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Tokyoites needn’t be sheepish about New Zealand cuisine

by Rebecca Milner

New Zealand is famous for its lamb, pasture-fed on the country’s rolling green hills. Lamb being hard to come by in Japan, a New Zealand restaurant is a good bet if you’re craving lamb chops. There are two big ones in Tokyo: Wakanui (B1F, 2-23-14 Higashi-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-3568-3466; www.wakanui.jp) and Arossa (8F Ginza Velvier Bldg., 2-4-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo; 03-5524-1146; www.pjgroup.jp/arossa)

Wakanui is a big posh steakhouse — a date kind of place (or, ideally, an expense-account kind of place). Their French rack of Canterbury lamb is grilled on Japanese binchōtan charcoal (considered Japan’s best).

The Kiwi friend who recommended Wakanui tells me his go-to dish there is the grass-fed beef, grilled over the same premium charcoal. Ideally, he’ll pair it with a red from Providence, one of New Zealand’s most ambitious and acclaimed wineries. “It’s expensive, though,” he admits.

Arossa, a less expensive option, does pastured lamb and beef, too (though without the glamor of Wakanui). It’s also probably the only place in Japan where you can get hangi, a traditional Maori dish of roots and meat wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Well, a version of it: The traditional method involves digging a hole in the ground and filling it with hot stones; at Arossa they use a clay pot and an oven. It’s a big dish to share, with a lamb shank, carrots and potatoes.

Both restaurants do steamed green-lipped mussels, another New Zealand specialty. Named for the greenish tinge along the rim of their shells, these mussels are bigger and meatier than the more common blue mussels.

For home cooks, gourmet food store Nissin (2-34-2 Higashi-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-3583-4586; www.nissinham.co.jp) has Tokyo’s best selection of New Zealand meats, including several different cuts of pastured lamb and beef. Supermarket National Azabu (4-5-2 Minami-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-3442-3181; www.national-azabu.com) also has a few different cuts of lamb. Online retailer The Meat Guy (www.themeatguy.jp), which ships anywhere in Japan, can sell you a whole New Zealand lamb, or just the leg (with or without the bone).

All that meat naturally calls for some wine, and fortunately New Zealand delivers. Considered an up-and-coming wine region, the country is best known for its Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Both Wakanui and Arossa have deep wine lists, with Wakanui offering more premium wines. Arossa’s other branch in Shibuya (1-26-22 Shoto, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-3469-0125) specializes in Australian food and wines but also has a half-dozen New Zealand bottles on its list.

If you’re happy to dispense with the meal altogether, Cheese and Wine Salon Murase (6-12-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo; 03-3575-9100; www.wine-murase.com) has huge selection of New Zealand wines — 75-plus bottles and at least 20 by the glass. It also has a mouthwatering (or rather eye-watering?) selection of pungent cheeses to go with the wines.

From a colleague I heard that popular standing bar Shin (1-5-9 Meguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo; 03-3491-3663; www.bistro-shin.net) and its twin a few doors down, Shin 2, have some decent New Zealand wines among their collection of 300-plus bottles.

There’s also NZ Bar (1-27-6 Nezu, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo; 03-5948-5901; www.kst-international.net), which carries only New Zealand wines — and has about 300 bottles in stock.

If you’re new to New Zealand wines — like I am — here are some major names that I was told to look for: Momo Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc from Seresin; Sauvignon Blanc from Pegasus Bay, Cloudy Bay or Greywacke; and the Merlot/Cabernet from Te Mata.

Neighborhood wine shop A Day (1-2-11 Zushi, Kanagawa; 046-871-8171; www.aday2005.com) has a disproportionate number of New Zealand names among its selection — and it ships across Japan. It also has small shop near Yoyogi Park (1-9-23 Tomigaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-5790-9360). But you don’t have to go out of your way: I’ve heard from Kiwi friends and colleagues who get their fix at major chains such as Vinos Yamazaki (www.v-yamazaki.co.jp), Yamaya (www.yamaya.jp) and even Seiyu (www.seiyu.co.jp).

Rebecca Milner is a freelance writer in Tokyo and coauthor of Lonely Planet’s travel guides to Tokyo and Japan.

Frothing for NZ coffee

The flat white is New Zealand’s contribution to the world of coffee. It’s also a revelation: rich and creamy like a cappuccino but without the thick crust of foam. The beverage is also a hit in London, which is the roundabout way that Good People & Good Coffee (3-18-9 Higashiyama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo; 03-5725-1303; www.goodpeopleandgoodcoffee.com) came to have it on the menu. The Tokyo outpost of the New Zealand coffee shop Mojo Coffee (4-11 Akagi-Motomachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; 03-6265-3286; www.mojocoffee.jp) does a flat white too, plus such treats as chocolate-dipped Anzac oatmeal cookies.

  • eddodt

    Greek (spiced) lamb chops (rack) will knock the sox off of New Zealand’s