If you asked me what my favourite type of cuisine was in the entire world, I would say Italian. But you can’t really eat a bowl of pasta every day, unless you have Italian blood (tomato sauce) running through your veins. My second favourite cuisine is Japanese. Easily. And unless I’m missing something – it’s a way healthier option to tuck into on a regular basis. Sashimi, pickled veggies, tofu, robata, sushi, tataki – be still my beating heart.
Another reason to love Japanese food: avoiding that food coma that so commonly comes along with dining out. Leaving a restaurant feeling heavy, bloated, tired and uncomfortable (and you’ve probably unbuttoned your pants). I always leave a Japanese restaurant feeling satiated and happy, but not like I overdid it. Maybe because you can’t hoover food into your mouth with chopsticks at the same speed as a fork….
Auckland has so many Japanese restaurants. Like a ridiculous amount. And I’m sure everyone has their favourites. This might be hotly contested, but here are my go to places if you’re in the mood for the best Japanese food, service and experience. (Two out of three of these always guaranteed!)
Skycity Grand Hotel, 90 Federal Street, CBD
Lunch: Mon-Sat 12pm-3pm, Sun 11am-3pm
Dinner: Daily 5:30pm-Late
Masu is my top pick at the moment if you’re looking for the best sashimi. Sit up at the bar and watch them cut the beautiful fish with such precision. They cut their sashimi thick, and it’s beautiful. Super fresh, melt in your mouth and an incredible selection that you won’t find at many places. Other must try dishes include the slow cooked daikon in miso which is mind-boggingly good, house made pickles, kimchi, clam and miso soup, and anything from the robata. The service at Masu is fantastic, from the hot towels at the start of the meal, to the explanation of dishes and the strategic placing of everything on the small-ish table so it fits perfectly, this is a top spot I recommend.
104D Custom Street West, CBD
Lunch Daily: Noon-3pm Lunch Menu
Dinner Daily: 5:30pm-11pm Dinner Menu
Industry Zen is a strange one. The service is all over the place, and sometimes so is the food – but I keep coming back. Time yourself to be seated around 8pm for the “gong show”, and if you don’t want a ridiculous stack of food that all arrives at once, order as you go. Industry Zen prides itself on it’s unique plating, and while this was a fun novelty the first couple of times, sometimes my sushi doesn’t need to come out in a three story Japanese building complete with zen garden. They don’t seem to learn, looking surprised that all the food won’t fit on one table and they have to (shame) pull over a second one for overflow. However, value for money and the quality of most of the options are great. Their salads are delicious, sushi rolls are amazing (try the spicy tuna or softshell crab), and the agedashi tofu, yum. Avoid the robata, it’s tasty but expensive and you don’t get very much on a skewer. And again, remember to go around 8pm. But avoid sitting directly beside the drum kit.
158 Jervois Road, Herne Bay
Lunch: Tues – Sat: 12:30pm-2:30pm
Dinner: Tues – Sat: 6pm-10pm, Sun: 5:30pm – 9pm
I’ve mentioned Janken a few times, and there’s good reason for it. It’s just so good. And in terms of leaving feeling happy and healthy, I always do. The menu is small, but interesting. You can order salmon rolls and sashimi plates which are delicious, but branch out and try the seafood hotpot, or bunless mushroom burger which are outstanding (the organic tofu in goma sauce will have you licking the plate). It’s a really small restaurant but they take bookings for lunch and dinner so if you’re organized, then you’re sweet. The set lunch menu options are good value and there are lighter options as well.
56a Brown Street, Grey Lynn
Lunch: Tues-Sat: Noon-2pm
Dinner: Tues-Sat: 5:30pm-10pm
Cocoro is a really really good option to take someone on a first date. If you want a second date. Otherwise take them to maccas. It’s a bit more on the expensive side, but if you book in for the 8 course degustation, he/she will be VERY impressed. The ambiance in the restaurant is lovely, low lighting, private tables, amazingly dedicated service. They also offer an a la carte lunch and dinner menu if you only want a mini splashing out. The chawanmushi (egg custard dish) was a revelation for me the first time I had it (with salmon roe) and at the moment it’s being served with whitebait which is equally amazing. The sake selection is great and you can pair it to your courses, otherwise the wine list is generous.
100 Wellington Street, Freemans Bay
Dinner: Tues-Sun: 5pm-11pm Menu
3 / 298 Ti Rakau Drive, Botany
Lunch: Tues-Sun: Noon-2:30pm Menu
Dinner: Tues-Sun: 5:30pm-10:30pm Menu
The Freeman’s Bay Nishiki is renowned for being full. All the time, every day of the week. There’s a couple reasons for this. First, it’s in a great location with free parking. Second, the food is tasty. And last, it is super CHEAP. I had a lovely chicken katsu there which cost $11, but be careful, you’ll end up spending just as much (and eating more) than anywhere else because you think it’s such good value. I haven’t been to the Botany location yet but I’m going to assume it’s similar. The salmon tataki is a family favourite but I would experiment, most of the food on the six page menu is great. You can book, if you can get through when you ring for a reservation (good luck with that). Otherwise plan on going early, late or standing awkwardly in the doorway while everyone ignores you, manically running past plates of sushi and teriyaki chicken.
315b Queen Street, CBD (Downstairs)
Lunch: Friday: Noon-2pm Lunch Menu
Dinner: Mon-Thurs: 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat: 5pm-10:30pm Dinner Menu
Kura is a great dinner option in the middle of Queen St, and this is especially important because I don’t think there are that many great dining options on the midway point of Queen St. Venture to Upper Queen and you’ll get great Korean, or down to Britomart and the world is your oyster but that area in between is no man’s land for yummy healthy food. So thank goodness for Kura, which is tasty and isn’t Burger King. Kura is in the basement beside Tanuki (which is owned by the same people), and I love how it’s set up. It’s sort of like dining in a really pretty dungeon. The food here is great, especially the salads. Add one on to some tempura and a couple pieces of sushi and you’ll leave happy, and not wanting to fall asleep during your movie or show.
193 Symonds Street, CBD
Lunch: Friday: Noon-4pm
Dinner: Tues-Sat: 6pm-Late
Kazuya is a restaurant I’ve been lucky enough to dine at a few times, and every single time has been memorable. This is high end Japanese dining and you will be wined and dined in style. Kazuya only offers fixed price and degustation menus, so be prepared to trust the chef and try some new types of food. Kazuya, is also the name of the chef and he has been trained in modern and Japanese cuisine so the menu reflects this. An entree of “Zen”, includes venison and truffle tartar, tofu, salmon caviar and mushroom. The signature dish of “Textures” includes 30 different seasonal vegetables and prosciutto. I will guarantee you’ll get your camera out because it’s simply one of the most beautiful dishes you will ever eat. The staff are gracious and helpful, and the wine list fantastic.
So…. what did I miss, lovely readers? What is your favourite Japanese in the whole wide world?
All photos courtesy of the restaurants featured in this story.