Last Friday evening I played fangirl with my friend L at the Melbourne Writers Festival, and we needed dinner afterwards. L loves all things Japan so, recalling a recent post on melbourne gastronome, I booked us a table at Hihou. Their online booking system is easy-peasy and even allowed space for me to mention our dietary requirements.
Finding Hihou itself is a little more difficult; even with due warning I had to double back before trying the unlabelled buzzer.
Once we'd plucked up the courage we were ushered upstairs to our table and presented with a drinks list, our waiter confirming our dietary requirements and supplying a menu with vegetarian and gluten-free items marked by hand.
While there were all manner of cocktails, sake and plum wine on offer, I needed to go alcohol-free. The bar staff compensated expertly, giving me a glass that graduated from lemon-spritzed soda to fruity sugar syrup then thick, tangy passionfruit pulp.
Soon we were digging our chopsticks into the lightest, crunchiest of vegetable pickles ($5) and creamy miso edamame ($5).
At this point my camera battery shut down. We battled on with two smart phones, though we were not the smartest of operators. Forgive me for the strange pictures that follow!
After all, mochi spring rolls ($3.50) deserve documentation. Crispy outside and fudgy inside, they made perfect sense once dipped in the jammy tamari soy butter, and were enhanced further with intermittent nibbles at the pickled vegetables.
I cheekily looked past the salad and elected to fill up on fried root vegetables ($10), starchy cubes of orange, purple and gold doused in a tamari caramel that pooled in the bottom of the bowl.
We left room in our hearts, and just barely our stomachs, for dessert. The warm yuzu tofu cake ($11) was a seamless meld of bean curd and sponge cake, dense but springy with the gentlest vanilla sweetness; all its richness came from the white chocolate sauce on top.
The chocolate shochu brulee ($11) had a similar tofu mouthfeel, but was shot through with booze under a scorched-chocolate sugar shell.
Hihou is very cool, but the staff never let on that they were too cool for us. They largely left us to ourselves, yet ensured that we had everything we needed. It was an ideal venue for finding our own little nook to lounge and laugh for a few hours, delighting over their meticulously prepared bar snacks.
Besides the melbourne gastronome post that got us there, Hihou also comes recommended on Where Adles Eats, Melbourne Epicurean Eats, My Friends Call Me George, grazing panda and MEL: HOT OR NOT.
1 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
veg snacks $3.50-13.00
Accessibility: Hihou is located up a flight of stairs and I didn't see a more accessible alternative. There's a mix of high stools and low chairs, all closely packed, and the restaurant is only dimly lit. We received full table service, and didn't visit the toilets.