Hajime is a French restaurant tucked unobtrusively away in a quiet side street in the bustling metropolis of Osaka. The modern entrance leads to a small waiting room, and then through to the ground floor dining room. The room has a grey slate floor, and along one wall hangs a gold fabric that is lit attractively from below. The other walls are plain white, and tables are generously spaced, with good quality white linen tablecloths and napkins. Chef Hajime Yoneda trained in France for several years, notably with Michel Bras.
There was a lengthy and physically bulky wine list, almost entirely consisting of French wines, with just a few token wines from the rest of the world on the last page or so. Examples included Jean-Marc Morey “Les Chenebottes” 1999 for ¥13,950 (£106) for a wine that costs about £30 to buy in the shops, Ostertag Zellberg Pinot Gris 2004 for ¥11,500 (£87) compared to a retail price of around £20, and ¥27,500 (£209) for Ramonet Chassagne Montrachet 2006, which will set you back around £46 in the shops.
The meal began with carpaccio of a local fish wrapped in tuiles flavoured with coriander and sesame seeds. This was very nice indeed, the tuiles delicate and the coriander a pleasant accompaniment to the fish (8/10).
Next was an amuse-bouche of egg yolk with peach cream, served in an egg shell. This was pleasant, but I am not sure that egg and peach is really an optimal combination (5/10).
This was followed by a single large scallop resting on a base of tabbouleh, covered with a saffron foam. The saffron flavour was nicely controlled and the dish was well-conceived, but although the scallop was clearly of high quality it was just a little overcooked (6/10).
Various bread rolls arrived during the meal, made from scratch and baked in small batches, so that each was served warm. The bread, little baguettes and also some rolls, was lovely, with a nice crust and excellent texture (9/10). The bread was offered with a choice of unsalted butter from Hokkaido and salted butter from France.
The first dish was very reminiscent of the famous vegetable dish gargouillou at Bras, in this version having no less than 66 separate vegetable and herb components, beautifully arranged and with a central pool of shellfish foam. The vegetables were of good quality, such as very nice broccoli, but they were not of quite the same level as those at Bras, and a dish like this hangs or falls by the pure quality of the ingredients, not just the number of them (7/10).
Next was a slab of foie gras, served cold (it had been cooked slowly in a water bath) and served with dill, quinoa, radish and black pepper. Again presentation was of high quality, with a line of peppercorns of decreasing size set out on a black slate, with a little pool of red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar to balance the richness of the foie gras, with quinoa and black pepper. Again, although presentation was exemplary, I didn't find the foie gras to be of especially high quality; it was very nice, and smooth in texture, but was not the level that you can find in really top restaurants in France.
While I was eating my foie gras Stella had an odd dish: truffle ice cream was served in a bowl with hazelnut cream, over which was poured hot butternut squash soup. Each of these elements would have been very nice, but mixing hot and cold together just resulted in an unattractive lukewarm mush. This was not good at all (3/10 at best).
Next was a Japanese white fish I was unfamiliar with, served with fried cauliflower and almonds. The fish itself was excellent and nicely timed, but oddly the cauliflower was overcooked, visibly so (7/10 overall, though the fish was better).
My main course was lamb from Tasmania, served with yoghurt and also sorrel sauce. The lamb was absolutely superb, with terrific flavour and was extremely tender; the well-judged sauce went nicely with the meat (9/10).
A pre-dessert was olive oil ice cream with dried olive powder and olive sauce. This was just as bad as it sounds, properly executed but just a fundamentally nasty idea. There are all these beautiful fruits available at this time of year, so what does the chef choose for his ice cream - olive oil. What was he thinking?
Yet the kitchen could produce proper desserts: warm peaches were served in a biscuit cone with kirsch ice cream and a crumble of nuts and biscuit, the biscuit case made from brown sugar. This was superb, the peaches very ripe, the crumble excellent, the biscuit case attractive (9/10).
Petit fours consisted of a series of frozen elements served on sticks: frozen chocolate, crispy frozen caramel and frozen white chocolate. These were very good indeed (8/10), and even better was a lovely passion fruit cream with pieces of grapefruit topped with chocolate biscuit crumbs; this was a lovely combination, making the pre-dessert all the more baffling to me. Espresso coffee was excellent too.
Service was superb throughout the meal, attentive, friendly and knowledgeable. In a nice touch, the chef came to the door as we were leaving, then followed as out to the taxi and bowed as we departed. I can't see this catching on with celebrity chefs in London.
The bill for two for lunch was ¥23,529 (£90 a head), though the menu at lunch was cheaper than in the evening and we did not drink wine. Overall this was a very enjoyable meal, with some genuinely beautiful presentation and high quality ingredients; it was marred slightly by a couple of surprising technical errors (the scallops, the cauliflower) which I would not expect at a three star restaurant.