Review: Wagamama, The Galeries, Sydney

Note: I visited Wagamama six weeks ago, and they have since shut down. This review was written before they closed their doors.

There was a point in my life when having Japanese food was a really special occasion. My parents rarely took my brother and I out to restaurants and when they did it was always to cheap Chinese restaurants or Hong Kong diners . They didn’t, and my father still doesn’t, like to try new things.

I remember the first time I ever visited Wagamama in Melbourne when I was in Year 9 in high school. A friend and I had just watched a movie and needed to grab some food. Instead of our usual teenage McDonald’s order, we decided to have a proper meal at Wagamama. I struggled to understand the menu – what were gyozas? What’s katsu? What’s bento? The whole menu was entirely foreign to me, a kid who grew up on Chinese menus.

Of course now that I’m older, with disposable income, and have been privileged enough to try a wide variety of cuisines at many different very fancy and expensive restaurants, Wagamama no longer holds the same position as a “special occasion” restaurant. It was however, perfect to drop into for a casual meal.

Apple, mint and lime juice

Apple, mint and lime juice

K and I dropped into Wagamama at The Galeries one night after my regular monthly plasma donation appointment. K ordered an apple, mint and lime juice, which is a refreshing blend of sweet cloudy apple and tart lime.

Beef Yakitori

Beef Yakitori

K was concerned about my iron levels after donating plasma, so he ordered a beef yakitori for us to share. I found the beef to be much chewier than I usually prefer, though it was grilled to a good level of smokiness. I probably wouldn’t order this again, as it was just a bit too ‘beefy’ for me – there’s fresh beef, and then there’s beef that’s verging on the end of too old and pungent.

Otsunaadja Portobello Salad

Otsunaadja Portobello Salad

My portobello salad was much more enjoyable – it was a great mix of warm grilled vegetables including mushroom, pumpkin, eggplant and onion with cold baby salad leaves and Chinese cabbage. It’s the kind of warm hearty salad that you can have plenty of during winter, and not feel guilty as it’s just chock-full of healthy veggies without too much overpowering dressing.

Wagamama Ramen

Wagamama Ramen

K’s Wagamama Ramen was a bit like the “Combination with the Lot” that you might see on Chinese restaurant menus. It included a bit of everything that you might find on their menu – chicken yakitori, grilled prawns, squid, soft tender pork, and more. It’s a great sample of what Wagamama have to offer, and K ended up slurping down every last mouthful. I quite liked the clear, sweet and salty broth as well, which was very more-ish.

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Wagamama isn’t the cheapest Japanese restaurant around, especially considering it even has to compete with the cheap and tasty Sushi Hotaru which is located on the same level of The Galeries. However with a 25% off coupon from my Entertainment Book, our meal for two ended up being under $50, which certainly doesn’t break the bank.

If I’m going to be honest though, I’d have to admit that I wouldn’t have returned to Wagamama for a second meal, even if they had stayed open. While some of the dishes were a real hit (the portobello salad), others were more of a miss (beef yakitori). There’s many other Japanese restaurants in Sydney that I’m yet to try!

Wagamama - The Galeries Victoria on Urbanspoon


Review: Harajuku Gyoza, Potts Point

How often do you see your significant other at work? K has only been to my workplace a handful of times, and it’s generally for a special occasion like bringing me roses on Valentine’s Day (yes I know, I’m lucky!). I’ve been to his workplace a lot more often as it’s a lot more central than my office and so makes a good base for any weekday evening activities that we may have planned – movies, concerts, dinners out.

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Every time that I go to his office, I walk past this cute little cartoon character that’s the mascot for Harajuku Gyoza in Potts Point, a modern Japanese izakaya. I’ve always wanted to try it as I’m a real sucker for a cute face! We finally went there for a quick dinner one night before taking the train out to Homebush for the Queen & Adam Lambert concert which rocked my world.

Cucumber and Miso Salad, $5

Cucumber and Miso Salad, $5

We started with a cucumber and miso salad. The cold skinless cucumber chunks were delightfully crunchy which worked well with the sticky sweet miso dressing. The addition of toasted sesame seeds also added additional texture and depth of flavour to an otherwise simple starter.

Coke Zero

Coke Zero

I ordered a Coke Zero – it’s not particularly exciting given that you can get soft drinks anywhere, but I loved that it came served in one of Harajuku Gyoza’s custom beer mugs with the cute cartoon character. Like I said earlier, I’m a sucker for a cute face!

Spicy Miso Ramen, $12

Spicy Miso Ramen, $12

Given the cold weather that we had been experiencing in Sydney at that point, I also made the case for a bowl of hot steaming ramen. While ramen obviously isn’t the specialty of Harajuku Gyoza, I found that it was cooked really well – the miso broth was tangy and tasty, the ramen noodles wonderfully chewy with good ‘bite’, and the tender pork slices just melted in your mouth.

Grilled Pork and Grilled Duck Gyozas, $8 per serve

Grilled Pork and Grilled Duck Gyozas, $8 per serve

Our savoury gyoza choices were a real treat. Piping hot with thin, almost translucent dumpling skins on top, the bottoms of the gyozas were grilled to crispy perfection. I found the duck gyozas a bit too game-y for my liking, but the pork was wonderful.

Salted caramel gyoza with ice-cream, $9

Salted caramel gyoza with ice-cream, $9

Of course to finish off, we needed to try one of Harajuku’s famous dessert gyozas. The salted caramel called to me, though I was also sorely tempted by the Nutella and banana gyozas. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite meet my expectations as I found the skins a bit thicker and chewier than I would have liked especially when compared to the thinner skins of the savoury gyozas.

Overall, while I really enjoyed the cute kitschiness of Harajuku Gyoza, I don’t think it’s the best value-for-money meal that you can find. You can get better and cheaper dumplings elsewhere, and better and cheaper ramen elsewhere as well. It was enjoyable, but I don’t think I’ll be back anytime soon.

Harajuku Gyoza on Urbanspoon


Good Food Month: Street Fest and Night Noodle Markets

While there’s always a lot of different exciting foodie events on for Good Food Month every year, for the most part they’re largely beyond my budget. As much as I would love to pay $150 for a Hats Off Dinner, I can’t justify the expense! I resign myself to enjoying the Let’s Do Lunch (read my review of The Bridge Room), Let’s Do Dessert and my favourite events – the budget-friendly, crowd-pleasing pop up markets.

This year I attended Street Fest in Pyrmont Point Park, a gathering of Sydney’s food trucks, and of course, everyone’s perennial favourite – the Night Noodle Markets in Hyde Park. The photos in this entry are from a few different nights, so you’ll have to excuse the difference in quality – some are from an iPhone, others from a proper camera!

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Street Fest was designed to appeal to a younger and more hipster crowd than the Night Noodle Markets. For one night only, Sydney’s best food trucks would converge on Pyrmont Point Park and DJs and dance groups would showcase the best in R’n’B and hip hop tunes and moves.

In reality, it was a haphazard event with inadequate lighting that saw groups of young people stumble over each other in the dark and swear at the ridiculously long queues for food. K and I went with a group of friends, and we had quite a mixed experience.

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The sugar cane juice we bought from one stand was flavoured with lime juice, which helped to temper the sweetness of the sugar cane, making a very drinkable and more-ish juice.

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Our first food stop was Agape Organic Food Truck, an offshoot of Agape Organic Restaurant in Botany. I have to be honest – the main reason we chose this option was because the line was relatively short, and we couldn’t be bothered waiting longer somewhere more popular like Eat Art Truck.

It turned out to be the right choice though, as the shorter line was more representative of the efficiency of the staff and their system, rather than any deficiencies in their food! Agape Food Truck use a buzzer system that notifies you when your order is ready, saving the staff from having to shout out order numbers and customers from lingering within a ten metre radius.

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Pulled Wagyu beef and rice (10 hour slow braised grass fed gundooee wagyu beef, rice & quinoa, coleslaw, bbq sauce, chimichurri), $12 and Small Hand-cut chips, $5

We waited only about fifteen minutes until our buzzer went off and we collected our order. The pulled wagyu beef was deliciously tender, and was really set off nicely by the chimmichurri on top. The coleslaw was nice and crunchy, but unfortunately the rice was a bit gluggy. Overall, it wasn’t a bad meal!

The hand-cut chips were a hit though, with all our friends helping themselves to a few chips while they waited in vain for their Eat Art Truck orders to come through (it took over an hour!).

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Chilorio Pork Burrito Desnudo (‘naked’ burrito with pork cooked in citrus and guajillo), $11.50

Our next stop was Cantina Movil for some Mexican food. Trying to keep my kilojoules down (ha!), I chose a burrito in a bowl, rather than wrapped in the traditional style. This was particularly tasty – the chilli pork went really well with the chipotle mayonnaise, and had that extra special tang from a squeeze of citrus.

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Lining up at Tsuru, I had my eye on the pandan pancakes for dessert. Unfortunately, as I reached third in line, the staff removed the pancakes option from the board, with everyone groaning and complaining as a result. So close, and yet so far!

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Salted palm sugar ice-cream bun, $6

I settled for a salted palm sugar ice-cream bun instead. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – their savoury bun options used the white soft steamed Chinese-style bun, but obviously you can’t use a hot steamed bun with ice-cream. I was pleasantly surprised when I realised that they used a Hong Kong style cocktail bun as the bun. The coconut of the cocktail bun just went perfectly with the palm sugar ice-cream – a real hit!

Unfortunately, while the concept of Street Fest was well-intentioned, the execution just didn’t work. One example that stuck in my mind was the fact that while food trucks were banned from selling drinks (all drinks had to be purchased from the bar on site), they didn’t take that into account with their meal prices.

My friend tried to order one of Eat Art Truck‘s meals advertised on their regular menu on the side of the van – burger, chips and a drink for $15. They still charged him $15 though they wouldn’t serve him a drink, saying that he had to buy the drink separately by lining up at the bar. Surely, the owners of Eat Art Truck should have taken the “no beverage sales” policy into account, and reduced the usual meal cost accordingly? It’s only a little thing, but it’s that kind of negative experience that sticks in your mind unfortunately!

Our next stop a few days later was the Night Noodle Markets. The weather forecast was grim, which meant that everyone stayed home, leaving the markets dead quiet. Deciding to take our chances, we showed up anyway and enjoyed the bliss of having no queues. And the rain held off! Win win. There on a double date with a former colleague and her husband, we wandered around looking at all the stalls at the markets this year.

Sticky Rice with Mango from Span Thai, $12

Sticky Rice with Mango from Span Thai, $12

Agreeing that dessert was the ideal way to start our evening, I ordered sticky rice with mango from Span Thai. It came with a warm coconut sauce that really enhances the strong sweet tropical flavours of the just-in-season fresh mango, and helped make the slightly-dry sticky rice more palatable.

Lemon, ginger and mint ice tea from Span Thai, $5

Lemon, ginger and mint ice tea from Span Thai, $5

K was also complaining of thirst at this point, so I also got a lemon ice tea for us to share from the same stall. Lightly flavoured with ginger and mint, the tea was very refreshing and definitely hit the spot.

Korean Chips on a Stick, $6

Korean Chips on a Stick, $6

Moving along, one of the few stalls with a queue in front of it on this gloomy overcast evening was “Korean Chips on a Stick”. It’s a simple concept, and one we had while we were in Korea earlier this year – though ours was a bit fancier as it also had a sausage in the middle! I’d have to be honest though – this was probably a tastier version, as the chips was crispy on the outside though still soft in the inside. We chose to have the “special spice mix” on our chips on a stick, which consisted of chicken salt, salt and vinegar, lemon pepper, barbecue, satay, cheese, chilli, pepper and salt. It was an amazing combination of both chilli burn and salty mouth-puckering.

Three Gua Baos (braised pork belly, twice cooked pork belly and fried silky tofu) from Wonderbao, $20

Three Gua Baos (braised pork belly, twice cooked pork belly and fried silky tofu) from Wonderbao, $20

Wonderbao has definitely been the hit of the Night Noodle Markets this year though – you only have to look at Instagram to know! I was really glad when I heard that they would be making an appearance in Sydney’s markets, as I still haven’t managed to make my way to their Melbourne base despite my frequent trips down south. We chose their special of three “gua baos” for $20, which consisted of:

  • Braised pork belly with pickled mustard, coriander and crushed peanuts
  • Twice cooked pork belly with pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber and hoisin sauce
  • Fried silky tofu with pickled mustard, coriander, sweet soy and crushed peanuts

As much as I loved the tender mouth-watering goodness of the pork belly bao, I have to say the standout for me was probably the tofu bao. I really wasn’t expecting much, so to be surprised with crispy-skinned soft tofu with a subtle yet effective accompaniment of peanuts and soy…it blew my mind.

Rice Burger with Tenderous Pork Rib from One Tea Bar and Grill, $13.50

Rice Burger with Tenderous Pork Rib from One Tea Bar and Grill, $13.50

Last year’s fad of the Ramen Burger drew both positive and negative comments – I even created my own slider version. Rice burgers are this year’s fad offering, which reminds me of the rice burger created by Dani Venn on Masterchef back in 2011. This version was…interesting. If you don’t go into it expecting a bun that tastes like a bread roll, you’ll probably quite enjoy it – the pork rib is marinated really well in a BBQ sauce, and the chewier rice burger actually goes well with the tender meat as it lends some texture to each mouthful. Served with a small side salad and some watermelon to cleanse the palate, it’s actually a really good value meal.

Mee Goreng from May's Laksa House

Mee Goreng from May’s Laksa House, $12

The last main of the night that K and I shared was the mee goreng from May’s Laksa House. Notably, not a laksa. It’s a decent mee goreng though with plenty of “wok hei”, though I would personally have preferred a touch more chilli and spice – I always feel like Malaysian food is a bit lacking if you don’t finish with a burning mouth!

Phuc Khing Tasty and Street Hawker desserts from Gelato Messina, $9 each

Phuc Khing Tasty and Street Hawker desserts from Gelato Messina, $9 each

We finished the night with two of Gelato Messina’s dessert offerings designed specifically for the markets. My colleague and her husband shared the Phuc Khing Tasty, and K and I shared the Street Hawker:

  • Phuc Khing Tasty – Cinnamon scroll, coffee gelato, condensed milk pannacotta, walnut crunch, asian spiced cookie
  • Street Hawker – lime and chocolate brownie, peanut gelato, coconut and caramel jam, fortune cookie clusters, peanut cookie

I think K would have liked to try the Phuc Khing Tasty as he loves coffee gelato, but as I’m more of a peanut girl, I convinced him to share the Street Hawker with me instead. It was very very more-ish (the lime and chocolate brownie in particular), and Gelato Messina continues to impress. I would go back before the markets end this year to try their other two custom desserts!

Angus Beef Salad from The Star, $12

Angus Beef Salad from The Star, $12

The following night, we returned to the Noodle Markets on a whim – K’s colleagues wanted to play ping pong at the Nova Ping Pong tent, so we went along as well. It was much busier on our second visit, as the weather forecast was good and we found ourselves battling the crowds and queues.

Succumbing to our grumbling stomachs and reluctant to queue for half an hour or more, we satiated our initial hunger pangs at the stall with the shortest queue, run by The Star casino. We were apprehensive at what we would get, but soon realised that the short line wasn’t due to terrible food, but merely to extreme efficiency on the part of the staff. It was less than five minutes from the point that we started queuing to when we actually received our Angus Beef Salad.

The Vietnamese style warm salad of beef and vermicelli noodles was very heavy on the lemongrass – almost too much so. However, it did the job and kept us satiated while we lined up for Jackie M‘s Malaysian cuisine.

Chicken CKT from Jackie M Malaysian Cuisine, $16

Chicken CKT from Jackie M Malaysian Cuisine, $16

The staff were churning out serve after serve of CKT, rotis, and curries but almost couldn’t keep up with demand – there were just that many people waiting for their serve of some of the best Malaysian food in Sydney! We ordered a chicken CKT (with a spoonful of sambal sauce), and also ordered a serve of otak-otak (grilled spicy fishcake in banana leaf) and pulut panggang (grilled sticky rice in banana leaf with spicy dried shrimp and coconut), unpictured.

It was the first time I’d ever tried pulut panggang which I found a really interesting mix of savoury and near-sweet. The otak-otak was as good as ever (better than my usual serve at Sambal in North Ryde) and the CKT full of wok hei. In the darkness of Hyde Park, K’s colleague accidentally had the spoonful of sambal sauce in one full mouthful, rather than mixing it through his CKT first…he definitely regretted that decision!

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All in all, the Night Noodle Markets are always an enjoyable experience – more so when you don’t have to queue for over half an hour at each stall! It’s always interesting to see what new stalls and new dishes will make an appearance each year – and which will stick around. Personally, I’m hoping that Wonderbao will decide to open up a branch in Sydney, so I can have that delicious tofu bao more often!