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.
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.
"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!"
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.
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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Level 1, 78-86 Harbour Street, Haymarket Chinatown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9212 6068
Open 7 days 5pm - 2am
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3/26/2009 02:06:00 am