It was the turn of the 20th century… during the reign of Emperor Meiji, when a simple fisherman in the small village of Ine began grilling a collection of local flavours on his fishing spear, to sell to travellers on the trade route from Mainland China to Kyoto.
More than a hundred years later, that same fisherman’s great grandson has brought the secrets of yakitori to New Zealand. Mr Tanaka – our mighty leader – welcomes you to his new culinary home in Ellerslie, to experience this vibrant homage to his great grandfather’s legacy.
A global pandemic and two nearly-devastating lockdowns later, Mr Tanaka is here to stay. Believe us when we say you couldn’t help but wonder “what Covid-19?” when you stepped into Mr Tanaka’s on any given Friday afternoon before Auckland’s second Level 3 lockdown, announced on 12th of August.
With no signs of a hospitality-crunch just four weeks after Level 4 was lifted on the 13th of May, waiting times of an hour or more for a table were not uncommon.
Buzzing with activity, eating and drinking happy people, it wasn’t hard to see why. Multi award-winning culinary veteran Sean Marshall has designed the menu to create a light hearted, cross continental gustatory experience.
Now, like tens of thousands of other kiwi businesses Mr Tanaka’s has had to improvise – signing up to Uber Eats, and offering free delivery for locals to keep things moving and even selling hand sanitisers and face masks at the front of the restaurant during Level 3. They’ve attracted much interest from locals expressing their keenness to be back once the lockdown is lifted.
Without the traditional rigidity of Japanese washoku (cuisine), Marshall’s unique twist offers curated flavours to encapsulate the gastronomic best of two island nations, evolved over thousands of years.
“Japanese cuisine is well known for its nuanced complexity the world knows and loves. Mr Tanaka’s honours that, but intentionally adds a playful symbiosis with local flavours to create a bespoke Japakiwi experience to delight the senses,” Marshall says.
Boasting a nama (range of raw hand-caught fishes), a mouth-watering yakitori grill, sharing dishes and a cheeky desserts section, Marshall brings the menu together masterfully to enthrall the most stubborn of palates. Barbequed pineapple with black sesame gelato anyone?
Dietary requirements are welcome here. Mr Tanaka’s celebrates the special dietary needs of the modern man and woman with various vegan and vegetarian dishes. Proudly presenting two separate tare broths, no one is left behind. Whether you consume a strictly vegan or meat diet, all guests are able to fully enjoy the most fundamental tastes of Japanese cuisine.
Tare is Japan’s take on Asia’s master stock which is famously and deliciously tended to and recooked for up to thousands of years across the continent. 31 of the 34 dishes on offer are also gluten free and are prepared with the renowned Japanese gracefulness and precision in preparation and presentation, to avoid any cross contamination for the most sensitive of guests.
Delicious beers and wines and beer towers include Japanese and local favourites, with vegan beer amongst them, promising a diverse mix with something for everybody to enjoy.
Open seven days a week, Mr Tanaka’s exudes a yasashii (friendliness) and tanoshii(fun) personality. Stepping through the big wooden gate, you’re greeted with an animated atmosphere of lively colours and Japanese décor.
Mimicking Kyoto’s bustling alleyway izakayas where patrons enjoy afterwork food and drinks in standing room only, Mr Tanaka’s walls and floors are the beautiful end product of a beige finish on recycled pallets, charming guests with plenty of sitting and lounging room.
Shiny wooden benchtops and tables and a mix of wooden and metal chairs, gorgeous bright Japanese wall art and spiritedly painted beer barrels, and a mesmerising sea of lustrously coloured lanterns hanging from the ceiling beckon you over for good times guaranteed.
Of course, no izakaya is complete without the taiko drum for important announcements and a dedicated matsuri room with karaoke facilities for the ultimate fun memories to be made. Everything is at your fingertips.
Whatever the occasion, Mr Tanaka’s offers a fun loving and relaxed atmosphere where good food, good drink, good music and good company come together to create a flawless Japakiwi izakaya experience and they are looking forward to welcoming you back once at Level 2, with strict protocols in place for the safety of their customers and staff.
Arigato, mata ne.