Parabola, Nishi Azabu
I like wine. Who doesn't? I'm also interested in wine and enjoy learning about it and how it pairs with food, but I confess I am nowhere near to being any kind of wine expert. Tokyo has plenty of wine bars, but from what I've seen, a lot of them seem to specialize in wine from a particular country or region, and still others just appear far too intimidating for an amateur such as myself. Parabola, which opened in Nishi Azabu in July, thankfully falls into neither of the above categories.
After riding the elevator to the top floor of a very distinctive building, we were greeted at the entrance by Julian Stevens, the manager (or according to his business card, the floorman, fixer and vintagista—whatever that means). He showed us to a table in the corner, under a spiraling staircase that leads to a second level with more seating. Parabola is not a big place, but its open plan layout and modern, relaxing atmosphere are very conducive to sharing a couple of glasses of vino and some great food with a friend or small group. And the view of Roppongi Hills from the floor-to-ceiling windows doesn’t hurt either.
Parabola was started by Julian and his friend and business partner Richard Dawson as a place where wine lovers can go to experience good wines at reasonable prices. On any given night there are between 10 and 15 different wines available by the glass, with prices starting at just ¥500. And they aren’t rubbish wines either. “Quite often we’ll try to have wines with a bit of vintage to demonstrate the difference,” Julian said. Bottles start at ¥2,500, and on Wednesdays all bottles are 25 percent off, making them an even better deal.
On the Friday night we visited Parabola, the space was nearly full with a diverse crowd—a pair of Japanese businessmen at the bar, a few couples, and a very international looking group of four friends at one of the larger tables upstairs. Everyone was talking, laughing, and enjoying themselves, but it never seemed noisy.
When I asked Julian to recommend a wine for us to start with, he jumped right in without hesitation. His passion was clear, and it was further evidenced when he said, “Richard and I are both obsessed with wine.” Indeed, many of the bottles on offer at Parabola are from Richard’s personal collection.
We started with an En Rama Fino Tio Pepe sherry from Spain (¥1,000). I hadn’t had a taste of sherry in over a year, and didn’t remember the last time I actually purchased a bottle. Julian called it “the world’s most neglected wine treasure,” and after trying the Tio Pepe, I think he may be onto something. Bottled unfiltered and straight from the barrel, it was crisp and dry, with a nuttiness that perfectly complemented the slivered almonds in our broccoli and blue cheese soup (¥750).
Being that Parabola’s focus is on wine, the food is surprisingly creative and beautifully prepared. My favorite dish of the evening was the chilli lime prawns (¥1,200), which were served with thin, crispy crostini. Marinated in chilli, lime zest and coriander and with lime juice squeezed over them, they were tender and bursting with exciting flavors. The 2013 Lengs & Cooter Riesling from the Clare Valley in South Australia (¥1,000) was incredibly fresh, with just the right amount of citrus notes and a slight sweetness that washed down the prawns very nicely.
Our next wine of the evening was a 1998 Château Beaucastel from Châteauneuf du Pape in the Rhone Valley, and it was absolutely gorgeous. We were lucky that there happened to be a bottle open for pouring by the glass, as this delicious wine normally goes for ¥20,000 a bottle at Parabola. A blend of 13 different grape varietals containing a high percentage of Mourvèdre, it was rich, spicy and full of fruitiness. Julian said he hoped it would pick up the flavors in the bangers and mash (¥1,400) that we ate with it, and it absolutely did. The slight spiciness of the sausage, along with the rosemary mashed potatoes and balsamic-red onion gravy made for a very rich and satisfying course.
Thinking that this would be a tough act to follow and feeling our waistlines growing, we decided to move onto dessert. The lime and vanilla posset (¥700) was topped with a blackberry, raspberry and blueberry compote and served with shortbread—it was creamy yet light, and the combination of berries was juicy and delicious. We accompanied it with a final glass of wine—a 2001 Vouvray Demi-Sec from the Loire Valley in France (¥1,250). This biodynamic Chenin Blanc ended our evening on a high note—it was a dry dessert wine with a lovely bright yellow color, and its light sweetness balanced the tartness of the berries in the dessert.
As we left Parabola, our stomachs were full and our heads were spinning slightly, but I felt the most satisfied I’ve felt after a meal in a long time. We immediately began making plans to return with our friends to show them our great new find. The only hard part is deciding when to go, as various nights offer different types of promotions (like the bottle special mentioned above) and live music. To check the schedule or download the current menu, take a look at Parabola’s website.
Address: 7F Art Silo Bldg., 4-2-5 Nishi Azabu, Minato-Ku, Tokyo
Open: Mon-Fri 6 p.m.-late; Sat 10 a.m.-late; Sun 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
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