On a recent visit to Japan, a local friend brought me to an Izakaya and I fell in love with the bustling atmosphere. An Izakaya is a Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food. The name Izakaya indicates that it originated from sake shops as Izakaya is formed from the compound words of "I" which means to stay and "sakaya" which means sake shop.
In Japan, they are mainly dark and cosy, a casual place where friends get together to gossip, drink and hang-out. It is also a place where you can order delicious small plates to share so that you can sample a variety of dishes.
Wagaya in Brisbane is as close to a traditional Izakaya as you can get, albeit of a modern, technological savvy version. I have been to the Wagaya in Sydney, so when I heard that they had just opened another outlet in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, I just had to try it out.
The restaurant is a bit hard to find as it is upstairs. We ended up walking around the building for a little bit until we saw the sign. There is a long stairway and when we went up to the top, the atmosphere was transformed. I went during lunch time and despite the fact that it was a bright, sunny day outside, I felt as if I was visiting for dinner. The surrounding was cosy with soft lighting, giving off a romantic feel.
The main reception area was beautifully decorated and we were greeted with the traditional Japanese welcome. The seats were even more impressive – privately closed off timber booths decorated with bamboo blinds. If I came with a group of friends, I wouldn't want to leave due to the comfortable atmosphere. It is also a great place to come by yourself as the booths allow you to be sheltered from prying eyes and the initial awkwardness that comes with eating alone.
Eating out is all about the holistic experience – the ambience, the service and most important of all, the food. The restaurant caters to a diverse clientele – the business lunch crowd, students and people searching for a hip and unique dining experience.
The restaurant has a touch screen where you can order whatever you like, with beautiful pictures of the food. The food is a fusion of modern and traditional Japanese cuisine.
The lunch menu is a bit more limited compared to the dinner menu, with an emphasis on set meals. Picking out what to order via the touch screens is half the fun. It was hard to choose with the beautiful pictures available and one can be tempted to give in to greed.
We ordered the special lunch sets – chicken teriyaki obentou and chicken katsu obentou. If you are wanting to try different types of food, they also serve fresh sashimi, sushi, piping hot udon and ramen. Service was quick and the servers were courteous.
Our lunch sets came with most of my favourite things – agedashi tofu, fried ebi, salad, Japanese pickles, rice, cream croquette and miso soup. I liked the variety in the obentou and particularly loved the taste of tofu and cream croquette. The salad had a sweet sauce with subtle flavouring and the chicken teriyaki and katsu was authentic. They were generous with the portions and chicken pieces. As the lunch set was filling enough, we did not order anything more although I would have loved to try some of their desserts and side dishes like takoyaki and sashimi.
It is advised to make a reservation depending on when you are visiting the restaurant. I did not make a booking during lunch time on a weekday and was ushered in straightaway but I have heard that there is usually a long wait on weekends. I know that a 30 minute to 1 hour wait is usual in the Wagaya branch in Sydney.