Ozeki on Tory
My beau and I have walked down Tory Street just about every day this week, as we’ve made our way to the Paramount for the wonderful World Cinema Showcase. Strolling along one evening, the transformation of this former backstreet suddenly hit me, a revelation I put down to the portacabin now resident on the building site of Il Casino apartments.
Of course the Tory Street precinct has been on the rise for years, building up around the bastions of Moore Wilson’s, Caffe L’affare and Brooklyn Bread & Bagels. By late 2012 when Il Casino apartments are completed along with its three-storey glass-fronted restaurant, I expect Tory Street will already be well past the point of critical mass. It’s blink-and-you-miss it round here.
In the upper reaches of Tory – just beyond ‘Havana Lane’ – Ozeki Japanese restaurant opened in February. It’s right on the edge of the CBD, although in Wellington this means it’s still only a five-minute walk from Courtenay Place. You’ll make it in three if you’re hungry.
This out-of-the-way location no doubt accounts for Ozeki’s sumo-sized premises. You could fit Miyabi Sushi in here about ten times over, and it seats a good hundred bods without bumping elbows. This is an optimistic outfit in the current economic climate, but the place was doing a reassuringly decent trade when we visited last Thursday.
The cavernous ground floor space has been stripped back to its bare bones and competently painted and polished. The mechanical bits are still on show – vents, cable trays and suchlike – but the obligatory samurai sword and red lanterns do a good job of diverting your gaze. All things considered it’s an A for ambience, a clue to the nous of the owner – he’s come from Hede, the popular Japanese restaurant at the bottom end of Cuba.
Fans of Japanese food will find many familiar items on the menu here. We made a beeline for our favourites, starting with takoyaki, deep fried octopus balls rolled in papery bonito flakes. While the texture was too squelchy, they tasted good, and the same can be said of the gyoza. Although the filling was tasty, these potsticker dumplings hadn’t stuck to the pot, and had soggy bottoms instead of chewy, golden ones. Some welcome crunch came with the karaage chicken, little nibbles in a thin, crispy coating, and rather addictive when dipped in their sauce.
We also enjoyed a plate of sushi and sashimi, which featured a range of fresh fish. As for the meal sets – a main dish accompanied by rice, miso and salad – there were more options than we’ve seen elsewhere in town, all keenly priced at $15–20. At the recommendation of our waiter we branched out into the yakiniku set, lightly smoky and sweet chicken that made a nice change from intensely flavoured teriyaki.
On the one hand cheap and tasty, and the other a bit slinky and flash, Ozeki’s main challenge will be attracting foot traffic. But it looks like Tory Street is totally up for that.
$60 for two excluding drinks; BYO; 161 Tory Street, tel 897-0818; Ozeki’s website is under construction.