you agree??), this one here was a class of its own.
Miso Fillet ($17.90/set) – Another hot favourite, miso fillet comes with the rice, soup and pickles as well. To be quite honest, I can’t decide my favourite between this and the premium pork loin. The miso sauce here is specially concocted with red wine, hence it is sweeter and less salty in flavour. The sauce went especially well with rice too!
Katsudon ($12.90) – Apart from a selection of tonkatsu sets, you will find donburis on the menu too! A crowd-pleaser, the #eggporn here is #gamestrong. To maintain the tonkatsu cutlet’s crispiness, the egg gravy is cooked separately and placed right on top of the cutlet right before serving. I really love how the egg was done – still gooey and mushy that goes extremely well with the rice. Comfort food at its finest. 🙂
Tonkatsu Ramen ($14.90) – Lastly, not forgetting another specialty of Chef Tan – the tonkatsu ramen! The broth tasted almost identical to Tampopo’s – I mean no surprise there! Boiled with pork bones, the broth was sweet with just that little hint of spice from the chilli oil. The ramen was springy and complemented well with the tonkatsu. It was truly a very enjoyable dish.
I have no doubt that Hajime will flourish at Serangoon Gardens. With the quality of food and expertise, Chef Tan could easily turn this into another fine-dining tonkatsu restaurant in town. Whenever I’m craving for tonkatsu or a good bowl of katsudon, Hajime will be the first to come to mind.
Hajime Tonkatsu & Ramen
myVillage @ Serangoon Gardens
1 Maju Avenue, #02-07/8/9
Mon to Fri:
11:30am to 3:00pm
6:00pm to 10:00pm
Sat, Sun & PH:
11.30am to 3:00pm
5:00pm to 10:00pm