Beef may be the quintessential Japanese red meat but it’s got a new rival. Lamb is gaining popularity in Tokyo as a leaner, healthier option. Whether you prefer your lamb grilled, boiled shabu shabu-style or barbecued on a special Gengis Khan grill, there are many ways to enjoy a mutton meal in the capital.
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For the love of lamb
One of the few restaurants serving Icelandic lamb in Japan, Oz opened last year to showcase delicacies from the land of glaciers and volcanoes. Allowed to roam freely in the mountains and feed on wild herbs and grass, Icelandic sheep are particularly strong and healthy, resulting in meat with a pure, refined flavour. The eclectic menu ranges from simple chops (¥400) to Japanese- and Chinese-style options, making it fun to explore whether you’re a veteran lamb fan or new to the meat.
Not a fan of grease? Try the lamb shabu shabu at Shibuya’s Hitsuji no Yu, where you boil thin slices of meat in a hot pot at your table. You choose a soup from options such as Japanese-style dashi, ‘medicinal’ and sukiyaki, or go for the ‘hybrid nabe’ (¥3,480) – a combination of shabu shabu and Hokkaido-style grilled mutton.
While the regular all-you-can-eat shabu shabu sets start from ¥3,580, anyone dining between 5pm and 7pm can feast to their stomach’s content for only ¥2,980. You can’t miss the shop’s flashy sign on the Namikibashi intersection, now informally known as the ‘Sheep Crossing’ thanks to the presence of both Hitsuji no Yu and its offshoot, Hitsujimon.
The Ajibo chain of Chinese restaurants can always be counted on for something a little out of the ordinary, and this particular venture is no exception. Opened in 2016 after the chefs at Ajibo’s flagship branch noticed how popular their lamb dishes were, Yanshan Ajibo rolls out a mouthwatering spread of Japanese-Chinese favourites, from gyoza to stewed noodle dishes, all made with lamb or mutton. Amply seasoned with herbs and Chinese spices, they’re sure to warm you up on a chilly evening. Prices aren’t particularly high at dinner – a set of five lamb skewers costs just ¥1,080 – but the lunch menu includes a few absolute bargains.
Tokyo’s adventurous gourmands flock to this innovative shrine to all things ovine, located just a few minutes’ walk from Azabu-Juban Station. Sunrise lets you compare the flavours of lamb sourced from several different countries, including Japan – a true rarity, as domestic fare accounts for only about one percent of the total lamb and mutton market.
None of the meat served to customers is frozen during handling, making sure that only the most umami-rich cuts end up on your plate. Domestic lamb options start from ¥1,900 and include offal dishes, curry and lightly flambéed tartare, while Australian imports can be had from ¥1,080. Grab a seat at the counter to admire the handiwork of the resident grill masters.
An offshoot of popular Shinbashi offal specialist Dan, Nikujiruya lets you prepare your meat over a tabletop charcoal grill. Since opening in 2016, it’s already won a loyal following for its top-quality fare, procured by sourcing whole animals and making good use of every last cut.
While offal is on the menu, the most popular choice is the T-bone lamb steak, a combination of sirloin and fillet available in three sizes (large ¥850, medium ¥800 and small ¥750). A highlight is the jingisukan, a Hokkaido dish of mutton grilled on a metal skillet, which comes with endless helpings of bean sprouts.
Residents of Hokkaido were eating lamb and mutton long before the current trend hit the rest of Japan, and Tokyo has its fair share of restaurants specialising in the northern region’s most famous meat dish.
Jingisukan, named after the Mongol warlord Genghis Khan, consists of mutton and vegetables prepared on a metal skillet and eaten with a special sauce. Jingisukan Yoichi in Shinjuku makes its version with top-quality, fatty Australian meat, flown in fresh at regular intervals.
A simple serving of mutton and onion goes for ¥980 – try it with the shop’s own Hokkaido wasabi and salt for optimum flavour. Opened last year, this Shinjuku joint stays open until the early hours on Friday and Saturday nights.
As suggested by its name – a play on ‘yakitori’, except with the ‘tori’ (bird) replaced by ‘hitsuji’ (sheep) – Ichigaya’s Yakihitsuji serves up fusion fare inspired by dishes you’d usually encounter at chicken-focused joints, prepared with the traditional methods and artisanship so central to Japanese cuisine.
The meat can be enjoyed in grilled, deep-fried or stewed form, with popular choices including 50g mini-steaks grilled over charcoal (from ¥400), seared lamb (¥980) and lamb with vinegared miso (¥890). The ¥5,000 dinner deal, centred on a white miso sukiyaki hot pot, is a good bet if you’re hungry.
This classy wood-panelled barbecue joint is on a narrow street off Ginza’s main drag. A row of tabletops line one wall, with the rest partitioned behind glass walls, and at the centre of each, depressed into the table surface, is a dome-shaped grill, meant to represent Mongolian warriors’ helmets.
Although their all-you-can-eat/drink dinner deals are reasonably priced, for those on a budget we recommend the warrior-sized lunch sets. You can choose from six types of lamb and veggie grills (mostly under ¥2,000 on weekdays), which include self-serve soft drinks and all-you-can-eat salad, rice and miso soup (also self-serve), plus dessert – a traditional Hokkaido milk pudding called yukishiki-anshin.
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