Restaurant review: Tokyo Bay, Takapuna

By Peter Calder

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Address: 20 The Strand, Takapuna Beach
Phone: 09 390 7188
Online: tokyobay.co.nz

The restaurant's interior is a sight to behold. Photo / Doug Sherring
The restaurant's interior is a sight to behold. Photo / Doug Sherring

Both my visits to Main Beach, the strip of restaurants looking over Takapuna Beach have taken place in winter, which may be missing the point of the place. I suspect the area is at its best on a summer's day, when the view stretches down to the doughy cliffs at the south end and Rangitoto lies, in Bruce Mason's words, "spreadeagled on the skyline like a sleeping whale".

On a bitter, windswept Saturday evening in the nastiest part of last month, the punters were staying away in droves. But Tokyo Bay was busy - and it is not hard to see why.

The name is more evocative if you haven't seen the real Tokyo Bay, a heavily industrialised port zone on largely reclaimed land that doesn't really ooze the refined and restrained beauty that is so easy to find in Japan.

But the restaurant's interior (you can take a 360-degree virtual tour on the website) is a thing of beauty: huge blond blocks of laminated wood seem to float in the air above the bar; a facing roughcast wall has little niches in which handsome pottery is displayed; a school of silver aluminium fish swirls overhead.

Tokyo Bay is not in the elevated company of Cocoro and Kazuya, but it is several large notches above the suburban standard. Set menus include a street-food section and you can get charcoal-grilled grade 5 wagyu beef (it's around 70 cents a gram, but they throw in the veges).

They offer sushi too, at $7 to $16 for a two-piece serve, so you can mix and match. But the Professor and I were keen to ski off-piste, so to speak and there was plenty of opportunity to do that.

We couldn't go past a vibrantly fresh sashimi platter that had the usual suspects, salmon and tuna - cool not sinus-achingly chilled - along with scallops, stripped of their orange roe and glistening like albino oysters. But it is in my nature to order the unusual (this is why I am constantly having to restrain the Professor from asking for insalata caprese when we are not in an Italian restaurant).

Fortunately she was as impressed as I was with tender squid, cut in large julienne strips, marinated, grilled and sprinkled with shichimi, a seasoning of peppers, roasted orange peel, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, ginger and seaweed; conger eel in tempura batter; tiny nori parcels of soft yam and (slightly dry) grilled mackerel marinated in white miso.

Beef tataki, ordered as an afterthought, came as juicy small slabs, not paper-thin discs with a fabulous, faintly citrusy dipping sauce.

The Professor put her hand up for the crepes, small pikelet sandwiches filled with the red bean paste the Japanese call an, because they impressed her so much in Japan. I can take or leave them, but the green tea mousse was a cracker.

If Japanese food is your thing, Tokyo Bay should be on your "to-do" list. If it isn't, it's a fine place to give it a go.

Starters: $8-$18; mains $16-$28; desserts $9
Verdict: Smarter than your average Japanese.

- Spy.co.nz

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