One of the things Tomoya Kawasaki, co-owner of Wabi Sabi and Neko Neko restaurants, misses most about living in his native Japan is the pot-sticker dumpling. "Gyoza bars are so huge over there," he says. "Lots of places in Melbourne are doing Chinese dumplings, but no one is really doing proper Japanese gyoza here."
His solution? To open Chotto Motto gyoza and beer bar with friend and Japanophile Dylan Jones. The two met through Jones' internet-famous shiba inu dog Tofu – Kawasaki helped Jones create videos for Tofu's Instagram account. Jones also has his own connection to Japan, having lived there as a kid.
They've taken over the former Knife Shop Cafe on Wellington Street, Collingwood, fitting it out with retro Japanese flair. Okinawan slot machines, Kewpie dolls, Godzilla figurines, vintage posters and other knick-knacks fill every spare centimetre, and local artist Mitch Walder has painted a mural starring Tofu. It's fun and casual – just like the gyoza bars of Tokyo.
At Chotto Motto, the house-made gyoza are pan-fried, steamed, then fried a little further to crisp up the bottom. They're then served, crisp-bottom and all, in a round of either 10 or 20 pieces, similar to Chinese jiaozi dumplings but with thinner skins. Fillings range from classic pork to spicy kimchi miso pork, chicken and coriander, prawn and ginger, nasu dengaku (miso-glazed eggplant) or tofu and lotus root. There's the option of melted cheese, too.
It's not just gyoza, either. Also on the menu are katsu sandos made with proper Japanese milk bread, and smaller plates such as edamame, fries with furikake, and karaage. There's also soft-serve, which changes monthly – right now it's miso caramel, but Kawasaki and Jones would like to experiment with flavours such as soy sauce.
For drinks, you can help yourself from the Japanese vending machine packed with cans and bottles, boozy or otherwise. At the bar, there are tap beers and one wine of each colour, which changes daily.
Initially, Chotto Motto will be open in the evenings only. But once it opens for lunch in a few weeks, a takeaway fridge with bento boxes, sushi and other meals will be accessible from the street.
Open Mon-Sat 3pm-11pm.
287 Wellington Street, Collingwood, chottomotto.com.au