To understand the recently opened Harajuku Gyoza Beer Stadium, you have to break down the name. First there’s Harajuku, the famous Tokyo suburb renowned for bright lights, hip people and Japanese drinking dens. Then there’s gyoza, Japanese dumplings that here come in 13 varieties. Beer is self-explanatory, but you should know this place makes its own in the four shiny 1200-litre tanks that stand tall behind the bar. The word stadium, though, is curious.
In Japan it has two meanings. The first is what we associate the word with here: a place for sport. The second is a sort of food court. “It’s like a building with 20 different shops all selling the same thing,” says co-owner Andrew Jeffries, who says, for example, there’s a ramen stadium on Kyushu Island, a gyoza stadium in Tokyo and an okonomiyaki (savory pancake) stadium in Hiroshima.
Unlike those places, this Darling Harbour stadium is run by one owner, but the beers are from all over Japan. “We wanted to showcase our beers and other Japanese beers. We have bottles and cans of imported brews plus our core range of six beers and ciders,” says Jeffries.
The new Sydney venue is roughly two storeys high with a main dining room and tiered booth seating that has the feel of a sporting ground. The high ceilings make room for the beer tanks, which brew sorachi hops pale ales, a dry rice lager and a dry apple cider under the beer brand Yoyogi. (Yoyogi has been brewing in Australia since 2015, with advice from century-old, family-run brewery Kizakura in Kyoto, Japan.)
In spite of the vast space, the eatery feels cosy. Just like at other Harajuku Gyozas, staff members call out “irasshaimase” to greet punters as they enter, and the menu is filled with comforting izakaya-style food (an izakaya is an informal Japanese bar).
There are traditional pork gyoza so succulent and flavourful no dipping sauce is needed – although if you’re a condiment person the sauce is DIY (the mix should be one part white vinegar to two parts soy sauce, with a dash of chilli oil).
The hamburger gyoza is an unconventional but delicious deep-fried variety served with ketchup, yellow American mustard and electric-green pickles. “You don’t really see gyoza like this in Japan. There’s usually two types: pork gyoza and pork gyoza with no garlic,” says Jeffries, laughing.
Equally unconventional but popular is the mozzarella gyoza. There’s also the poached duck dumplings served in a tart Chinese five spice-laced broth.
Harajuku Gyoza Beer Stadium joins Bang Bang Izakaya in nearby Steam Mill Lane, moody Woollahra Izy Izakaya, and Goryon-San, a famous Japanese izakaya chain that opened in Surry Hills late last year. Jefferies believes it’s a sign of change in a local drinking culture that used to be all about smashing beers. “I think that’s all over,” he says.
“One of the things I loved about Japan was being able to finish work at 9pm and go out and eat and have a few beers. There aren’t any big pubs in Sydney that trade well on alcohol alone anymore. I’d rather go out and have something to eat with my drink and I think most people agree.”
Harajuku Gyoza Beer Stadium
1–14 Darling Drive, Darling Harbour
02 9211 4779