In the last couple of month’s there’s been a rash of dumpling houses open in Brisbane city. No, not at Sunnybank, and not by Asian families expanding their established businesses. All three of these new dumpling restaurants are backed by Westerners who have spotted an opportunity to provide sociable, snacky and tasty dumplings until the wee small hours.
Brunswick Social (Fortitude Valley) and Dragonfly both got on the dumpling train a little earlier with Harajuku Gyoza (Fortitude Valley) having just opened.
All do their own take of the dumpling house, running from the nightclub feel of Dragonfly to the ‘Japanese McDonalds’ feel of Harajuku Gyoza. As I’m yet to eat at Brunswick Social (even the most dedicated eater cannot live on dumplings alone) I’ll leave further commentary for another time, other than to say the word on the street is that it has great cocktails.
Opposite Queens Plaza, you descend the stairs between Rowes Arcade and Breadtop to the expansive and moodily lit dining and bar area. It’s quite a change from its previous guise as a venue for metal and emo bands with sticky carpet and an aura of unattractive decay. It’s a very different kind of patron lining the pavement on Edward Street now, with well groomed guys and girls replacing the goths and bikies.
Chef Josh Clunas is young, French trained and cares deeply about making great dumplings. The venue is owned by a pub group, and while this could be a problem, there’s enough team members with a fine dining background to ensure the service is nicely balanced between attentive and informal. The dumplings are hand made and well flavoured, with fillings and construction based on Shanghainese cuisine.
My picks are pork sui mai (pork, prawn and goji berry), pork and peanut and the sweet and succulent steamed prawn dumplings. The menu also extends to soups, salads, pork buns and more. The drinks list seems a little out of kilter with the food, and mostly features big brands and heavier wines, perhaps a reflection of its ownership. Hopefully this will be tweaked with time to provide better matches for the food.
The décor and lighting provides a textured and exotic setting, where everyone looks just a little more beautiful. All in all, it’s a very smart package and there’s also plenty of good people watching on offer as well as a DJs, regular discounts and events.
On the site that formerly hosted Mint Indian Cuisine, Harajuku Gyoza is compact, bright and the brainchild of a couple of talented former advertising executives. It’s clear that a lot of thought, research and capital has gone into its development with clever branding and details evident in the décor, marketing, menu and drinks. I’d heard about the queues, so we arrived right on opening time for lunch. Within 10 minutes, the place was full of couples, groups, young families and one table of Ma and Pa with their awkward hipster daughter. Floor staff seem to be mostly Japanese and service is polite and friendly even if some cultural cues are missed or minor misunderstandings occur.
The menu is short with grilled and poached gyoza and a couple of sterotypical Japanese ‘izakaya’ dishes like agedashi tofu, pork katsu, beef gyudon and edamame. The cooking of the gyoza seems a little variable, with some overcooked and others lacking construction robust enough to contain their fillings. Whole prawn gyoza seem a little strange and are certainly difficult to eat with dignity, but the package of good Japanese beers, warm, filling dumplings and an atmosphere of fun make it worth a visit, if perhaps not a 30 minute wait in a queue at dinner time. Details like the mix your own sauce condiment containers, Japanese pop art printed flatware and a mix of jazz and J-pop and relentlessly excitable staff add up to make Harajuku Gyoza an appealing package, and I suspect, a package that can be replicated across a number of locations.
The drinks list, while brief, deftly lists good value and Japanese food friendly beers & wines that make sense for the menu, service and likely patrons, without being condescending.
I’m keen for thoughts on how Brunswick Social compares and look forward to completing my dumpling trilogy soon.
235 Edward Street, Brisbane
Phone: 07 3220 1477
Open for lunch Tuesday to Friday; Dinner Tuesday to Saturday, kitchen open until 10pm.
394 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley
Open 7 days, midday until late.
367 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley
Phone: 07 3252 3234
Open Wednesday to Sunday from 4pm until late