Tauranga restaurant Izakai has won the outstanding new venue award at the Bay of Plenty Hospitality Awards.
The restaurant, which blends Japanese food with a New Zealand Maori influence, is located in the new Bayfair dining precinct, and is centred on the core values of sustainability and local sourcing.
Izakai owner and general manager Liam Millard says the concept of the restaurant follows a Japanese izakaya; an intimate space with a long bar where food and drink are served.
“Our name combines izakaya and kai to make the connection between Japanese and Kiwi cuisine,” says Liam.
“A mate and I formed the concept in April 2017 when we were sitting in an izakaya in Hong Kong, where we had gone to watch the Rugby Sevens.
“We talked about how it would be cool to have familiar Japanese food with a strong New Zealand influence - and as soon as we got back to New Zealand we set about turning the concept into reality.
“The opportunity to join the Bayfair development couldn't have come at a better time, and to be able to start an eatery in my hometown was a dream come true.”
Liam was born in Mount Maunganui, however he grew up in Brunei, Taiwan, Thailand and Qatar before spending a year in Japan, where he came to love the casual and intimate Japanese style of dining and drinking.
In the style of an izakaya, Izakai has an open kitchen, allowing customers to sit at the bar and watch the chef’s at work.
Liam and his partners have consulted with leading local chefs and international bartenders to bring the concept to life.
The premium cocktail menu is one of the highlights at Izakai, with six core cocktails each telling a local and personal story. The food menu uses local ingredients which are prioritised, such as honey and produce.
Izakai also have a focus on sustainability, as wasteful gestures such as unnecessary or unreasonable garnishes are eliminated.
The menu has been designed for sharing, and creatively twists familiar staples of Japanese cuisine with New Zealand native herbs and ingredients.
Creamed paua gyoza, horopito glazed yakitori and manuka smoked pork and watercress ramen are just a few examples of the type of fare that are on offer.
The decor, conceived by leading hospitality design firm Walker Mitchell, incorporates various natural textures of wood and stone to give a quintessential New Zealand feel. The indoor-outdoor flow extends to 40m² of outside seating.
Liam says the ideals of manaakitanga and, in Japanese culture, omotenashi underpin what Izakai offers its customers.
“We will strive to provide hospitality which means something more – kindness, generosity, support and a place for people to have a relaxing and memorable time.
Bayfair centre manager, Steve Ellingford says Izakai is a tremendous addition to the centre’s new dining offer.
“It’s focus on sustainability is completely in-line with everything we are striving to achieve as a retail owner and a responsible community leader.
“Izakai is just one out of the seven new eateries that opened at the end of May. It’s great to hear the positive things locals and visitors have to say about Bayfair’s new dining scene”.