Good Eats: Wakanui (Tokyo)

I love Japanese food. I’m not just talking sushi, either. Give me eel or udon or oysters or breaded pork. (Just hold the fermented soy beans, please.) But sometimes you just want to sink your teeth into a nice juicy steak.

A lamb steak, that is.

Hokkaido is actually well-known for its lamb but although a lamb craze back in the late ’90s saw restaurants popping up in large numbers in the cities like Tokyo and Osaka, Japanese tastes have moved on and so have most of these lamb joints.

One that seems to have weathered the trend is Wakanui in Tokyo’s Azabu Juban neighborhood. Wakanui’s lamb comes from a tad further afield – it’s one of the country’s only suppliers of New Zealand meat. Both beef and lamb from pasture-raised animals are shipped to Japan, where the meat is aged before it’s served to diners.

The interior of Wakanui restaurant in Tokyo’s Azabu Juban neighborhood

To assuage a lamb craving on my last trip to Tokyo, I visited Wakanui during a Saturday lunch hour. I could have opted for the straight-up lamb chops or the juicy beef burger, but I figured the prix fixe lunch was an excellent value at ¥2100. In truth, it wasn’t much to write home about. My starter of smoked salmon with capers and onions was decent, but the dressing was too sour for my tastes. The soup – a potato vichyssoise – was filling, but not really notable.

Then the lamb came.

Looking back, I should have gone for just the lamb chops as this was the best dish of the lot by far. And well it should be. The lamb was perfectly grilled (for most people at least – I think I’m one of the only crazies who likes my lamb medium well) and barely seasoned. The flavor of the meat was allowed to shine and I lapped up the extra juices with Wakanui’s crusty baguettes. I had to get through two underwhelming courses to get here but it was worth the wait.

My lamb chops

Dessert was a bowl of New Zealand’s own Hokey Pokey ice cream, a vanilla-based flavor with chunks of honey. It was a tasty and relatively light end to my meal, which was nice – four courses adds up after awhile! I don’t know if I would pick the course meal again, unless I changed up my appetizers, but I will definitely return for the meat.

Wakanui has a great English website but the directions are pretty spare. I took the Oedo line to Azabu Juban and used Exit 6. When you come up the staircase, walk STRAIGHT ahead. About two blocks down (a large foreign-food-filled grocery store called World Delicatessen or something will be on your right), take a LEFT and walk up a two short blocks. Wakanui is on the right, just past the traffic light in a basement location.

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