Japanese Lantern Street Bar
This new Kingsland restaurant specialises in the flame-seared cooking style of aburi.
With its abundance of bars, restaurants, cafes and even dessert spots, Kingsland has safely cemented itself as one of Auckland's top foodie destinations. The central suburb is inhabited by a mix of families, young professionals and student flats, giving the local audiences at these eateries their own distinct flair.
Like any local area, many people have strict favourites and are unlikely to deter from them unless really tempted. As it has only been open to the public for a few weeks, it was surprising to see how full and pumping Japanese Lantern Street Bar was on a rainy weeknight.
The name may be a bit of a mouthful, but the restaurant certainly lives up to it. Expect the hospitable Japanese greeting as you enter to the industrial-style eatery and a ceiling adorned with lanterns upon lanterns. Creating a soft light and playful ambience, they complement the decor well while giving the restaurant a feeling of fullness. Large tables are coupled with low, street-style stools and long benches, all in full view of the busy kitchen.
Japanese Lantern Street Bar serves up street-style dishes from Japan, with a menu that boasts many of the favourites that Aucklanders have come to love. Karaage chicken, ramen, sushi rolls, edamame beans and fresh sashimi can easily be found. Coupled with this is the flame-seared speciality: aburi.
Aburi is a cooking style that originates from Shikoku and involves searing produce over roaring flames from burning straw, giving the dishes a distinct smoky flavour and unique aroma. As with any method involving intense flames, it can be difficult to control the temperature and thus cook the dishes to perfection. The chefs at Japanese Lantern Street Bar are not newcomers to this, with both dishes ordered from the aburi menu cooked perfectly.
As recommended by our friendly host Genki, we opted for the bonito and lamb rack. Here, the popular Japanese fish is imported and cooked aburi-style. The smoky flavour comes through and marries well with the fish itself. It's a strong dish and so is recommended for someone who enjoys the flavours of dark fish such as mackerel. Paired with Japanese ponzu, it was a different dish compared to what most Japanese restaurants serve.
The lamb, on the other hand, was sourced from Canterbury and just like the bonito, was cooked perfectly. Hot and served medium, it was absolutely delicious albeit hard to eat with only chopsticks available and near impossible for those who do not like using their hands.
For both the aburi menu and the charcoal-grilled yakitori, a side of rice and miso is definitely needed. As expected the rice was fluffy and fresh with a generous serve priced at $3.50 per bowl. Another highlight of the menu is the yokocho carpaccio which is ten pieces of sashimi dressed with "crazy salt," olive oil and hemp seed oil. A feast for the eyes, it came out with its own lid, steaming, and displayed on an elaborate stand. Perfect for the 'gram, but perhaps still not able to top the freshness and simplicity of traditional sashimi.
Japanese Lantern Street Bar has a wide menu, with something for everyone (including a kids bento). The restaurant's task will be to entice diners to stray from their favourite Japanese dishes and try more unique offerings. Judging by the crowds already filling the space, it's doubtful they'll have much trouble.