Wagaya, Melbourne 我が家
(A photograph of me celebrating my 31st birthday at Wagaya with some friends. Note how luxurious the function room is. Also, the drink in front of me is one I got for free since it was my birthday! ID required. Taken by Fergus Black, 2019.)
I've hesitated to talk about this restaurant since it is one of those special places to me. I only like to bring people there if they are important to me. It's a place I will bring someone if we desperately want ramen but every other ramen shop in the city is full. Wagaya is somehow the perfect restaurant. It's multi-level, so there is almost always room, and even when there isn't, the wait isn't usually long. Since it is tucked away inside Mid-City mall, it's hard to find, guaranteeing some quiet at off-peak times.
(The delicious and deliciously cheap shyo-tonkotsu ramen. Best value in the city as far as I know. Taken by me, 2019.)
It's beautifully decorated and sparkling clean, with many booths divided by carved lattices and high-quality artificial sakura trees in random corners. There is a special deck for smoker's which has an incredible view of Chinatown. You don't have to be a smoker to visit it. For small functions, there are even bookable rooms, which feature pristine mosaics in glittering tiles. The bathroom stalls are generously apportioned and decorated on theme. The floor tiles make it feel as though you are somehow outdoors but still inside.
(Cheesy tofu with codfish roe. Very tasty but best shared and covered with soy sauce, since it can be a little bland. Taken by me, 2019.)
The restaurant has a free loyalty club you can join to get discounts. My only criticisms are that the staff are sometimes a little rude or tetchy, and service can be a little slow. This isn't surprising for such a large restaurant. The staff likely must work very hard to manage such a large space. Also, some of the seats are very worn, owing to the large volume of customers this place must have seen. The low quality of service makes all the more sense when you see how low the prices are. A full-size bowl of ramen will only cost you around $10 here. A sea urchin chawanmushi will only cost you under $10. A high-quality platter of sushi for 2-3 people can be bought for $25. It makes sense that the place would be understaffed with prices like these.
(A delicious sashimi platter. This one was more pricey, but worth every bite. Taken by me, 2019.) I not only recommend that everyone visit this restaurant at least once, but carefully examine the menu before you go. It is full of surprises, and items that are rare and unusual. Like multiple styles of Japanese and Korean pizza. And multiple types of gratin. And birthstone mocktails. Every time I go it takes me forever to decide what to eat, since everything looks so good and interesting. But it's okay to take a long time to decide. You order through an electronic console in the wall, meaning that your friends can order even as you go on deciding. This also makes it easier for you to make decisions about how quickly you want to eat things, and when you want to order your dessert.
(The delectable and beautiful Wagaya parfait. The best parfait I ever saw or ate part of. Taken by me, 2019.)
This would qualify as a dream location for me in a way. One of the things I long to do is find a man with whom I can have a special bond. Together we would go to Wagaya in the coldest part of Winter and share a pot of sukiyaki together. Maybe we would do that once a year together till we die. We'd sit there adding the ingredients together, waiting for the broth to boil. Then we would feel the warmth down to our souls as we slurped up every noodle and morsel. We'd look at each other blissfully happy to be sharing this moment together, safe and protected from the world outside those walls. The authenticity and quality of the food is good enough that at spare moments I may feel as though I am back in Japan, eating at chains like Bikkuri Donkey or Coco's. It's not too classy, not too casual. Somehow it is just right.