I coined the term "puzzle butt" when I was a teenager. It referred to the spasm that occurs after prolonged clenching of the buttocks while leaning over a large (mostly 1000 piece) jigsaw puzzle, trying to piece it together.
In the case of Wagaya, that much reviewed, touch-screen ordering, fast action Japanese diner on the fringe of Chinatown, it was a one buttock clench.
You might be asking what does puzzle butt have do with eating out? Well, when you're sitting in one of their booths, the screen is located perpendicular to you, the diner. So there is no other way to touch the screen than to lean across thus causing the clench. It wouldn't be so bad if the menu wasn't so extensive but it is.
If you're not starving, you can take the time to peruse the menu but be warned, you may need an hour or so:
There are 3 separate drinks categories: Beer & Wine, Cocktails (with a different one for each sign of the zodiac) and Sake & Schochu plus a single sweets menu which encompasses Non-Alchoholic Drinks and Desserts. (You even order glasses of water from this menu!)
The savoury choices are divided helpfully into Nibbles & Salad, Grilled Dishes, Hot Pot Courses, Sushi & Sashimi, Rice and Noodles, Vegetarian and and the tantalising New Menu Food but my favourite had to be "Deep Fried Dishes".
Hence my next choice:
Most reviewers mention the speed with which the food arrives upon ordering. If you know this, it's great, because you don't order until you're ready to eat and then before you know it, your food is on the table. I suspect that there is a fair amount of pre-cooking which enables this haste but this can lead to one of the downsides - overdone-ness.
Unable to choose a single yakitori dish from the number on offer, we order a variety plate.
Another acquired taste:
Eel Cheese Spring Roll. I'm not sure why I ordered this because I've never liked eel any other time I've accidentally eaten it. After eating this, I still don't like eel but I also didn't think there was any cheese in it. I saw and tasted what appeared to be enoki mushrooms (or someone substituted that tasteless children's cheese that breaks into strings...). The eel had a very earthy flavour, thankfully the enoki weren't particularly mushroomy otherwise the whole thing might have been intolerable. Let's just call this a one-off experiment.
With the current restaurant love affair with Wagyu, it was never going to be a hard decision to order one of these:
We head for the classics:
Takoyaki. You can have it without the melted cheese or with. We elected with. I've never understood the rave about this traditional street food. In my simple analysis, it's like a fish ball albeit less chewy and with octopus. The magic is really in the making but the texture and taste were, to me, passe.
And so we come to the utter highlights of our meal:
Salmon & Scallop Box Sushi. A rectangular sushi with the traditional rice and seaweed arranged in an S shape then topped with a whole sashimi scallop and salmon both lightly seared with a blowtorch, drizzled with mayonnaise and sprinkled with kingfish roe. Absolutely divine, I could not fault this, the flavours were fresh, the scallop didn't feel raw but it was sweetly melty and the salmon was perfectly done.
After so much protein, we had to sample the carbs:
Tempura Udon. You might think that it would be easy to get this dish right but having eaten this standard on more occasions than I can remember, it's not a given. The stock has to be tasty, not too salty, nor too sweet, the kombu must be plentiful but not over-dominant, the udon al dente with just the right sprinkling of delicately sliced spring onions. Then the tempura of course must be crisp and not greasy and the contents should be well-cooked and hot and hold its shape after you've bitten into it. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick!
And that truly was just the tip of the ice berg!
So what to make of this well-patronised establishment? Looking at the decor ....
... all wood panelling and rocky surfaces, with a soaring ceiling and a feature wall with panels of tree trunks, my initial feel is this place deserves to serve a higher quality of food; but that would take away from everything it is - a quirky, unique diner serving decent food quickly. You can snack and leave or linger and keep ordering. You can pace it for the time you have , order and savour one dish at a time or order a heap and sample together. With barely any interaction with the staff, who greet you en masse as you enter and farewell you on departure, and only deliver the orders to your table, you can hardly complain about the service. We need more places like this. But I think the greater Sydney public already know that so unless you go on a quiet night or early in the evening, expect to queue ...
Wagaya is (fortunately) located in Sydney's Chinatown.