At some point in the last 2 weeks, I came to the realization that the Fortitude Valley wasn't all that far from South Brisbane. Of course, as a woman it depends on your choice of footwear but with a comfy, worn-in pair of thongs, it's a breeze of a walk.
All the food venues at The Emporium, New Farm and James Street that seemed a world away suddenly felt very easily achievable. Rather than being deterred by the distance (recall that we're accustomed to traversing within a 1-suburb radius of West End + South Bank + CBD), I insisted that we try Ann Gyoza Bar for dinner on Thursday.
We found the restaurant amongst the inner circle of The Emporium, near Buzz Cafe. It's very Japanese in decor and by association, hard to miss. We took up a table inside and started studying the menu.
Chu-hi and lemon
For drinks, we kept with the theme of the restaurant and Marc went for a Soporo beer whilst I had a cocktail special of chu-hi and lemon. It was fruity and refreshing and, thankfully for my tastebuds, not too sweet.
I had looked up the menu the night before so I had some idea of what I wanted to try. There were a few gyoza varieties on offer and we went with two of the kookier options: spicy pork, and chicken and cheese. In hindsight, maybe I should have sampled something more traditional to be able to better compare the gyoza with other restaurants but I liked what we ordered so I'm certainly not regretful.
The challenging part was picking some sides. Marc was drawn in by the sweet chili karaage because we love karaage and he likes anything with 'chili' in its description. The combination of those 2 concepts was too much for him to resist.
I suggested that since everything we had chosen so far was fried, we should order something that wasn't fried. You try going through that menu and finding something that isn't fried! Neither of us wanted salad and although we normally love sashimi, we didn't think this was the most suitable place to order sashimi. After reading and rereading the menu about 4 times, we decided we didn't care about our arteries that much after all and went for the okonomiyaki, aka deep-fried pancake.
Okonomiyaki - deep fried Japanese pancake topped with okonomi sauce, mayonnaise, shallots, pickled red ginger and dried bonito shavings
Our okonomiyaki and gyoza arrived at once. We didn't get dipping sauce with our gyoza so I tried the pancake first. I thought it was really delicious! I made the comment that this was somehow better than most other okonomiyaki we've tried but Marc reasonably pointed out that it's hardly ever 'bad'. That may be true but I just really enjoyed this version.
I asked a waitress for dipping sauce to go with the gyoza and she looked a bit confused so I'm not sure if they're supposed to be eaten with sauce? Was I making some really n00by error? Anyway we were brought out a light soy dressing in a teapot that we used to dip the gyoza in. It tasted good anyway.
Cheese gyoza - with chicken mince, cabbage, onion, oyster sauce, garlic, tasty cheese and parmesan
I tried the chicken and cheese gyoza first. It was really cheesy! Marc brought up the fact that cheese isn't often used in Asian cuisine, presumably because of the lack of cows. I acknowledged that many people (such as my parents) would be put off by cheese and Asian flavors but ever since my cheese rice ball from Nikumaki Honpo, I realized that it totally works! These cheesy gyoza were no exception. They were just a bit chewy and melty on the inside, nicely offset by the fried exterior.
Spicy gyoza - with pork mince, cabbage, onion, garlic, oyster sauce and chili powder
The spicy pork gyoza were too spicy for me. Marc said that after our beef hotpot from Sichuan Bang Bang, these were nothing but I stuck with the cheese gyoza. These were nice but the level of spice was just that bit past 'comfortable' for me.
Sweet chili karaage chicken
Our sweet chili karaage came next. The karaage chicken pieces were fried very well. I took one look and thought "these will be piping hot and I'll burn myself but eat them quickly anyway". I did just that. I liked the crunchy, fine crumb coating that had just a hint of lemon. As for the addition of sweet chili, I'm not a huge fan of sweet chili sauce simply because it's too sweet. I think I would have preferred a big dollop of Kewpie.
We really liked it at Ann Gyoza bar. I don't know what it would be like on the weekends but it was just delightful when we were there, in terms of how busy it was. There was just enough patrons so that you didn't feel like you were in a deserted restaurant but it was quiet enough to chat freely. I love this style of food too: casual small dishes with casual drinks. Thumbs up!