Tucked into a quiet Ebisu back street, Aotea Rangi is one of the few places in town where you can experience the charms of genuine New Zealand cuisine. At first glance the small restaurant looks like an Italian trattoria with terrace seating, but once you're inside the atmosphere seem more like a casual cafe-bar. The lighting is soft and the mood is relaxed. Service is attentive, and the friendly staff are more than ready to help you negotiate the extensive New Zealand wine list.
We started a recent meal with steamed green mussels with garlic-herb butter sauce, and a baked mussel-herb gratin. The New Zealand green mussels are smaller than their European counterparts, with a vibrant flavor that was beautifully complemented by the traditional Maori herbs and the rich New Zealand cheese. In summertime, the cold kiwi fruit and green vegetable gazpacho also makes a refreshing starter.
For mains, we ordered spicy roast langoustine and charcoal-grilled ribeye steak, and we were impressed by the high quality of both meat and seafood. The texture and flavor of the steak were especially good, enhanced by the Maori herb-butter served with it. Also worth a try are the chef's original pastas, such as the excellent homemade tagliolini with sweet corn and shrimp in cream sauce.
The other big attraction here is the wine list, with more than one hundred varieties from New Zealand. There are plenty of full-bodied reds, but we're more partial to their excellent selection of whites, including several from highly acclaimed Marlborough vineyards. Five wines are available by the glass, priced around Y1200-1600 per glass, and bottles range from Y4,700-12,600. Budget around Y5500 per person for dinner and drinks.