Finally, what with Londoners becoming more and more knowledgeable about Japanese food, niche Japanese restaurants that specialise in one dish are now thriving. This makes good sense. When you crave that meaty, juicy burst of a gyoza (a hearty Japanese dumpling), you want fresh, crispy-skinned gyoza made by experts, right in front of your very eyes, not defrosted in the back room. Am I right or am I right?
Why? A quick, casual date night after shopping on Tottenham Court Road.
When? 7.30pm on a windy Friday evening in July.
First Impressions: The front of the slim restaurant is dedicated to the gyoza cooking area, full of plaid-shirted workers wearing GYOZA baseball caps. Yes! They are hard at work, making my gyoza fresh-to-order, bless their trendy little international hearts.
Ambience: Modern and cool, the plain wood décor nods to the Far East and the plaid staff shirts gesture to the Pacific Northwest. It’s cool, fun and casual. By 8.30pm, every table was occupied, filling the narrow space with noisy Friday evening chat.
Clientele: Due to the Covent Garden location, the place had all sorts of people from American tourists to university students. People pop in for a quick, tasty meal – it’s not a place to linger all evening.
Description of food and drink: We were somewhat surprised to see that the menu of Gyoza Bar is comprised of three main elements; gyoza, bao buns and ramen.
Of course, who doesn’t love these three key Asian food items, gyoza and ramen are a natural pairing, even in Japan. Bao buns? Hmm, not so much, but a bang-on-trend addition very much suited to host Japanese flavours nonetheless.
We ordered the ‘Gyoza Moriawase’ (cover photo) which comes with two of each type of gyoza; salmon, chicken, pork, veggie, and prawn. At £9.50, it would just be rude not to. You can choose to have your gyoza pan-fried, deep-fried or steamed, but I can’t imagine any reasonable excuse for not going with the traditional pan-fried (which lends itself to that winning combination of crispy and soft sides!).
We were delighted to note that the soy sauce for dipping that the gyoza came with was mixed with Japanese vinegar, as it should be. There was hot oil to add to this: an absolute essential trio to bring out the best of gyoza.
Having lived near Utsunomiya city, the gyoza capital of Japan, I humbly consider myself to be somewhat of a gyoza connoisseur. Well, I believe Gyoza Bar’s gyoza dumplings will give you that fix you yearn for – that umami explosion; that authentic pan-fried edge.
Ramen is never an elegant menu item. Especially messy is that extra side of delectable ‘char siu’ pork slices. Never to judge a bowl of noodles by its appearance, we dived in and were particularly impressed by the strong, meaty broth of the Belly Pork Ramen.
The Tempura Ramen came with the tempura served on the side: featuring an overly al denté selection of veg, but two fab, large prawns. This one would be a lighter choice for those who don’t dig such a rich, meaty broth. Two types of broccoli are probably not strictly necessary. The onsen tamago was perfect.
Next were the bao buns. These really are more-ish. The fluffy bread is filled with powerful, punchy flavours that really hit the spot. It’s a good job, too, at £4.50 a pop. My favourite was the surprisingly successful fusion of the ‘lamb jalapeno’ bun.
After all that, you probably won’t have room for dessert. This is no bad thing, as the two dessert offerings seem to be an afterthought (after all, gyoza bars in Japan don’t serve dessert). In the name of fairness, we tried the ‘Apple Cinnamon Dumplings’ and the ‘Crispy Fried Ice Cream’. They came lost and forlorn in the bottom of their cavernous white bowls. They were yummy enough, but I’d rather have had some more gyoza or bao instead.
Service: Youthful staff seem happy to be at your service. They were chatty and gave information on things that the menu lacks (i.e. what is actually in the cocktails?).
Toilets: The slighty-more-swanky-than-you’d-expect loos are accessed by a short stroll though their adjoining sister restaurant, Murakami!
Prices: ‘Gyoza Moriawase’ is very reasonable at £9.50, but it isn’t clear how many you get if you order each type individually at between £6-£7.
£4.50 is a tad expensive for a bao bun, or is it just my greediness wanting to eat about 10 of them? They are packed full of flavour, so I suppose you could restrain your enthusiasm.
Come again? Yes, this is a reliable, quick option to satisfy your dumpling desires.
Gyoza Bar http://gyozabar.uk/ 63-66 St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4JS Tel +4402036017077
*Gyoza Bar is right next door to Murakami – the grown-up and sophisticated big sister to the baseball capped little brother! Read JapaneseLondon.com’s review of Murakami here.