In Short: Harajuku Gyoza is the place to go to for a fun dinner, especially if you are craving good Japanese gyoza and a small bites fix. Come to soak up the Japanese small bar dining culture.
Of the many different food cultures and trends that Japan has brought to us, one of my favourite is the Izakaya dining style, where small portions of tapas-style food are served with drinks in an environment cosy enough for you to chill out with friends and co-workers after a long day at work. One of the reasons izakaya dining is popular in Japan is because the Japanese believe that you should relax and let go of all your work worries prior to heading home, so that you are able to spend quality time with family. What better way to do it then over some good food, drinks, and company. If like me, you want to re-create the feel and ambience of Japanese izakaya-style dining, then its time for you to pay a visit to Harajuku Gyoza.
The restaurant is heavily inspired by the izakaya stalls in Harajuku, Tokyo, with a primary focus on making and serving gyozas. That is what motivated owners Steven Minon and Matthew Bailey to open their first Harajuku Gyoza restaurant in Brisbane, Australia in 2011. A few more successful branches followed in Queensland, refining their successful formula. Finally in 2013 , they decided to venture into Sydney and opened the restaurant in Potts Point, much to the joy and delight of Sydney-siders.
The restaurant itself is just bursting with positive vibes from the moment you enter the venue. From its smiley gyoza icon to the shouts of “Irasshaimaseeeee!!!”(Japanese for ‘welcome’) upon entry. It is like I have been transported back to the original izakaya restaurants back in Tokyo. All the Harajuku staff are decked out in the same red and white headscarf with white t shirts and denim aprons. Deco-wise, there are Japanese art plates hanging on the wall, lamps with words on their base like “Hai” (Japanese for Yes), “Yum” and “Sip” to get you more into the Japanese mood before your meal even starts.
To cater for individual seating preferences there are also different sitting types available. You could sit against the wall on a long bench, in an individual booth or, if you are the curious type that likes to see your food being made, you could sit on the stool seats in front of the counters and watch the Harajuku Gyoza expert chefs at work.
Harajuku Gyoza’s most popular dish has to be their gyozas by default. These Japanese dumplings filled with a variety of fillings like pork, duck, chicken, prawn and vegetable, are then poached or pan-fried to produce a crisp bottom. Harajuko’s Gyoza are handmade daily to ensure freshness. They are then served in a simple white plate that allows for the quality and flavors of the food to speak for itself.
From the menu, you can choose from the traditional closed gyozas, where everything is nicely and tightly wrapped up inside the soft gyoza skin or you could go for the unconventional and try the open style, where the gyoza is served like a mini taco and you can see the ingredients inside as the open gyoza is served.
From the traditional famous gyoza list, we tried the pan fried Pork and Prawn Gyoza with ginger and spring onion dressing. The gyozas are first pan-fried, then steamed with the lid on, to create mouth-watering morsels with soft white supple skin on one side and crispy brown bottom on the other. They are then served with glistening brown sauce and chopped green onions on top. Taste-wise, prawn and pork is a classic gyoza filling combination and it’s like eating a mini package of surf and turf, where the savory pork flavour marries with the sweet prawns. The soy, ginger and green onion sauce also helps to lift the flavours of the gyoza to the next level.
If you want to go the unconventional route and try the open gyozas, we would recommend their popular pork belly with pea shoots, apple and pickled ginger. The fresh flavors from the pea shoots, apple and pickled ginger help to cut through the richness of the pork belly meat. Together with the crunchy deep fried gyoza skin, each bite of the open gyoza is an explosion of flavors and textures in your mouth.
One of my favorite Japanese small eats is Takoyaki, which are little balls of savoury Japanese flavoured pancakes, filled with little pieces of octopus. They are one of Japan’s most popular street food, originating from Osaka. At Harajuku Gyoza they’ve even managed to replicate the boat-shaped disposable bowls that are popularly used in the takeaway version in Japan. Flavour wise, this is definitely one of the best takoyaki available in Sydney! Cooked to dark brown on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, with satisfying chewy bits of octopus infused into the batter. I could have easily eaten the whole set of 5 by myself, but I did have to leave room in my tummy for my other favourite izakaya small eats, the chicken karaage.
No good izakaya meal would be complete without some chicken karaage. With a dark, crisp texture on the outside and super juicy and tender chicken on the inside, the Japanese-flavored marinated chicken is fried to perfection and goes really well with some beer on the side.
Aside from the items on their regular menu, from time-to-time, Harajuku Gyoza’s chef will also attempt to bring the latest in Japanese food trends to their Aussie customers for a limited period. Initially, it was their raindrop cake, and it eventually became so well received that it made it to their regular menu now, with two flavours on offer.
One of the latest trends that Harajuku Gyoza has introduced to Australia, are the Japanese Soufflé Pancakes. These swoon-worthy pancakes were first debuted by Café Gram in Tokyo. We are talking a stack of 3 light-as-cloud pancakes, stacked mile high, golden brown on the outside and soft and wobbly on the inside. Pancakes so light, its like eating air ! It also comes with a side pot of syrup that you can drizzle according to your preferred level of sweetness. Just before serving, they branded the top of the pancake with their signature Smily Harajuku Gyoza icon, making this an Instagram-worthy dessert! In fact, every time the dessert is served, you can hear the ”ohs” and ”ahs” of satisfaction emerging from the receiving tables. The dessert is made on order and is so popular that you might find yourself having to wait for an hour or more before it appears on your table. Check with the staff on the wait time for the dessert, and place your order for it together with the rest of your food order. In the best case scenario, you will get it at the end of your meal, but in the worst case scenario, you will have dessert before your mains. Which I don’t know about you, but that’s completely fine by my books!
By the end of my meal, I felt like all the stress from my day had been lifted and I was smiling, totally enjoying my meal time. I attribute this to the lovely food and ambience of the restaurant, which I highly recommend for having a good time and getting your Japanese gyoza craving satisfied.