From Udon Noodles to Yakitori: Here are Our Picks for Christchurch's Best Japanese Restaurants

A flatlay of plates of Japanese food at Bar Yoku Christchurch.

Just like food from any country, Japanese cuisine has an array of regional specialities that have been created from local ingredients and traditional recipes. The best way to sample these would be to take a culinary tour across the island nation, but luckily for us in Christchurch, the city offers a number of authentic Japanese restaurants, all with their own speciality.

Words by: Petra Nyman
Photos by: Nancy Zhou and Anna Briggs

When we think of Japanese food, often the first thing that comes to mind is sushi. And perhaps the second, some crispy karaage chicken or a bowl of salty edamame beans paired with a nice cold lager. While the delicate parcels of rice filled with a variety of ingredients are a true form of art, and the deep fried chicken and salty beans always go down a treat, there is so much more to discover when it comes to the culinary delicacies that originated in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The key components of Japanese food are fresh, flavourful and impeccably prepared. The culinary precision at play produces some of the most highly regarded food in the world. You can expect to sample a range of vegetables, seafood and meat cooked in a variety of ways, along with typical elements of soy sauce, miso and rice vinegar. Traditionally, many of these dishes are accompanied by rice, but there are plenty of soups, noodles and grilled goodies to explore as well.

Tomi Japanese Restaurant

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Edgeware Mall, 76 Edgeware Road, Saint Albans, Christchurch, Christchurch & Canterbury

A small hidden slice of Japan exists in Edgeware in the form of the much-loved Tomi Japanese Restaurant. Traditionally decorated with pale timber, Tomi’s offers a cosy, intimate atmosphere. Menu highlights here include sushi, tender pork kakuni (slow cooked pork belly) and Tomi’s unique homemade Japanese ice-cream, with flavours such as black sesame, orange and cardamom, and peanut butter and sea salt. There’s a comprehensive sake list too, plus a real emphasis on wines for food matching.

A hand holding a tempura asparagus at the bar at Bar Yoku.

Bar Yoku

The Welder, 20 Welles Street, City Centre

The only Yakitori joint in Ōtautahi, Bar Yoku dishes out traditional Japanese street food in a relaxed and authentic environment. Enter through the hanging curtains into the dim restaurant and be instantly transported to another world. Here the barbeque stays hot, the Asahi taps run, and Sake is poured from lunch ‘til deep into the dark hours. While the traditional focus of Yakitori (literally meaning ‘grilled bird’) is on chicken, the menu here boasts a number of other meats, such as the celebrated Wagyu beef, as well as a number of vegetarian options.

Kinji

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279B Greers Road, Bryndwr, Christchurch, Christchurch & Canterbury

If sushi is what the heart desires, Kinji is your destination. Owner-operator and master sushi chef Kinji Hamada’s signature dishes are sashimi and nigiri-style sushi.

Fresh seafood served at Kinji is handpicked by the chef himself to ensure the best quality. Organic vegetables, free-range eggs and marbled beef are all sourced locally from Canterbury farms, and the carefully chosen wine list celebrates wines by local makers of Japanese descent. A visit to Kinji restaurant is truly like an evening trip to Japan, complete with omotenashi, a heartfelt style of hospitality that is uniquely Japanese.

A flatlay of sushi and other Japanese food on black plates.

Cookai

The Crossing, Level 1

The sushi train is the show's star here, making dining fun, quick and interesting – a real treat for young ones and a time-saver for busy workers. On top of an impressive array of seafood, Cookai caters for vegetarians and vegans as well. Yet, there is more to this restaurant than sushi. A separate menu consists of larger meals featuring some of the crowd favourites from the restaurant’s many years in business, such as soft shell crabs, slow cooked pork belly, ramen or udon noodles. Accompany your meal with Cookai’s own Japanese style lager, or enjoy a post dinner tipple in the form of a Japanese Whiskey.

Seafood tempura on a black plate.

Sakimoto

119 Worcester Street, City Centre

Situated in Cathedral Junction, Sakimoto comes with a side view of the historical Christchurch tram rolling by every now and again.

This is a Japanese bistro, ie. a small plate kind of joint, where items are designed to be shared amongst the table. The focus of the menu is on seafood, with sushi and sashimi being the stars of the show. Expect friendly and cheerful service, plus a rare byo opportunity. Sakimoto offers a Japanese experience that is down to earth and accessible.

Colourful sushi on white plate with coloured rings.

Koji

257 Lincoln Road, Addington

The sole Japanese buffet in town, Koji offers an all-you-can-eat scenario at its Lincoln Road location. Settle down, choose a buffet menu for the table, sit back, and expect to indulge in some delicious, authentic Japanese food.

The bite-sized dishes are served on petite wooden plates and made fresh to order. Watch as a variety of sushi, teppanyaki and tempura items appear at the table for your tastebuds’ enjoyment. The large restaurant space has a variety of seating options, whether you’d like to watch the chefs at work or find a more intimate corner to settle into.

Image: Stock (by Nancy Zhou)

Fried chicken on a table with a side salad

MoriMori

448 Colombo Street, Sydenham

MoriMori in Sydenham is an izakaya joint – and to explain what that means in blunt terms: ‘a place to grab a drink, settle in and get comfortable at’. Now, that doesn’t sound too bad, does it? A tiny restaurant with an authentic feel, MoriMori offers a rather extensive menu filled with small plates, such as agedashi tofu, karaage chicken and gyoza – all perfect for a side of cold beer. If you’re after something heftier, it’s easy enough to pick and choose a number of different items to form a meal, or you can opt for the set menu and leave the decision making for the chef.

Image: Stock (by Anna Briggs)

Small plates of Japanese food on a table in front of a person holding a pair of chopsticks.

Sakura

Church Corner Mall, 4/380 Riccarton Road, Upper Riccarton

A traditional Japanese restaurant, Sakura focuses on quality and flavour. Hidden within the Church Corner mall, it would be easy to bypass this gem if you don’t know where to look.  Once you’ve discovered it, you’ll be sure to return. While the decor of this restaurant is understated, the fare it serves is anything but. Sakura is known for beautifully presented dishes, fresh seafood and to-die-for prawns. We suggest kaimoana lovers especially point their noses this way. 

Photo: Stock (by Anna Briggs)

Dumplings and sliced salmon on plates on a black table.

Amaterrace Teppanyaki

The Terrace, level 1/134 Oxford Terrace, City Centre

The experience of watching teppanyaki chefs at work is almost just as exhilarating as tasting some of the fabulous fare they produce, and this is what you can expect at Amaterrace Teppanyaki.

The Japanese steakhouse is dimly lit, creating a sophisticated moody atmosphere. The best seats in the house are around the chef’s table, of course, yet there are a number of more intimate nooks to settle into and a balcony with beautiful views over the Avon river as well. On top of grilled fare, expect to find a good selection of sushi and sashimi, as well as an extensive nibbles menu filled with goodies that are hard to pass.

Photo: Stock (by Anna Briggs)

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If bars could be left or right handed, Dux Central would be ambidextrous. There’s nothing this place can’t be.