Must-visit venues, including an Italian-Japanese restaurant in east London, a canny vineyard close to Tokyo and a kitchen with French-Japanese flair in New York.
“The subtlety of Japanese wine is what makes it so good,” says Hiroshi Matsuzaka, owner of mgvs winery in Katsunuma, 100km west of Tokyo. Although saké, beer and whiskey often nab the headlines when it comes to Nippon drinks, wine has been made in the Yamanashi prefecture for the past century and the region’s native grape, koshu, is winning fans for its subtlety, crispness and zest. “It has such a natural delicacy,” says Matsuzaka, who sees this as a characteristic he can both emphasise and teach customers to appreciate.
As a former manufacturer of semiconductors for smartphones, Matsuzaka makes precision his business. “Using science, we want to make the grapes better,” he says, walking monocle through an ultra-modern tasting area that overlooks a spotless greyish room filled with silver wine tanks. The kit may mostly be imported from Italy but, like everything here, it’s been modified for a precise purpose and to suit the conditions. Even the labelling system feels scientific, categorised by a grape’s variety, origin, harvest process, production method and fermentation. The letters and digits on each bottle help drinkers to decipher everything about what’s inside, from where it was harvested to the processing method.
Since opening in 2017, mgvs’s production and popularity is maturing. In 2018 the winery produced 30,000 bottles, up from 25,000 in 2016. Matsuzaka’s hope is to increase that to between 70,000 and 100,000 bottles of still wine and 12,000 of sparkling by 2026. The charcoal-grey, shiny, contemporary tasting room at the vineyard’s edge is unlike any in the region. Here visitors can try glasses from dispensers or buy bottles from wooden crates. For a wine region that does time-tested and age-old very well, the modern vineyard is just the statement to get Yamanashi on the wine trail.
Restaurants don’t come much more fusion than Prospect Heights’ Maison Yaki. A new project by chef Greg Baxtrom (his Olmsted is across the road), this venture takes Japanese yakitori and applies it to French fare. The result is scrumptious snacking food for the Brooklyn cognoscenti, featuring the likes of duck à l’orange and pork-belly dijonnaise. The adventurous should sample the cauliflower okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) with hazelnuts, or the escargots in shiso butter. Wash it all down with a glass of burgundy or perhaps a tarragon margarita (this is Brooklyn after all).
“A chance visit to a restaurant near Verona that had two young Japanese chefs was my first experience of Japanese-Italian food; we ate crab linguine with wasabi,” says Joshua Owens-Baigler, founder of east London’s Angelina. “It inspired me to bring it to London.” And so he did. The sommelier, formerly of the River Café and Bocca di Lupo, teamed up with a friend to open this smart restaurant in Dalston. The daily dish is always faultless and affordable but, as Owens-Baigler says, “Our happiest accident is unagi [eel] risotto.” Round things off with the black sesame pannacotta.