I couldn’t help but feel a little déjà vu when we chanced upon this Wagaya outlet where long-running Italian restaurant, Mamma MInnoDB, finally closed its doors late last year. The other half was craving some agedashi tofu so as we walked up King Street in the direction of Newtown’s few Japanese restaurants, we stopped to read the menu at Wagaya Tapas. I actually thought they were closed for lunch, until I pushed the button by the door and it opened.
The first thing I hear is squealing toddlers, coming from somewhere up the dimly-lit stairwell. A creche in downtown Newtown? Oh joy. Noisy kids in a restaurant. Thanks to being positioned in the room tucked around the side, the squealing and chopstick tapping noise was barely noticeable for the rest of the folk that wanted a peaceful lunch.
The interior is all modern and, er, Japanese. You know … clean lines, partitions, and rigid booth seating that challenges boney backsides. Unless, of course, you slump into one of the vinyl armchairs at the kitchen counter. Just as we had at Maroubra’s Kokoroya, the ordering system is that DIY iPad that brings you food with the tap of the index finger and very little staff interaction. Need a glass of water? Tell the iPad. Ask the staff for water, and they may just ask you to order it via the pad.
Why have agedashi tofu when you can have it in the same bowl as soft-shell crab? Such is the case at this Wagaya Tapas outlet. If my head was small enough I’d be blowing raspberries into this divine little dish. Agedashi soft-shell crab with tofu ($8.5). What a beauty. Warm, nourishing, soft, crispy, salty, sexy.
Sitting in your own booth not only provides you with your own privatised piece of the restaurant, but should you choose the right table, it gives you a birds-eye view over the King Street people parade and the opposing colonial building façades.
Forget peering outdoors. Cast your eyes on this. Deep-fried salmon skin ($5.5). To be frank, it was more flesh than skin, but I wasn’t complaining. Lightly crusted in salt flakes, it’s rich, oily, slightly crispy and jesus-my-arteries-hurt delicious. The lemon and soy does it wonders.
The fishy flavours continue with the grilled mackerel set ($12.9). Ok, so “the set” may have arrived a good ten minutes before the mackerel (rice, daikon & pickles, edamame, miso soup & some kind of tea). Let’s just say the mackerel outshone the set. Cellophane-thin skin, crispy and umami with a light dusting of salt flakes. Beneath was a treasure of beautifully-flakey and almost bland flesh. All together it was a simplistically sexy dish.
I had to bring a little sushi to the lunch set; and one of my favourites. Flame-grilled scallop sushi ($10.9), or aburi to those of us that know a little around the preparation. It may not have been licked by the flame as much as I liked, but it was a pleasure to eat.
The iPad system may have failed as our order of takoyaki ($7.5) was lost in the system and needed a reminder, but when it came it was almost worth the delay. I’ve never seen one so blanketed in bonito flakes, almost lost beneath a mountain of shaved and dried tuna shavings.
Black sesame ice cream ($4.5) was the only sweet I wanted to try, all in hoping it would match the one we were enamoured with back in Wellington. It may not have come close to the intensely-flavoured, gritty and home-made specimen I loved from the other side of the Tasman, but it did suffice in rounding up a relatively decent meal at our newest Japanese eatery.