Thursday, 7 March 2013

Cheap Eats - Wagaya

There are a stack of Asian restaurants in the Valley, with many traditional and some not so.  I have to say I have never had to book a restaurant through a Contact Centre in the same way that I did when booking at Wagaya.  It was a pretty slick experience to be honest and I received a follow up text straight away, with a booking number and advice that if I was 10 minutes late they would give my table away!

For SC and I this was our first visit to Wagaya and didn't really know what to expect, but for our regular Sunday night dinner buddies, this was old hat, they had been heaps of times.  I was particularly interested in the assertion that all the food can only be ordered via a touch screen at the booths and that the food would be delivered thick and fast.  Being a Gen Y at heart and loving any new and innovative way to do things, the idea of ordering from a screen and the food being brought to the table excited me.

Wagaya is in Duncan Street in the Valley (or the Chinatown Mall) and located upstairs in the TCB building.  Walking up the stairs you don't get a feel for how big the place is, but it's big and it's like a rabbit warren.  There is no easy way to tell how many people can be seated here but there are a heap of two, four, six and eight person booths spread out across the site, all with awesome looking touch screen menus at the head of the table.

We lost SC and TB when we were seated, they were off discovering where the bathroom was, and it only took CI and I a few seconds before we had mastered the ordering system and had a few items ordered and on their way.  We hardly noticed SC and TB join us, we were having too much fun looking through the items and then placing orders.  Eventually we had to let the girls have their turn and let them place a few orders for themselves.

It seemed like only a few moments before the ghost like wait staff started bring out our orders, one minute we had no food, then suddenly the table was packed with tasty goodies.

We started off with a couple of serves of the homemade gyoza, with pork being the only filling available.  These were not the best gyoza I have had but they were pretty tasty.  There was a great caramelisation from the frying process that added some great texture as well as flavour to the dumplings.  While the gyoza were nice, the sauce that came with them was a bit washed out and it was difficult to get a flavour profile, it could have been anything.  We polished them off quickly enough though and SC and I ordered some more.

Delivered at the same time as the gyoza were the salmon skewers, wich were cooked in a teriyaki style and covered in sesame seeds.  The salmon was a little dry and over cooked, but still pretty tasty.  I would have loved it if they had a few minutes less on the grill.

The next dish of eel skewers was an optimistic choice for the table and only TB and I ate them.  SC had an attempt but could not really get past the smell or the texture.  I quite enjoyed the eel, which was quite a strong fishy flavour with an underlying sweetness from the teriyaki flavour.  The texture of eel is a bit weird and you need to get used to it before you can enjoy it.

In the spirit of food just appearing the snow crab tempura was next to find itself on the table, with three decent size crab legs cooked in a tempura batter.  I found the batter to be a bit heavy for traditional tempura but it was lovely and crispy.  The crab was cooked well and I quite enjoyed this dish.

A real favourite on the table for most of us was the grilled squid in butter, I say most of us because by this time it was becoming clear that SC was not really enjoying the dishes we had selected so far.  The squid was cooked pretty well, a little over done but not so bad that you could not eat it.  The butter added a lovely nuttiness to the dish and there were some mushrooms on the plate that were delicious.  I must admit, the plate did look a little freaky!

CI ordered another cephalopod, this time octopus karaage, which is a technique where the octopus is deep fried in oil after it has been marinated in a mix of soy sauce and garlic (sometimes ginger).  I found the octopus to be over cooked, but it might just have been the piece I had because CI thought that it was just about perfect.  Having said that, he did say that this one has always been one of his favourites.

TB's next dish was scallops cooked in teriyaki sauce.  The scallops came with the roe attached, so I didn't sample these ones but TB thought they were great.  The scallops were cooked well and were full of flavour.

TB also ordered a serve of the tiger prawns, which came out in with the shells on and were huge!  Being a little squeamish, CI did the chivalrous and peeled the prawns for her, which was a messy affair.  I am not sure if TB enjoyed the prawns that much as she was trying to offload the second prawn to everyone else at the table, however TB loves prawns and almost never leaves anything on the plate so she polished them off none-the-less.

SC spent much of the evening looking and not touching the food but eventually CI convinced her to try the potato and pumpkin gratin.  This was a very simple dish of roasted potato and pumpkin with melted cheese over the top.  SC loved this and ate most of it, but it was a huge serving size so there was  a heap to share around the table.

I really wanted to finish off the dinner with something sweet and ignored all of the Japanese dessert options and instead chose a creme brûlée.  I was not really expecting too much thinking there was no way that they would get the traditional French dessert right.  I was surprise that it was not too bad, sure there was not much of a caramelisation and crust on the brûlée, but  it tasted nice and was pretty creamy.

I had quite a bit of fun visiting Wagaya and loved the approach to ordering food.  I am not going to say that this was the best Japanese food going around simply because it's not.  It is however really cheap and actually quite good value.

There is a huge danger at Wagaya of going totally mental and ordering way too much food, but they have thought of this and you can easily track how much food you have ordered, what you have ordered and how much your total spend is at any point in time.  I really can't understate how much I loved the approach to ordering the food, I would love to live in a world where this was more prevalent.  Just sit down, place your order automatically when you are ready and the food just appears on your table, this is brilliant.

The service at Wagaya is really unobtrusive, just 'ghosts' wandring around in black, hardly speaking and delivering food quickly and efficiently.  It possibly would have been nice to have a little interaction with them, but that is the price you pay for efficiency.

I probably won't hurry back to Wagaya anytime real soon, but I had a great time and the food was not too bad.  I just need to figure out a way to order all my meals so quickly and efficiently.....  


Wagaya on Urbanspoon Wagaya Japanese Restaurant

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