Content created in partnership with Roku Gin
When the cherry blossoms flower in Japan, people the world over make the pilgrimage to witness the delicately pink blooms – also known as sakura – as they take over the country’s cities and mountains and, eventually, carpet the ground.
The springtime ritual of hanami – the term given to the custom of enjoying the blossoms – entails picnics and parties underneath the flourishing canopies, and is being celebrated in Auckland from October and November by Roku Gin, bringing a slice of Japan to Azabu in Mission Bay.
Spring isn’t only about blossoms; it’s also a time to celebrate shun (pronounced ‘shoon’)– a Japanese term used to describe the harvesting of seasonal foods and ingredients when they are at the peak of their flavour and freshness. This concept is one that Roku Gin abides by, using six Japanese botanicals – including sakura flower, sakura leaf, yuzu peel, sencha tea (green tea), gyokuro tea (refined green tea) and sanshō pepper, which are picked across the seasons at precisely the right time, to extract the best flavours.
Every aspect of Roku Gin is crafted by the House of Suntory's Japanese artisans in Osaka, with a centuries-old tradition of meticulous attention to detail.
The celebration starts with a refresh of Azabu’s menu, as head chef Yukio Ozeki gives a vibrant, light update to the offering in line with the concept of shun to reflect the changing season. There’s fresh, omakase sushi; new takes on rolls; while new dishes cooked on the Robata Grill bring smoky, outdoorsy flavours to the mix. These are designed to be devoured with the beachside restaurant’s Japanese-Peruvian plates, including tuna sashimi tostada, snapper tiradito, and grilled sirloin with Tokyo onions and wafu dressing.
There are also fresh cocktails that highlight the flavours of Roku Gin, including the Murasaki, which is mixed with beetroot juice, blood orange lemon, egg white and black pepper, the Shiso negroni, featuring Roku Gin alongside shiso, sour rhubarb and sweet vermouth, or the Roku and Sonic, with tonic, soda and fresh ginger.
On selected Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons, there is a Sip and Paint experience on offer, where guests can put brush to canvas to create their own vision of sakura. Guests, of course, will be able to sip on Roku Gin cocktails throughout the classes, while enjoying bites from Azabu’s spring menu.
To really rouse the festive spirit, renowned DJ Bobby ‘Brazuka’ Makai (co-founder of music act Latinaotearoa) will fill Azabu’s courtyard – which opens out onto the idyllic surrounds of Mission Bay – with tunes each Sunday afternoon, transforming it into the perfect spot to wile away the longer days.
To many Kiwis, gin is reminiscent of summer in a bottle. Roku Gin encourages us to get a head start on G&T season by evoking the Japanese practices of hanami and shun. The lush backdrop of Azabu allows us the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Roku presents Hanami at Azabu Mission Bay, runs between October 20 and the end of November, on Thursday evenings from 6.30pm and Sunday from 1pm. DJ sessions kick off on October 29.
Tickets to the Sip and Paint experience are $135 and include the class, three cocktails and four tasting plates, and are available to buy through iTicket.