Wagaya is a new Japanese restaurant in the Valley in Brisbane. When Mr Ana told me abot this, the first things I asked was ‘is it a real Japanese place with actual Japanese people in it? Or some fake crap like most of the places in Brisbane?’
I’ll start by saying that I am fussy when it comes to Japanese food. After travelling to Japan so many times, I’ve been able try all sorts of Japanese cuisine from various parts of Japan. Mr Ana also is a very talented cook so we have an intimate knowledge of Japanese home cooking. Unfortunately that means that it is easy to spot a poor rendition from a mile away – and Brisbane has many of them (like many of the sushi places in Brisbane CBD that I’ve tried).
But we decided to give it a go and dine there with friends, as it’s always exciting to try a new place to eat 🙂
The first thing I noticed when walking to my table that it was set up identically to chain izakayas in Japan. We had an closed in table for 6 people, providing us a sense of privacy, however it was loud enough to have a happy vibe. The table was set up with a touch screen where you order your dishes – there are subcategories on the screen and you select each one and scroll through the options. Very user friendly, it was exactly the same format as a big izakaya I went to last year in Tokyo. I became a little excited, as it felt as though I was back in Japan.
We started by ordering 4 nama biru (draft beer on tap) with a few quick taps on the touch screen. It quickly arrived in cold Sapporo mugs with neat little foam heads. Ahhhhh, sooooooooo refreshing. Then we went nuts and ordered all sorts of things. Grilled eel on fried rice, sashimi and nigiri boat, agedashi tofu (my favourite), salmon fried rice, a number of hand rolls, chicken namban, yakitori and a few other bits and peices…
The grilled eel fried rice was surprisingly nice, with the rice having a good smokey flavour from the wok and a nice salty flavour from the eel sauce. You can mix in wasabi and fresh shallots, which reminded me of the traditional flavour of eel rice (hitsumabushi) from Nagoya.
The sashimi and nigiri came out, and I was eager to try it to see how fresh the seafood was (this is always my test in Japanese restaurants). The salmon was very fresh – thick sashimi slices and firm so you can sink your teeth in it. Yum. The kingfish sashimi was also very fresh and firm. I also tried the scallops, which I was a bit weary of. However it was firm and very sweet – and this is not easy to find. I was very happy with the sashimi.
The softshell crab sushi was quite nice – I enjoyed the fried lotus root on top. However the sauce was overloaded which took away from the sushi itself. I’ve had more delicately flavoured softshell crab sushi elsewhere, where the focus really was on the crab. But still enjoyable to munch on.
The lightly seared salmon nigiri was a bit of a let down. The salmon was too thin, and seared for a bit too long so it was almost entirely cooked through. Very littly soy marinade. I’ve had a more enjoyable seared salmon nigiri elsewhere in Brisbane.
I also ordered my all time favourite drink – yuzu iichiko on ice. The mere fact that they had this on the menu (alongside a huge number of sours and shochu) told me that this was an izakaya. They actually brought the wrong drink to me, however quickly replaced it with my yuzu iichiko. I was very very happy.
The service in Wagaya was very prompt and we didn’t have to wait for our order for very long. The yakitori was fresh, and the hand rolls were also freshly made. Our dishes were cleared quickly to make room for more, including our desserts. I stuck with my favourite green tea ice cream, which wasn’t too sweet or too bitter. Mr Ana had a creme caramel, which while well made, was very very small. Our friend Mr S had green tea choux, and were so generous in size that I helped him finish them off 🙂
Wagaya is a popular restaurant as it’s probably the first izakaya style restaurant in Brisbane. It serves a huge variety of food, and while it is not complex and delicate food, most of it is enjoyable. For a restaurant that doesn’t actually specialise in anything, the freshness of the fish is impressive. Individual dishes are reasonably priced, however it can add up quickly if you are eager to try a lot of dishes. You get semi private tables and it is a breeze to order your food. You can also book private tatami rooms, which we might try next time. Just make sure you book a table as you may not always secure one by dropping in.
Visit for Wagaya for what it is – a place to hang out with a few friends on a Friday night, have a few drinks and some food. Go home happy. It’s not gourmet central, but that’s ok.