Saturday, 18 July 2015

Harajuku Gyoza, Potts Point, New South Wales (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

With such finite time while on holiday and seemingly endless things to see, eat and do, I like to be a very researched and well planned traveller. For our 2015 trip to Sydney, I booked all our major meals months in advance to avoid missing out on some of the more difficult to book places, and worked out journey times and opening hours for places that didn't take bookings so we could be there to beat the queues. I've mellowed out somewhat from the extremely detailed planning of our honeymoon however, and now fill some spaces in our schedules with the words 'Something Simple' - code for a meal that does not require a reservation, queuing or even any pre-planning to visit. Flying into Sydney in time for a late lunch, Alissa and I agreed that Something Simple was called for, and went with whatever we could find close to our hotel. As luck would have it, just two doors down from our hotel was Harajuku Gyoza - a cool looking Izakaya-style bar specialising in Gyoza and Beer. With its convenient location we decided to visit the place twice, and the following is an overview of both our meals.

Having never heard of Harajuku before, we didn't know what to expect upon walking in and were immediately drawn to the stylishly kitsch decorations as well as the serious looking Gyoza cooking station that served as the centrepiece of their open kitchen. With the original branch in Brisbane, Harajuku now have three restaurants in Australia, with their website suggesting future openings in other states. Beyond style, one of Harajuku's cool touches is that a tray of Vinegar, Chilli Oil and Soy are placed in front of the diners, allowing you to make a dipping sauce to your own taste.

On both visits, we ordered some Kirin to accompany our meal, and were offered Edamame Beans as a starter. We ordered the Edamame Beans on our second visit as we were particularly hungry. Steamed and served with salt, these were much as you'd expect of Edamame Beans - nice and nutty beans that went well with our beers.

Being Gyoza specialists, Alissa and I made it a point to order these dumplings on both visits, and were able to try four different varieties; Whole Prawn, Duck and Pork are pictured above. In all cases, the dumpling skin was well made, with a soft, silky texture accompanied by a perfectly crispy grilled exterior thanks to the precision of their steam-grilling machines and attention to detail. Alissa and I agreed that the Duck Gyoza was our favourite of the four, having a nice smooth, soft texture, accompanied by an unctuousness and rich duck flavour. If these guys were in Perth, I'd visit them for the Duck Gyoza alone. Pork Gyoza is much more standard fare when it comes to Japanese restaurants, however Harajuku's were better than average with a nice juicy pork filling that made it Alissa's second favourite. Not pictured above was a pork variation called Kimuchi Pork, which featured Kimchi blended in. I really liked this interesting twist, as the Kimchi gave the Pork a spicy fermented funkiness, and it ended up tasting a lot like Chorizo. The Whole Prawn was the most expensive of the lot, and was sadly the less exciting - the filling was simply a whole Prawn with nothing much else to it, and I've had much better Prawn Gyoza elsewhere.

For our second visit we tried an assortment of their other Izakaya-style snacks, including both of their fried chicken dishes. Chicken Karaage was the more familiar of the two and were a very good example of this Japanese restaurant staple. The outer crispy layer was a bit thicker than the most refined Karaage Alissa and I have had at places like Jun in Perth, however the chicken meat itself was well marinaded with a good ginger spice, and a juicy tenderness that made these rather moreish.

We were less familiar with the Tebasaki Wings, however I instantly loved these due to an intriguing flavour memory cue they triggered. The sweet soy flavoured glaze on the Chicken and the dusting of white pepper on top tasted a lot like the silky soft boiled eggs served with soy sauce and white pepper in Singapore, and a favourite breakfast dish of my youth. It was strange to taste the same flavours in a different context; it was like the egg had grown up and become fried chicken instead! Was this better than the Karaage? I'm not sure, however the mix of nostalgia and well fried chicken made this a real personal highlight.

As someone who spent a good part of a year researching the Ramen joints in Perth, I just had to try the Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen. This was a lighter, less kotteri style of Tonkotsu that I generally prefer to think of a Shoyu Ramen with a Pork broth instead of a full on Tonkotsu as it lacks the lip-smacking collagen richness of a Hakata style bowl. The broth was a very good example of this lighter style, with a very tasty and well balanced Shoyu Tare. The biggest strength of the bowl was how good the toppings were; the slices of Chashu were perfectly well seasoned, cut to a good thickness without being too chunky or stingily thin. Above all, they were melt in your mouth soft. The Egg too was perfectly cooked, with a creamy, custard-like yolk. This was better than most places in Perth get Chashu and Egg - particularly damning of the Perth Scene when you consider this would not even register on a Sydney Ramen fiend's radar.

Finally, Alissa tried the Teriyaki Chicken Don on our first visit. The Chicken pieces were large and generally well seasoned, although Alissa felt that that the marinade flavour didn't quite get all the way through to the middle. The exterior was not as crispy as our favourite Chicken Teriyaki at our regular local Kai, however it should be noted that Harajuku chose to use breast meat instead of thigh. This can be a riskier choice as breast meat can seriously dry out, however the kitchen were able to skillfully cook the breast in a manner than was almost as juicy as thigh meat. With a nice Teriyaki Sauce and the rice and cucumber, this was a very good example of a fairly common staple albeit a not overly remarkable one.

The Verdict: Very Good
Although I like researching and planning when it comes to trying new places, its nice sometimes to just randomly stumble upon a place that serves good food. With its welcoming staff and kitchy-cool vibe, Harajuku was definitely a nice find during our trip to Sydney. Sitting down with a beer at the bar while eating freshly grilled Gyoza was a really fun and enjoyable experience, and we would definitely eat at a Harajuku should they open one in Perth. The Duck Gyoza and the customisation of the Gyoza dipping sauce was the main highlight for me, however the Soy and White Pepper flavour of the Tebasaki Wings, the excellent toppings on the Ramen and the overall quality of their other Gyozas showed they had more than one trick up their sleeves. Sadly, we did not get to try the Dessert Gyoza or their supposedly incredible Pork Belly dish - things that we'd consider returning to try next time we are in Sydney. Definitely a good choice for those looking for something low key in the Potts Point/King's Cross area.

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