Tucked on a backstreet a five minute walk from Shinbashi station, Raku is narrow, its door nestled between a stairwell and the entrance to a neighboring dining establishment. It has limited seating: seven counter seats and a couple of small tables (which seat 11 total). The folding stools at the counter are closely situated; visitors will likely rub shoulders with one another as they dine. Smoking is permitted.
The menu (Japanese only) is so small it fits on a blackboard behind the counter. A lone chef works in the back. The left half of the menu is devoted to the five types of gyoza on offer (four grilled options and one boiled). The right side lists other small dishes like cucumber (¥280), tomato salad (¥400) and seasoned bean sprouts (¥280). Drinks are standard: beer, highballs and sours.
As the name suggests, the shop specializes in Kobe-style gyoza (gyoza served with miso dip). The size of the gyoza is also a factor at Raku; one order will get you eight bite-size pieces. Raku’s gyoza also feature a thin skin, which results in a crispier, lighter end product.
The yaki gyoza (standard Kobe-style gyoza, ¥380) are served with a miso dip enhanced with a dash of chili oil and some extra spices. The miso is not particularly strong; it’s just enough to give a little extra richness and depth. The slight spice added makes it a deeply satisfying companion for a simple lager beer. Add this to the fresh crispiness of the hot gyoza moments after they come off the grill and this dish is hard to resist. A plate of these can disappear in under a minute.
While the yaki gyoza are the primary draw for the shop, the outstanding item on the menu is undoubtedly the shiso gyoza (¥420). Shiso shines as the flavor focus. The lemon and salt chosen for the dip accentuate its flavor; the citrusy acidity against the shiso creates brightness in what might otherwise be a rather heavy food. Eating it with salt alone will enhance the shiso taste, but the combination of salt and lemon is an absolute must to ensure maximum enjoyment.
The vegetable offerings on the menu provide a chance to refresh from the gyoza. The tomato salad (¥400) consists of tomato and chopped onions served on top of an olive oil and sweet vinegar sauce. The bite of the onions is gone; there’s just a pleasant, refreshing sweetness. The pickled cucumber (¥280) is standard and unextraordinary but is nice as a bit of a palate cleanser.
For those interested in exploring, there’s the Italian herb gyoza (¥420). The filling includes corn, onions and an incredible amount of aromatic fresh herbs. Particularly when dipped in the accompanying olive oil and salt, the fragrant herbs in the filling against the crispy gyoza skin lend to a curiously satisfying experience not unlike that of eating pizza. This nicely blends Italian flavors with gyoza cooking techniques. It’s a tasty, exploratory dish that is delightful and playful.
The fourth grilled gyoza option is coriander gyoza (¥450). Coriander is inside the gyoza, but there’s there’s also a fresh serving of it on the side. The dip provided for this one (salt) is not necessary; it overwhelms the surprisingly mild flavor of the coriander.
As each plate comes with eight bite-size gyoza, one person with a good appetite can feasibly eat their way through the grilled options fairly easily in one sitting. To fully explore the entire menu, however, bring a friend along.
Staff are friendly and attentive but keenly aware of the popularity of the place. They promptly ask diners if they’ll be ordering additional dishes (to give the cook time to prepare). This is not a place to linger (unless you keep ordering). When especially crowded, there is a two-hour stay limit. Eat your gyoza as soon as they arrive to maximize the satisfaction of their perfectly crisped skin, and make good use of the dips provided. Yaki and shiso gyoza are your menu champions.
Kobe Gyoza: Raku. 4-11-5 Shinbashi Garden Building 1F, Minato-ku. Nearest station: Shinbashi. Tel: 03-3433-1633. Mon–Fri 6pm—1am, Sat 6pm–11pm. Closed Sun & hol. www.gyoza-raku.com