With over 500 kinds of Australian wines available at Arossa Shibuya, chef and owner Koji Sato has plenty of room to play with his menu. Sato opened his Australian cuisine themed restaurant in 2001 not to serve up what you might expect from Down Under – the well-worn “throw some shrimp on the barbie” – but to celebrate the great variety and powerful flavors of Aussie wines.
While French wines focus more on balance, Sato liked that Australian and New Zealand wines have strong, distinct tastes, what wine growers there call “virgin flavors,” which meant that he could cook just about anything and be able to fine a local vintage to pair it with.
And Sato, who worked in Thailand for three years, does challenge diners when it comes to food: not only does he offer kangaroo (as steak or ham) and grilled ostrich, he’s got crocodile on the menu, and it’s a fine dish. Baked with a tapanade of dried olives, anchovies and paprika, the healthy but juicy meat comes out of the oven like a crossbread of chicken and pork, tender and chewy in the right way.
For his hefty dishes from the grill – beef, lamb, seafood — Sato uses a mix of Aussie spices from Aboriginal traditions, including Wattleseed from the Acacia tree, which has a light coffee/cocoa flavor; and lemon myrtle, a dried lemony herb. But you can easily enjoy Arossa by focusing on the wine list and ordering just a few dishes to nibble on, such as his tempting spicy rillets of duck with plumb sauce, fried softshell crab and bagna cauda of organic vegetables sourced from Asano Farm in Chiba
The choice of wines to compliment Arossa’s hearty dishes stretches from reasonably priced (4,000-10,000 JPY) Aussie regulars to hand-carried specialty bottles, with the range topping out at 140,000 JPY for a #1 Penfolds Grange. Sato recommends in particular his sparkling merlots, including one from Gibson, and the Elderton Barossa Shiraz, from the renowned Barossa valley region.
As much a tavern as a restaurant, Arossa is tucked away in the small streets behind Bunkamura in Shibuya, a far different place than the bustling intersection the area is known for. The second floor offers private tables, but if you want to see the kitchen in action and join a more social atmosphere that mixes sophisticated Japanese oenophiles and expatriates seeking a taste of home, the counter is your best option.
1-26-22 Shoto Shibuya-ku
Tel & Fax: 03-3469-0125
Sato has a second restaurant in Ginza that takes a completely different approach: Whereas Arossa Shibuya has Australia as its starting point, Arossa Ginza looks to New Zealand. With 250 different vintages from New Zealand, the restaurant has the best selection of wines from that country in Japan.
At Arossa Ginza, Sato pairs these wines with Hangi, the traditional cuisine of the Maori, the indigenous islanders of the country. Roasted in wood fire in a pit in the ground, Hangi is cooked only for guests by the Maori. Lamb shank, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips and mussels are marinated for two days with mountain pepper, a spicy purple berry native to the southern hemisphere, and then slowly cooked in a pot with a little soil from Asano Farm, to give the dish that earthy flavor that the ingredients typically pick up.
Presented first in the cooking dish, so guests can smell the complex aromas, and then on a plate wrapped in fresh leaves, the Arossa’s Hangi is served with three sauces: a green mix of Italian parsley and coriander; a spicy tomato-based blend of red pepper and coriander; and a tart-but-sweet mint, honey and lemon sauce. (Really though, the tender lamb and roots are flavorful enough on their own.)
Besides Hangi, Arossa Ginza features similar grilled dishes to the Shibuya location, a mouth-watering 450-gram steak of grass-fed beef among them. Recommended wines include a 2002 Martinborough Vineyard Te Tera’ Pinot Noir, produced from 30-year-old grape vines, and Sauvignon Blancs such as the ever-popular Cloudy Bay from the renowned Marlborough region.
If you have room for more at the end, Arossa not only whips up a tasty Pavlova, the crispy meringue with a soft center, they also have a delicious homemade Hokie Pokie ice cream dish. A simple mix of vanilla ice cream with caramel, the creamy sweetness is nicely offset with pleasing crunches of the candy inside.
Sometimes in Tokyo it easy to be overwhelmed by all the Italian, French and Spanish cuisine. If you are ready for something that stands out among that crowd and does it with taste and innovation, Arossa’s attention to the new world is a fine place to start.
8F-2-4-6, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061 Japan
Tel & Fax: 03-5524-1146
Lunch 11:30-15:30 (L.O. 14:30)
Dinner 18:00-26:00 (L.O. 25:00)
Written by Tokyo Japan Times Contributer.