Phone: (09) 361 1619
We spent: $101.70 for two
Rating: 13 — Good
The "g" is hard and you kind of roll it quickly into the "y" so the whole word has just two syllables: gyooh-za. Learning how to pronounce these Japanese dumplings is straightforward, getting to the truth of their origin is not.
My favourite version of events (thanks, Google) involves a Chinese doctor who used them as a poultice for frostbitten ears. Take one dough wrapper, stuff it with boiled lamb and vegetables and apply to the afflicted area.
Okay, so something may have been lost in that particular translation. Further research suggests that while the good doctor's dumplings were ear shaped, it was the stomach he intended to warm. He called them jiaozi. The Japanese called them gyoza. In Italy, they're tortellini and in the Ukraine they'd be pierogi. The joy of being an Aucklander in 2018 is that your options for a dough pillowcase stuffed with deliciousness are as diverse as the city you call home.
Gyoza Bar does fried, steamed and grilled dumplings. We would, of course, have them all (and then some), but first, the front door. It's very hard to open. Persevere, because once you're inside, the hospitality is heartfelt.
It begins when the waitperson, who is also the bar person, brings a stool for your handbag. Then he cheerfully and patiently lets you practise "gyoza" until you can say it properly. He doesn't raise an eyebrow when you are still there at 10pm on a freezing Tuesday, even though most of Ponsonby (and all his other customers) have gone home. He brings you cups of toasty rice tea on the house. You feel warm to your stomach and also your soul.
The Gyoza Bar is more comfortable than chic, its food is pretty good rather than mind-blowingly great, but there was a sincerity to the experience that made me happy to be there. (You will also have noticed it has the word "bar" in its title — we had regular wine but we could have had whiskey, sake, shochu, plum wine, imported beer and any number of cocktails.)
Start with the fried pork gyoza ($10) to get a sense of how these dumplings differ from a Chinese pot-sticker. Shaped like half-moons, the wrapper is thinner and the fried side pocked with crispy bubbles. My dinner date cast an expert eye over the filling. Her mother, she said, would not countenance mechanically minced meat: hand-chopping creates better texture and flavour. That aside, we liked the porky-gingery flavour and the crunch of cabbage and lotus root (the only vegetables we would eat that night — "too much rain," said our waitperson, explaining why the vege gyoza was off the menu).
The steamed dumplings ($12) were, apparently, prawn. I really struggled to taste shellfish but the wrapper was gorgeous — egg-enriched wonton dough with an angel hair pastry shredded effect. Our final gyoza plate was ordered for novelty value. Grilled cheese? I wish I'd read the descriptor more closely. Stretchy mozzarella and ketchup turned this lovely boiled pork dumpling ($12) into a kiddie's meal that reminded me of the flash cheese toasties (edam, Wattie's tomato sauce and bacon) my parents would occasionally pretend was a balanced dinner.
Back at the grown-ups table, we were surprised by the sweetness of the sauce that came with the beef tataki ($15.90), but that's a zillion grated onions (and a fair whack of sugar) for you. The almost raw protein hit was a good respite from the small, sausage-like nuggets of dumpling filling, but the best had yet to come.
The Gyoza Bar offers a small list of "tapas" and the hardboiled eggs ($4.90) were an absolute delight. Billed as nitamago, they had not actually been cooked in soy sauce, nor were their centres molten, but I really enjoyed the firm bite of the white with the sweet, sticky soy and shallot topping.
Dessert was green tea icecream. I was not tempted. Perhaps, said my dinner date, we should try the chicken? We had first met in Singapore. Ostensibly, she was there to facilitate my visit to a vacuum cleaner engine factory. Secretly, I had agreed to the trip because I wanted to eat Hainanese chicken rice. We bonded over cutting-edge technology and poultry. Of course we would get the chicken katsu skewers ($9.90). Crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside and mayo for slathering. Is there a better way to cement a friendship than a shared food experience?