Sunday, 2 December 2012

Gourmet Shootout - Gyoza (Dumplings) versus

Godzilla versus Megalon

I must admit I am a bit late to the Gyoza phenomenon.  Don't get me wrong, like most people I love a good dumpling, but for me they have always been the starter for the 'main show' in some of my favourite asian restaurants.  It is with interest that I have watched the birth of the Gyoza movement in Brisbane and most notably in the Valley with the opening of specialist dumpling houses.  Even more amazing to me is the queues I have seen forming out the front of some of these restaurants.  With the recent opening of the newest Gyoza restaurant down in Emporium in the Valley, I though it timely to test out the Ann Gyoza, new comer and (slightly) more established Harajuku Gyoza.

The new kid on the block


After a long hot walk from the CBD to Emporium in the valley it was great to be welcomed into Ann Gyoza the the traditional Japanese welcome.  I had heard a lot of really positive things about Ann Gyoza lately and decided there was no better way to confirm than coming in to check it out.  Located in the Emporium complex, Ann Gyoza is tucked away around the back and certainly looks the part of a Japanese Gyoza restaurant with the area transformed by lots of clean lines, hanging tapestry with fittings and fixtures made almost exclusively with wood.

We were the first to be seated so had the choice of where we wanted to sit, and picked a spot with a great view of the kitchen and bar area.  Menu's arrived and within a few short minutes our orders were taken.  We opted for a combination of the Tower Lunch box deal but this was mainly due to the fact that we were not given any other choices.  

There is no mucking about here, with our drinks brought over with typical Japanese efficiency, and the food following very shortly after.  It soon became abundantly clear why, with the restaurant filling up quickly with 15 minutes of opening.

We ordered the Pork, Chicken and Seafood Gyoza and there was little to distinguish the three apart, all looking pretty much exactly the same, but I am not sure why I would have expected them to look different.  Each of the Gyoza came out on a sizzling plate and the wait staff poured over their special sauce that looked suspiciously like soy sauce, which then gave off an amazing steamy aroma.   The dumplings at Ann Gyoza are all pan fried and have a lovely caramalisation of the skin but each of the ingredients were succulent and juicy on the inside.

Of the three Gyoza that we chose, the pork was my favourite.  There was a distinct pork taste that was unmistakable and with the slightly crispy skin was pretty nice to eat.  The texture was firm and the dumplings well cooked and had a lovely colouring to them.

Pork Gyoza
The chicken Gyoza was also pretty good, there was a slight heat to the dish, but some of the flavour of the chicken was lost and I could have been eating any white meat.  The colouring was not as good as the pork, which signified a little less caramelisation on the skin.

Chicken Gyoza
The seafood Gyoza was pretty disappointing, and had a really mushy texture and were hard to eat due to the excess moisture tearing apart the skin.  In addition to the mushy texture, I could not actually detect any fish flavour at all, it really could have been anything

Seafood Gyoza

Lunch included the Gyoza, steamed rice and a salad
By the time we had finished out Gyoza the restaurant was pumping with most of the seats inside taken and people starting to sit outside.  What's amazing about this is that SC and I arrived right on opening at 11:30 and had finished by 12:00, so lunch time was just kicking off.  I could imagine long queues here on a Friday or Saturday night.  Ann Gyoza is a lovely looking restaurant that has helped add some variety to the Emporium precinct and was pretty good.

The staff were really friendly and had the brutal efficiency that a busy restaurant needs to get covers in and out.  Gyoza is not the type of food where one lingers for a couple of hours, so this is expected.  The lunch menu was fairly restricted and there were limited choices with only 6 Gyoza flavours on offer and only 3 that really interested me.  Once we had finished lunch and were walking back the CBD I couldn't help thinking that I had just had an entree and was wondering where the main couse would be coming from.

The happy happy fun place


There is something comforting about the welcome you receive when entering a Japanese restaurant, it sets it apart from most other types of establishments.  On another sweltering hot day and stroll into Brunswick Street we arrived at our next destination Harajuku Gyoza, a place that we have been to a few times and always really enjoyed.  Arriving right on the dot of 12 we were surprised that we were not the first to arrive for lunch, with half a dozen tables already buzzing with people.

Harajuku Gyoza is a very modern looking restaurant, with a long frameless glass pane fronting Brunswick street for patrons to watch the comings and goings of the Valley.  There is a huge wooden door that is normally closed and takes some effort to open to enter, but today was wide open.  After the traditional welcome SC and I were seated at the bar overlooking the kitchen, which was fine by me as I was keen to watch the kitchen in action.  Each seat has a Harajuku placemat which conveniently has the menu set out and within a few minutes of being seated, SC had a beer in hand and the lunch order was on its way.

Looking around, it was clear that this place was designed with the Valley in mind, it's a funky space and the music being played matched the decor and was electronica with a hint of 'kitsch' Japanese thrown it.  There were decorative plates all over the walls that depicted different Japanese scenes ranging from traditional 'cherry blossom' right the way through to anime and manga.  All very colourful and contrasting nicely with the very dark walls wood and stainless steel.  It all was designed to feel very modern and I felt very comfortable here.

There were 5 different flavours of gyoza on offer, which was extended slightly by allowing the choice of steamed or grilled dumplings.  Today we decided to have two duck gyoza, one steamed and one grilled; one grilled pork and one grilled chicken.  The steamed gyoza came out in a bowl and the grilled were presented on a plate, the only accompaniments were at the table, which were three sauces, vinegar, hot sweet chilli and soy sauce.  The steamed gyoza had a lovely translucent look and were covered in black seeds and the grilled a wonderful caramelisation on the bottom but perfectly cooked throughout.

First out and easily the tastiest of the gyoza was the Duck, both grilled and steamed.  The dumplings were fat and plump, filled with delicious duck.  The steamed duck allowed the strong duck flavour to shine through and each bite was amazing.  Adding a mixture of the sweet chilli and soy sauces added a real complexity to the dish, without overpowering it.  The heat from the chilli sauce was cooled by the soy and did not detract from the duck.  The grilled duck was even better as there was another layer of flavour from the caramelisation.  Wonderful and off to a great start.

Steamed Duck Gyoza

Grilled Duck Gyoza
Next out was the grilled pork gyoza, which were again plump and filled with sweet pork which was perfectly cooked.  The flavours were not as strong as the duck, but no less delicious.  The sweet chilli and soy combination worked a treat and a little more of the sweet chilli actually accentuated the pork flavour, even though I did start to build a chilli sweat.

Grilled Pork Gyoza
Last out was the grilled chicken gyoza.  After having the really tasty gyoza up front, the chicken was a little bland in comparison.  They were well cooked and plump and filled with chicken meat but in my opinion would have been a better start to lunch then finish. 

Grilled Chicken Gyoza
True to form, buy the time we had finished our lunch the place was packed and humming along.  There was a great vibe with the staff all yelling 'Irasshaimase' every few minutes as more people came in and took their seats.  I have seen queues around the corner to get into Harajuku Gyoza before and my strategy has always been to get in early.  I can see why this place gets pumping and has long queues as it has a vibrant outlook and feel and is a great space to send some time, have a beer and listen to some tunes while eating great gyoza.

Finishing up and reflecting on lunch I felt pretty good.  The dumplings were all stuffed full of meaty goodness and I actually felt quite full.  The full menu was on offer and while SC and I only had the gyoza, looking around the other diners meals there was a great variety of delicious looking Japanese food on offer.  It was time to continue onto James street for our weekly 'market' shop and I was full, happy and looking forward to the rest of the day

Cool plates to eat on and around the wal

The Verdict

SC and I both agreed that there was a clear favourite.  Harajuku Gyoza is our type of place.  Firstly for SC the concept of a beer and gyoza is too good to pass over and the match of beer and dumplings works perfectly.  There is a clear distinction between the restaurants themselves with Ann Gyoza feeling like a more traditional Japanese restaurant and even though it is brand new, it has an old world feel about it.  Harajuku feels more modern, yet no less Japanese, and is clearly aimed at the valley market with funky music and decor to match.

However, a Gyoza shootout is all about the food and the dumplings at Harajuku Gyoza were by far the nicer, more complete offering.  They were stuffed full of fillings and just tasted better.  The ability to have steamed or grilled adds more options.  The dumplings at Ann Gyoza were lacking in taste and filling and I left hungry, the last thing you want when leaving a restaurant.

The Winner - Harajuku Gyoza


Harajuku Gyoza on UrbanspoonAnn Gyoza Bar on Urbanspoon


  1. Very nice, I am somewhat of a dumpling fan too, we made our own at home. now I have to test out the dumpling in Seattle :)

    Well, you made me hungry, I have to go eat first :)

    Thanks for a very nice article.

  2. In addition, OMG, I never have duck dumpling before!! Since I am pretty sure I can't find duck dumpling in Seattle, I have to make my own, thanks for the idea :)

  3. haha, no problems. You never know, you might be surprised what you find, even in your own back yard :) Give them a go!

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