Review: Champagne with gyoza? Yes, please

Who would have thought that champagne with gyoza could be such a delicious pairing? However, the best thing about the new GYOZA BAR is its ramen. 

Gyoza Bar
Gyoza Bar
10 Jun 2015

Gyoza Bar

We’ve been trying to snag a seat at two-month-old Gyoza Bar for over a month now. We first got a glimpse of it when a Facebook friend posted a tantalising picture of champagne being poured into a sake cup. Turns out that the owner of the bar also runs organic wine salon Time & Flow Champagne at Scotts Square. Gyoza Bar serves as a place to showcase her wines, paired with a variety of Japanese dumplings, of course. Cute. 

Gyoza Bar: The Look
Gyoza Bar: The Look
10 Jun 2015

Gyoza Bar: The Look

We made it here one Saturday night and expected a swish, intimate set-up — the kind you find in office buildings in Ginza. Instead, we’re greeted by a bare-bones, nondescript but cosy space after climbing a flight of stairs beside the gaudy-looking Ramen Matsuri.

We are the only patrons here, except for the willowy, classy lady boss Tamie from Nagoya, and her bunch of giggly Japanese girlfriends. The counter isn’t made of polished wood, but has a slightly rough, unfinished texture. In place of the cover charge most bars in Japan impose (a baffling practice ’cos the charge doesn’t include drinks), we are served a tiny 'compulsory' $5 snack of marcona almonds and a cup of chicken soup as soon as we sit down. And what amazingly tasty soup it is.  

Gyoza Bar: The Drinks
Gyoza Bar: The Drinks
10 Jun 2015

Gyoza Bar: The Drinks

This is actually a champagne bar, with some food thrown in. Apparently, all the wines here, mostly from France, are organic. There’s only one offering by the glass — the Spanish Cava Reserva Anne-Marie ($12). It is fresh, pleasant and not harsh like some cheaper bubblies can be - decent if not show-stopping.

And then we see Tamie popping open a bottle of champagne for her pals. More of her Japanese friends stream in and we feel like we’re crashing a private party. We order the same thing. The Napoleon Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($128 a bottle) is yummier, obviously. Well-rounded, fruity, easy to drink — in fact a little too fruity for the usually delicate blanc de blancs (chardonnay grapes used only). It is served in no-frills white wine glasses. We ask for ours to be poured into those cute sake cups instead. The local auntie waitress complies, filling our petite cup till it overflows into the traditional wooden box (masu) beneath. Big mistake. Our lovely bubbly takes on a strong woody flavour — great for sake, gross for champagne. We meekly switch back to wine glasses after one shot. 

Gyoza Bar: The Gyoza
Gyoza Bar: The Gyoza
10 Jun 2015

Gyoza Bar: The Gyoza

All the gyoza here are made without garlic. Instead, they contain celery, "because celery pairs better with sparkling wine,” says smiley chef Kenichi Ikehata, 35, from Saitama Prefecture. There are four types of gyoza. The standard Yaki Gyoza ($8 for five pieces) is not bad, but not the best we’ve had. The pork filling is fairly tasty, juxtaposed with the light crunch of celery bits, though its pan-fried skin isn’t sufficiently crisp. The Soup Gyoza ($12) is best — the same dumplings, this time snug in silky wraps, bob around in richly flavourful, creamy soup boiled with chicken bones and spiked with some pork for depth. If you have to indulge in something deep-fried, get the well-marinated, tender Fried Chicken ($12).

Gyoza Bar: The Ramen
Gyoza Bar: The Ramen
10 Jun 2015

Gyoza Bar: The Ramen

We don’t normally order ramen in a bar, but we do so here because we’ve already sampled the awesome soup. The Ramen ($12 for half portion; $18 full portion) arrives looking rather plain with just skinny noodles, spring onions and a dollop of spicy yuzu kosho. But it is wonderful: perfectly cooked, deeply al dente noodles in that same soul-lifting broth. Why is the food here so good? We should’ve guessed — Kenichi, who co-owns Gyoza Bar, is the chef-owner of Ramen Matsuri downstairs. Everything is cooked in the kitchen below, and you pay the bill there too. The bar upstairs was converted from the restaurant’s extra dining room. “I used to cook at Marutama Ramen,” reveals the chef. Your soup is better than Marutama’s, we remark. “Thank you!” he bellows, flashing a grin and a peace sign.

TIP: We’ve since made a separate visit to the stuffy Ramen Matsuri for dinner. Strangely enough, a full bowl of ramen topped with delicious chicken and pork chashu costs merely $12.80 here compared to the bar’s more modest yet pricier offering. A wobbly-yolked egg can be added for $1.50. The pan-fried gyoza (with garlic) here costs only $5, though for some reason, it tastes more bland here than in the bar. Skip. But, yes, dine downstairs first and save some dough. Then maybe, just maybe, adjourn upstairs for some chi-chi organic champagne.

VERDICT: 3 stars for the gyoza and champagne, 4 stars for the ramen. But at least this fancy new bar inadvertently introduced us to the excellent if unsexy-looking two-year-old Ramen Matsuri.

7A North Canal Rd, S048820. Tel: 6533-0845 (RAMEN MATSURI’S number). Visit "GYOZA BAR" on FaceBook. Open daily 6pm to midnight. Last orders 10pm (food), 11pm (drinks).
 

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