Japan is a country that is a little obsessed with the cute and cuddly. You’ll see kawaii mascots everywhere in Japan promoting TV channels, transport passes and even the cities and prefectures themselves! So when I see the logo of Harajuku Gyoza with its cutesy face, it’s almost like I’m back in Japan.
Inside, the kawaii theme continues with Japanese-patterned melamine plates and light fixtures saying ‘HAI!’. The menu is equally as cutesy, proclaiming “Welcome, Customer-san!”, before comparing your appetite to Godzilla and saying “We want your happy face”. As for the food items, naturally the menu is gyoza-heavy but there are also other Japanese side dishes and izakaya style dishes available.
There are 5 gyoza dishes at $8 each, and we manage to try 3 out of the 5. For the pork, chicken and duck gyoza, you can choose to have these either grilled or poached. We’re after the crispy burnished bottoms of the fried variety, so we choose to have our pork and duck gyoza fried.
It’s been a while since my last visit to Ippudo. While the queues are still there and the place is as busy as ever, the menu has expanded from comprising of mainly ramen with a small selection of sides and desserts, to a full blown a la carte menu to cater for everyone’s tastes.
Having such a large menu means that there were more decisions to be made. There was an overwhelming choice of different ramen soup bases, ramen toppings, entrees, salads, more substantial-sized dishes and rice dishes, so it took us a while to decide on what we wanted to eat.
The Ippudo pork buns are pretty much a must-order for me. The juicy grilled pork belly, crispy lettuce and pillowy-soft bun hit all the right notes. There was a nice balance of flavours though I could always do with some extra pork belly!
It’s a new year, so it seemed only fitting to check out a new restaurant to kickstart the blog this year! You can’t miss Marukame Udon on Victoria Street in Chatswood, as at any given time there will be people crowded around the glass storefront, checking out the new restaurant and watching the chefs make the noodles right in front of you.
You can also ogle at the menu before you go in, and it’s probably best that you do because once you join the line, the ordering station is not too far inside. There’s lots of different udon options as well as rice bowls. Select your noodles, size and hot or cold, and move down the canteen-style line until a friendly staff member takes your order. Within minutes they will be weigh out your portion of noodles, place them in a bowl, ladle over the sauce or soup and your noodles will be on your tray, ready to go.
But don’t go rushing off yet, because there’s tasty extras to be had! Marukame offers a selection of tempura, including chicken, fish, prawns, vegetables and pork katsu. There’s also some inari sushi (rice stuffed inside a sweet tofu pocket), and iced green tea. Once you get the end of the line, a staff member will calculate the cost of the items on your tray, before you pay and go off to add even more things to your noodles, like chopped shallots and crunchy tempura bits.
The tsuke udon is a cold noodle option which comes with a small bowl of broth on the side for dipping the noodles into. A small dish containing a wasabi paste sits on top of the bowl of broth for some added heat. The tempura white fish is fried well, with a crunchy batter but succulent flesh inside. The tempura vegetables, or kakiage, is a wonderful mess of shredded carrot, onion, corn and other vegies deep fried in a light batter.
You can tell that the love of food runs in my blood since it was Mum that first introduced me to this new find. Izakaya Masuya takes its name from its sister restaurant next door, Masuya, which I’ve been to many times and never been disappointed. The smaller, more informal izakaya has an extensive menu of small dishes perfect for sharing and nibbling on with sake or a Japanese beer.
We start with one of the dishes from the daily specials menu which includes sashimi that is sourced fresh that day from the fish markets. We choose the yellowtail sashimi which includes five slices served on a bed of crushed ice with some freshly grated wasabi.
There’s something about finding a fantastic restaurant that’s in a hidden, unsuspecting location that makes it so satisfying. It might be to do with the fact that it feels like you’ve stumbled across someone’s secret, which is definitely the case with Toriciya, a restaurant that’s tucked away in an almost-residential area of Cammeray. There were plenty of Japanese people enjoying bottles of sake and yakitori in this izakaya, so we got a table and joined in the fun.
Sake was the first order of the night, and it was hard to choose with such an extensive selection available. We eventually chose a sake on the sweeter side to go with our food.