Meet the Australians taking on Tokyo

Newcomer: A noodle dish from Longrain in Tokyo.
Newcomer: A noodle dish from Longrain in Tokyo. Photo: Nikki To

Giovanni Paradiso pours a Lucy Margaux Pinot Noir Paradiso and we savour this last glass of a little batch made by Adelaide Hills natural winemaker Anton von Klopper for the first overseas outpost of Sydney's Italian institution, Fratelli Paradiso.

The wine's frank flavours bring a mouthful of purest Australia to the third floor of a glossy shopping centre in Tokyo's fashionable Omotesando.

Since opening last May, Fratelli Paradiso Tokyo has become a centre of gravity for Tokyo's cool crowd; the leather banquettes house a chic spread of fashionistas, foodies and musicians.

Fratelli Paradiso in Tokyo.
Fratelli Paradiso in Tokyo. 

This suits Paradiso, his brother Enrico and their co-owner Marco Ambrosini, who are finding their finessed Italian classics, delivered with discipline and flair, are as warmly appreciated here as back home.

More so, Paradiso says, if you're talking liquid. The trio's passion for natural wines, writ large on the menus of the Sydney original and its sister, 10 William Street, has found its true faithful here. "Japan loves natural wine," Paradiso says. "All the world's good ones come to Tokyo before anywhere else, so here I can work with the best of the wines I love."

The produce is certainly up to the task. Local seafood and beef are excellent and now, as winter approaches, the wild mushrooms and the pears are outstanding. "Japanese love offal so we work more with that here," he says. "We've put on a ragout with tripe; handmade pasta, lots of Sardinian pickle."

That rich aroma of slow-cooking lamb wafting through the towering retail temple announces that the Australians have arrived.

In the neighbouring suburb of Ebisu, the latest Australian import, Longrain, has been open just five weeks, and its 160 seats are already precious real estate. The Tokyo iteration of Sam Christie's modern Thai has shed its Sydney and Melbourne warehouse identity and soared to the top of a 39-floor skyscraper in Yebisu Garden Place, a dense conglomeration of restaurants, stores and hotels.

Last year, Christie opened an offshoot of Potts Point Greek the Apollo in a similarly stunning eyrie atop Ginza's gleaming new Tokyu Plaza. "It's spectacular looking out across that humongous city of 36 million people," Christie says. "But it still smells like Apollo." It sure does. Just like Fratelli Paradiso's natural wines, that rich aroma of slow-cooking lamb wafting through the towering retail temple announces that the Australians have arrived.

The man who helped them do so in such grand style is Sadahiro Nakamura, president of Japanese hospitality company Transit Group.

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Nine years ago, Nakamura ate breakfast at Bill Granger's Sydney Bill's and was inspired to import the cafe to Kanagawa, Fukuoka and Tokyo. Bills Osaka opens next month. He discovered The Apollo, Longrain and Fratelli Paradiso on Sydney food safaris while visiting Granger.

Nakamura views himself as a "cultural engineer" and says: "I saw something in these places that we didn't have in [Tokyo] restaurants; a special aura – low lighting, a lounge feel, a place to socialise. I wanted to bring in this Australian culture of conviviality."

Australian Sonja Vodusek understands what he means. The Victoria-born general manager of five-star hotel The Peninsula Tokyo became Japan's first female luxury hotel GM when she took up the post in 2015, after a previous stint in the city earlier in her career. A veteran of Australia-Japan relations, she has a theory about the good chemistry.

"The Japanese attention to detail is extraordinary," Vodusek says. "Restaurants do just one specific thing perfectly, whether it's sukiyaki, sushi, sashimi, tempura, soba noodles, udon noodles. It's rigid; you do not deviate from those rules in the pursuit of excellence."

Australians, she says, "Go outside the box, we're a little more creative, we fuse ingredients and methods in an adventurous way." Combined, she says, these complementary traits are kitchen dynamite.

For Gio Paradiso, "Tokyo is one of the greatest eating and drinking cities in the world." He relishes its endless layers, all those precisely executed specialisms, the tiniest things done beautifully. In those layers, he says, lie Tokyo's true allure: an undertow of anarchy beneath the orderly, high-functioning exterior. "It's the quietest, busiest city in the world," he says.

Secret spots from the Australians

SAM CHRISTIE:

Bar Martha

"This place is an institution. It has a giant wall with thousands of records that are played through the most amazing, resonant speakers. There is a quiet room policy – no speaking, no photos. The staff will shush you if you laugh or raise your voice."

1 Chome-22-23 Ebisu, 03 3441 5055, martha-records.com/martha/

Shinamen Hashigo

"The best spicy pork ramen I've eaten. It's served at a small counter right in the heart of Ginza, near the station. This is always my first and last stop in Tokyo."

6-3-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku, 03 3571 1750, (no website)

Den

"Look out for the fried chicken boxes containing the signature DENtucky fried chicken (DFC), plus turtle skeletons and ceramics. They have a Michelin star and are in the San Pell Top 50; it's challenging (ants are on the menu) yet delicious."

2-3-18 Jingumae, Shibuya, 03 6455 5433, jimbochoden.com/en/info@jimbochoden.com

SONJA VODUSEK:

Andy's Shin-Hinomoto

"Tucked into a teeny two-storey hole under the train tracks, it's an experience everyone talks about. The seafood and vegetables are fresh daily from Tsukiji market."

2-4-4 Yurakucho, 03 3214 8021, andysfish.com

Sushi Sho Masa

I really love this hidden little place (only about six seats, so you need to reserve) serving sushi sho, a style found only in Japan. The chef and host, Masa-san, has lots of personality and if you go omakase, prepare for 40 or more courses!"

4-1-15 Nishiazabu, Minato, 03 3499 9178

Zakuro

"My favourite place for sukiyaki (thinly sliced beef) and shabu-shabu, the beef hotpot cuisine. It's very casual, reasonably priced, and you only see Japanese people there, enjoying the mouth-watering wagyu."

Basement floor, 4-6-1 Ginza, 03 3535 4421

GIOVANNI PARADISO:

Bunon

"One of the best natural wine lists in Japan, with exceptional Japanese food; it's very seasonal, with many unusual types of raw seafood. The owner loves a good time so you'll often find us after work at 3am making gyoza with the guys in the kitchen and dancing on tables until sunrise."

4 Chome-2-14 Nishi-Azabu, Minato, 03 3406 2207, bunon.jp

La Pioche

"One of my favourite wine bars in the world, with so many rare natural wines that you just don't find anywhere else. The owner, Shinya Hayashi, invites us to help ourselves from his cellar. It becomes very dangerous."

1-18-1 Nihombashi-Kakigaracho, Chuo-ku, 03 3669 7988, facebook.com/pg/2013lapioche/about/?ref=page_internal

Winestand Waltz

"Only about eight people standing can fit into this little backstreet bar. It's a great place to drink a quick bottle before we go out, and there are some really obscure Frenchies."

Shimada Bldg 1F, 4-24-3 Ebisu, (no phone), facebook.com/Winestand-Waltz-801855413162402/