394 Brunswick St Fortitude Valley, QLD 4006(07) 3852 4624
|Opening hours||Lunch and dinner, midday-late.|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
If you were in Brunswick Street any night this week, you may have noticed a strange sight. A line of people waiting patiently to get inside an establishment. Strange because it was outside a restaurant. Brisbane’s twentysomethings are used to waiting in line for nightclubs, but for food, they are not.
The place that was garnering so much attention is Harajuku Gyoza, named for the Tokyo district so hip its female inhabitants were immortalised in song, and for the moon-shaped Japanese dumplings. It opened on Tuesday. When we visited on Wednesday night, we found the line that we’d expected, having heard reports of lunchtime and dinner queues over the past two days. It would be an hour’s wait, the pretty Japanese hostess told us. So we gave her our name and went to a nearby bar to wait our turn to see what all the fuss was about.
The people behind Harajuku Gyoza clearly love Japan and they’ve gone to great lengths to import some of the country’s delightful hospitality practices to the Valley. It starts from the moment you’re greeted by a chorus of shouted ‘Irasshaimase!’ (welcome) when you walk in the door and extends to the Japanese bidet toilets in the bathrooms. If you order sake, a waitress approaches your table with a huge bottle to pour you a glass with a cry of ‘‘sake dekimasu!’’
There’s something liberating about a small, simple menu. Not a lot of decisions to be made. Here, it’s what sort of gyoza will you have - Pork? Duck? Vegetable? And will that be grilled or poached? There are also a few side dishes - edamame, steamed rice, cucumber and miso - and a short list of izakaya (food with drinks) dishes. Ignore this list at your peril. We ordered the chicken karage, $8, uncertain what to expect, as it’s a dish that in Australia is normally served in cheap pan-Asian takeaways and, being breaded and fried chicken, appeals to people not really into Japanese food. But what comes out is a plate of bite-sized tender chicken pieces, battered and fried, with Japanese mayonnaise. The table is in agreement that we’ve never tasted better fried chicken anywhere.
To the eponymous dumplings: our plates of grilled pork, grilled duck and poached chicken arrive, five to a serve, with a little bowl to be filled by your own concoction of the condiments on the table. They’re perfect: the wrappers silky and tasting of homemade, the fillings fresh and meaty, the grilled dumplings crisp on one side, the poached ones soft and slippery. At $8 each, they’re just twice the price of the gyoza you’ll find at a sushi train, and worlds better.
There’s one dessert, of apple gyoza and icecream, $9. Save room for it. It can best be described as a wholesome version of a McDonald’s apple pie, and I mean this as a high compliment.
We’d sat at one of the small tables at the front of the restaurant, underneath a large window, through which curious passers-by can gaze (or, in the case of one woman, press their face against the glass, mouth open, for 10 minutes. This is the Valley, after all). It would be fun to sit around the large bench in the centre and watch the chefs and waitresses at work. The decor is super kawaii: a large rendering of the restaurant’s logo/mascot, a chubby gyoza-shaped creature, hangs on one wall. A red lantern with ‘Hai!’ written on the bottom hangs above us.
While the service could have been more attentive - our empty plates sat in front of us for about 20 minutes and were only removed at our request when dessert arrived - it's a small glitch that will hopefully be ironed out after the early days. Along with another hip dumpling house, The Brunswick Social that opened earlier this year on the other side of Brunswick Street, it's hopefully the start of a new era for Valley - a sign that some value good eating and drinking more than vodka Red Bulls and passing out.
Harajuku Gyoza is loud, it's fun, it's affordable and it's youth-oriented (we saw only two diners who looked over 30) and if it can turn its initial hype into long-term customer loyalty, it's going to be here for a while.
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