From the moment you lock eyes with the giant, smiling cartoon dumpling beaming out from Harajuku Gyoza's stylish wood-panelled front facade, you know you're in for an evening of brilliantly executed contradictions. On one hand, this Potts Point izakaya is devilishly stylish: dark walls and angular lines frame an attractive island kitchen dotted with cherry-red bar stools. On the other hand, Harajuku Gyoza overflows with a delightfully silly energy that sweeps you up from the first exuberant "irrashaimase!" and carries you until you can't possibly fit in one more fried bundle of deliciousness.
The place oozes with a practised but compelling cuteness that makes you want to hug everything about it. Doraemon, Gyoza Man and a spectacular array of sumo wrestlers and Harajuku girls smile down from melamine plates mounted on the walls; effervescent staff sporting red and white bandanas chat animatedly with their customers against a background of cheery Japanese pop music, and the menu has you pegged, "Customer-san": "You are like a hungry salaryman in a Japanese izakaya. You are thirsty and your appetite is big like Godzilla."
Food-wise, you'd be foolish not to get stuck right into the gyoza ($8 per plate), punchy little pockets of tastiness prepared on-site by a small army of chefs and offered in either grilled (read: fried) or poached form. There are duck, pork, veggie and even lobster tail options, but our favourite are the grilled chicken gyoza, with a crispy, golden exterior that gives way to a soft and flavourful centre.
Simple izakaya-style dishes provide perfect accompaniments to the gyoza-centric feast: the tempura eggplant ($6) is soft and springy in all the right places, and the cucumber and miso salad ($5) lends a refreshing balance to what could otherwise be a greasy feed.
The drinks list includes several interesting Japanese craft beers, like a crisp Koshihikari Echigo rice lager, and since our visit has expanded to feature a beer slushie (you heard us) and a colourful trio of sake-based cocktails. Ordering the house sake is mandatory, if only to experience the hilariously over-the-top celebratory racket made by the staff, who will shout and cheer and dramatically overfill your cup and just generally make you feel like a major celebrity for your excellent ordering decision.
For a sweet treat, you can't go past the salted caramel gyoza ($9), three crispy bites of heaven that will change the way you think about Japanese desserts.
Our cartoon dumpling friend is confident, judging by his monologue on the menu: "You love it? We love that you love it." We love it, Harajuku Gyoza. You know we do.
UPDATE 21 JULY 2017: For five weeks from Wednesday, July 26, Harajuku Gyoza will be serving up plates of super fluffy soufflé pancakes. The Japanese meringue pancakes — which originated at Cafe Gram in Tokyo — will come in stacks of three and will be served with Nutella, cream, banana and a drizzle of maple syrup for $16. They'll be available from 5–9pm Wednesday and Thursday and midday till 9pm Friday and Saturday.