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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wagaya, Haymarket Chinatown, Sydney



I like wasabi. I really do. But there's a strange flutter in the stomach when you first come face-to-face with the sushi roulette game at Wagaya in Sydney's Chinatown.



With its touch screen menus and ordering system, affordable bite-sized dishes and smart but groovy decor, Wagaya has been an instant hit with diners since its opening late last year. Designed in the style of an izakaya or Japanese tavern, this is about having after-work drinks accompanied by small bar snacks or dishes, a bit like tapas but with chopsticks.

The touch screen menu is one its biggest talking points. A tabbed menu is easy to navigate and offers photos and prices of every dish. Apart from the fact you don't have to flag down waitstaff to place your order at the start of the evening, it also means that extra dishes can be ordered at any time. Even glasses of water or top-ups of green tea are tapped through for instant alert to the kitchen. Service is exceptionally fast, with our dishes arriving within ten minutes and water materialising almost instantly.


Ordering four glasses of water


Confirmation of order

A photo menu is provided on laminated A3 sheets too, and because our screen is above our heads (so the nominated orderer has to twist in the seat and tilt their head at a precarious angle), we end up using the printed menu to decide on our dishes once the novelty of browsing through the screen wears off. The tables by the bar have a better located touchscreen at shoulder-height when seated.


Mentai potato salad $6.80

Our mentai potato salad arrives first, a muddle of potato coated in mayonnaise and cod roe that sits on a bed of lettuce leaves, cherry tomatoes, corn kernels and cucumber.


Deep-fried chicken karaage $6.90

The fried dishes arrive thick and fast. First the deep-fried chicken karaage, marinated and battered chicken pieces that are so fried to such an earth-shattering crisp they taste like chicken crackling. It's really that good.


Salmon skin age $4.50

Deep-fried salmon skin, on the other hard, is a little too crunchy for my liking, losing the texture, flavour and oily sweetness of the salmon.


Crumbed cheese $6.50

Chocolatesuze lost no time in ordering the crumbed cheese from the menu, and I'm glad she did, the cubes of camembert soft, molten and yielding within its golden batter armour. It's so good we order another.


Lychee sour $7.50


Sushi roulette game $8.50

And then the sushi roulette game appears on our table, a silly and pointless juvenile prank that is of course utterly irresistible. The menu explains the concept.

"1 out of 6 pieces of sushi has a lot of wasabi inside! Let's see who is going to choose it and cry with it!"
We all make guesses at to which one we think has the wasabi "bomb" inside, but it's my inspired idea to make the chooser close their eyes whilst everyone else spins the plate, then allow their chopstick to rest on their lucky sushi.

Yas is the first to go, our bated breath and expectant faces falling into disappointment when he chews slowly, then finally breaks out in a grin. Billy is next, his eyes appearing quizzical as he chews, until he too breathes a sigh of relief.

There are four pieces left and chocolatesuze giggles nervously. She, too, blindly selects a piece and chews cautiously, worriedly, and then swallows with a joyous shriek.

My turn. Three pieces of sushi left. A one-in-three chance of getting the bomb. There's a strange but intoxicating sense of exhilaration as I put the whole sushi in my mouth, three pairs of eyes expectantly following my every chew.

Ahh... relief.... it's all good, there's nothing to be seen here. No danger to be... omigod my teeth hit the unmistakeable grittiness of wasabi. Wasabi, wasabi, wasabi. It hits my sinuses in one breathtaking hit, my eyes widening with shock as I notice the others falling about laughing at my misfortune.

The problem with the wasabi bomb is the paste is dry and it won't go down my throat. I can feel the wasabi getting stuck in my gums and in-between my teeth and still it lingers, as the raucous guffaws laughter only swell in volume around me.

Chew. Chew. Swallow. Exhale. The others wipe the tears from their eyes. I can still feel bits of wasabi stuck in my teeth.


Crab chawanmushi $6.50

So the crab chawanmushi is a welcome distraction. This steamed egg cup is elegant and satiny smooth, a slinky barely-set custard that has a depth of flavour from dashi and a faint sweetness of mirin. Little slivers of mushroom and crab stick add textural contrast.


Crab chawanmushi


Cassia milk $8.20


Shishamo fried $7.50

Shishamo is a small saltwater fish also known as smelt, that's particularly popular in Japan. Lightly floured and deep-fried, they have a very faint bitterness to them. I am always fascinated by their open mouths which almost convinces me I can hear a resonating heavenly choral chorus if I concentrate hard enough.


Dragon roll $9.50

The dragon roll is an impressive presentation, a long plate holding pillows of rice topped with glistening unagi eel and deep-fried slices of lotus root. Sandwiched between the eel and rice is a thick wad of cream cheese, an addition I hadn't expected, but one that somehow works, the slight tartness holding itself against the richness of the eel.


Ox tongue $5.50

Chocolatesuze had been avoiding the ox tongue all evening until we finally convince her to give it a go. The tongue is sliced quite thickly which means some pieces are a little chewy and tough. Chocolatesuze struggles to take a small bite, and as she chews on with dogged determination, she rolls her eys and then suddenly pipes up "It's taking so long... it's like tonguing a tongue."


Scallop and garlic fried rice $9.90

We finish with a piping hot stone bowl filled with a huddle of scallop and garlic fried rice. The outer layer of rice has cooked to a delicious crust, a devilishly good combination of crunchy rice grains, soft rice in the middle, juicy seared scallops and delicate wisps of carrot and scallion.



I had the wasabi bullet and I survived.

Do you feel lucky?


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Wagaya
Level 1, 78-86 Harbour Street, Haymarket Chinatown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9212 6068

Open 7 days 5pm - 2am


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Japanese -- Kabuki Shoroku, Sydney
Japanese -- Madono, Haymarket
Japanese -- Nakashima, The Rocks
Japanese -- Nippon Club, Sydney
Japanese -- Umaimon, Sydney

24 comments - Add some comment love

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/26/2009 02:06:00 am


24 Comments:

  • At 3/26/2009 6:47 am, Anonymous SydneyGal said…

    I went here a few weeks ago and loved it - it was like yum cha for Japanese food, and about the same price. The value was amazing and the children and I had such fun. Our ox tongue wasn't at all chewy, in fact it was so delicious I had to fight my 10 year old for it. I loved the touch-screen ordering, and in fact I think we probably ordered more than we would have if we'd had to continually flag down a waiter to add to our selections.

    I wish Wagaya was near my work!!!

     
  • At 3/26/2009 9:00 am, Blogger Yas said…

    Wow! I really feel your pain, that's an intense experience. Maybe you should buy a lotto ticket now...you're obviously 'lucky'!

     
  • At 3/26/2009 9:04 am, Anonymous Trisha said…

    Ahhh so that's the touch screen restaurant! I've walked past it a few times and have debated whether or not I should walk up the dark stairs or not - now I know that I should!

    Btw I've been a silent fan of Grab Your Fork (not so silent anymore)! :)

     
  • At 3/26/2009 9:28 am, Anonymous Howard said…

    You did alot better than my friend with the Wasabi bullet! LOL @ 'heavenly choral chorus', I hope you don't hear pigs make noises when you eat suckling pig ;)

     
  • At 3/26/2009 9:47 am, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    Nice photo of the dragon roll.

    I like the idea of closing your eyes for the roulette. No peeking to see which one has the wasabi. Sounds like it backfired though!

     
  • At 3/26/2009 9:53 am, Anonymous shez said…

    oh no! you got bombed!

    i've been meaning to go here for ages - the novelty factor is so appealing. just need a reason (and a couple of willing wasabi bomb participants) :)

     
  • At 3/26/2009 10:07 am, Anonymous Veruca Salt said…

    I think you secretly wanted the wasabi bullet. I would have cheated and very carefully studied each piece to see which one had the bomb.

    Place looks great. Did they have Sapporo on tap? That would have made it really authentic.

     
  • At 3/26/2009 10:09 am, Anonymous billy@ATFT said…

    LOL... wait till you see my post. I love food cruelty, makes the dining experience lot more memorable, especially on friends not myself :P

     
  • At 3/26/2009 10:43 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    *chortles* i was so SO happy that you got the wasabi bomb hehe

     
  • At 3/26/2009 1:33 pm, Anonymous Katie said…

    The wasabi bomb sounds like good fun! Too bad you go it!

    I fell in love with crumbed cheese when I was in Japan earlier this year - it is very delicious.

     
  • At 3/26/2009 5:54 pm, Blogger yewenyi said…

    when you said random.. well I think there should be a mystery dish button where it selects a dish for you... definitely will have to try it.

     
  • At 3/26/2009 8:20 pm, Anonymous divemummy said…

    Were there photos recorded of your wasabi intake?

    Will definitely have to try this place out - Miss Two will love the concept of pressing buttons and food appears!

     
  • At 3/26/2009 9:10 pm, Blogger Gourmet Chick said…

    They have opened a touchscreen place in London as wel. I am unconvinced about the gimmick.

    Listened to your podcast (the wonders of the internet to be able to listen to Sydney radio from London) and congratulations I think you represented the blogging community really well. Not sure if the interviewer had no idea at all or was just playing along for the sake of asking questions but some of his questions such as "did you test the recipe for the red velvet cup cakes" and you had to reply "well I made them so that was testing them" were quite strange!

     
  • At 3/26/2009 10:19 pm, Blogger FFichiban said…

    Wahhh so many ppl posting about wagaya makes me think I should try it again and see! Hee hee the sushi roulette strikes again!

     
  • At 3/27/2009 12:12 am, Blogger Joyce T said…

    Just had a very late dinner there and the food was even better than my first visit a few months ago!

    To answer Veruca Salt's ques, they have Asahi on tap but I didn't see Sapporo

     
  • At 3/27/2009 1:28 am, Anonymous Simon said…

    The karaage looks so flavourful and crunchy! I'd go there just for that.

    Sorry to hear about the results in the sushi roulette. Would you do it again, now that you've tried it?

     
  • At 3/27/2009 8:02 am, Blogger Y said…

    Hilarious post, Helen!

     
  • At 3/27/2009 3:49 pm, Blogger Karen said…

    LOL LOL poor Helen! LOL

    Oh how cruel they are!

     
  • At 3/29/2009 6:05 pm, Anonymous Yas@hungryDigitalElf said…

    Hahahahahah you literally froze for a while LOL
    Yeah I agree, the wasabi was too dry and wasn't so spicy eh? Let's go again soon *grin*

     
  • At 3/30/2009 2:08 am, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

    Hi SydneyGal - Great to hear you had such a delicious expereience. I agree, the prices are very wallet-friendly and the lure of the touchscreen does make ordering very easy (sometimes too easy!).

    Hi Yas - Nah I think the fact I got the wasabi bomb shows I have no luck at all - just the intestinal fortitude to battle on :)

    Hi Trisha - Oh a first commenter! Thank you so much for finally coming out of the dark! :)

    I would definitely recommend Wagaya as a fun and fast place to eat. The only problem is its popularity. Would recommend you make a booking or get there very early in the evening. And now that you're out in the open, no need to be a silent reader anymore!

    Hi Howard - Well this is my side of the story anyway :) And ha, I think the only heavenly chorus around roast pig comes from me! lol

    Hi Arwen - It did backfire. Argh! lol

    Hi Shez - I'd been meaning to get to Wagaya for ages too. The wasabi bomb is silly but fun. Do it, do it! :)

    Hi Veruca Salt - I bet you would've cheated! It was my bright idea to get everyone to close their eyes though. Doh! And I didn't notice, but Joyce T answers your question below.

    Hi Billy - lol! You are cruel indeed!

    Hi Chocolatesuze - lol. Perhaps it's just as well I got the wasabi bullet and not you!

    Hi Katie - Ahh someone had to get it. Happy to provide amusement to others when necessary. lol.

    Crumbed cheese is so very good isn't it? The best combination of fat upon fat I know :)

    Hi Yewenyi - A mystery button would be a good idea indeed, unless it was programmed to give you all the expensive dishes!

    Hi Divemummy - Those photos have been censored :) And oh I can just picture the havoc if the kids started pressing the menu. You might have to use the platinum credit card!

    Hi Gourmet Chick - I think that touchscreen could be gimmicky, but in this environment it works, where it means fast efficient service so all is good :)

    Thanks for your lovely feedback on the interview. You are too kind :) I think Simon was trying to frame my questions with reference to the [revised] topic of cookbooks so yes that question did throw me at first! Podcasts are great aren't they :)

    Hi FFichiban - I would go again :) Hope you don't get the wasabi bomb!

    Hi Joyce T - Ooh good to hear that things have improved for you!

    Hi Simon - I never say no to a bit of adrenalin with my meal :)

    Hi Y - lol. Thanks. The others at the table thought it was hilarioud too. lol!

    Hi Karen - Ahhh someone had to get it, but yeah there's something about suffering pain whilst everyone around you is in uncontrollable fits of laughter!

    Hi hungrydigitalelf - lol. It all passed in a blur. Perhaps it's just as well the wasabi wasn't that hot, but the dryness I could've done without. And ha, next time I'm praying you get the wasabi bomb! lol

     
  • At 3/31/2009 9:35 am, Blogger Betty said…

    Hi Helen!
    I've been following your blog for a long time. I love your photos and your reviews. You have inspired me to try new things and to create my very own foodblog (still v. early days!)

    Re. Wagaya - i love the touchscreen! so cool. you should try the cocktails there next time - very tasty :)

    keep eating and blogging!

     
  • At 4/01/2009 10:23 pm, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

    Hi Betty - Hurrah, another Sydney food blog is born. So glad you've taken the plunge - it can be a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun too, and you get to meet so many lovely people :)

     
  • At 4/15/2009 10:35 pm, Anonymous Lucas Burns said…

    Hi Helen,
    I went there tonight, but was disappointed. The previous times I have loved it, but tonight, the sashimi/sushi was too cold (obviously pre-made) and the yaki-onigiri was revolting. It was too oily, and shouldn't be - it should be on the grill with the yakitori, not the hotplate with the fish. Some of it was good (soft shell crab salad was good) but the onigiri and the grilled samma was a bit over oily! Anyway - great to see the at you were there.

     
  • At 4/16/2009 8:36 pm, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

    Hi Lucas - Commiserations. Nothing worse than a disappointing meal. Glad the soft shell crab offered some consolation though!

     

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