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An Interview with Hiromi MAEKAWA, Owner of Shinobazu Brewery Lovers Lamb

A Popular Restaurant Known for its Mouthwatering Lamb Chops and Paella
  • delicious Japan
  • June 11, 2024
The Shinobazu Brewery Lovers Lamb holds the record for Japan's highest lamb chops sales. This restaurant, located in Ueno, an old town area, constantly challenges itself and aims to create a happier local community with its shining presence. It's just a matter of time until it earns its place among the esteemed Bib Gourmand restaurants.

President, Nagaoka Shoji Co., Ltd.

Congratulations on serving over 2 million lamb chops! Can you share the story behind opening a lamb restaurant?

I was born and raised in Ikenohata in the Ueno area. Despite having yet to experience the food and beverage industry, I was eager to create a restaurant that could positively impact my town. I envisioned a space that would be welcoming for women in an area traditionally more focused on male clientele. I knew that offering high-quality and appealing products would be crucial to achieve this. I aimed to develop dishes that would resonate as "soul food" for the Ueno area.
After considering it, opening a restaurant specializing in lamb chops would be a great idea. Although lamb is not widely favored among the general population, it is a high-quality meat rich in vitamins and with high nutritional value. Therefore, it would be an excellent option for women prone to anemia or wanting to improve their physical strength.
I thought grilling lamb chops with a sauce similar to yakitori would be popular with people in the old town area who have never eaten lamb. I also believed a soy sauce base would appeal to foreigners, so I created the secret sauce we use now and started serving them one by one. I wanted to develop old-town soul food and establish a lamb-eating culture following chicken and pork here in Ueno.

I understand that the lamb is sourced from New Zealand. Why did you choose New Zealand?

Australia and New Zealand are the two major lamb-producing countries, but New Zealand lamb chops fit my idea of the perfect lamb chops. For me, it's not just about marinating lamb in sauce and grilling it over charcoal; the overall dining experience is also essential. For instance, it's rare in Japan to eat meat with your hands, especially on a first date. Holding a grilled lamb chop and taking a bite from it must be graceful and cute, especially from a man's perspective. Therefore, the size of the lamb chop matters - it shouldn't be too big. New Zealand lamb is small, and the fat distribution is also crucial. The proper distribution of fat adds to the overall deliciousness of the lamb. The fat is surprisingly easy to eat, and the right size of the meat, the distribution of fat, and lack of odor are my top three criteria for choosing the perfect lamb.

Could you please explain the concept behind your restaurant and what your specialties are?

We specialize in lamb chops and paella and aim to be a restaurant that appeals to discerning career women in their 30s and 40s who may visit us once or twice a week. Our concept is to cater to old-town locals with sophisticated palates who are also mindful of prices.
We thoroughly research both the ingredients and the grilling techniques. In the West, they grill the ingredients in the oven in chunks of six or eight pieces and then cut them up. In our restaurant, we grill each piece individually. This process involves cutting each piece, marinating it, and grilling it to ensure a perfectly grilled surface. Grilling the pieces in the marinating sauce allows the excess oil to drip off, resulting in a delicious taste.
We invest a lot of time and effort in grilling. Similar to yakitori, the grilling method can significantly impact the final taste. Grilling in front of the customers is also important to us. Carefully grilling using the far infrared rays of charcoal is crucial, as it produces a fluffy grilling effect. Additionally, we utilize a grilling technique that takes advantage of charcoal. Mastering the art of grilling lamb takes practice.

What type of dining experience do you want to offer your international customers at your restaurant?

We have many foreign customers on weekends and holidays, but on average, they make up about 10% of the total customer base. Our restaurant serves lamb, which can be enjoyed regardless of religion. We aim to create a dining experience that locals can also enjoy. Our goal is to provide people from overseas with delicious food and an enjoyable experience. We want people to visit our restaurant, interact with the local community, and feel happy about choosing our restaurant and visiting Japan. By connecting with the locals, visitors will have great experiences in Ueno and develop a fondness for it. Our goal is for our restaurant to serve as a place where people can make memories with locals and Japanese people."

What vision or goal do you want to achieve with this restaurant?

I want to showcase the best of this region through its food. I want as many people as possible to know that places like this exist in Japan. We have established an event space in the basement, which will become a hub for young people to gather and use for various purposes. I also hope our connections with the local community will strengthen and the region will gain more recognition. Furthermore, I would love to see our Japanese lamb chop featured in a Bib Gourmand!

"What does 'true hospitality' mean to you?"

Our mission is to support people in having a comfortable and happy experience through food. Hospitality means creating a space where people feel glad to have chosen to dine with us. As stated in our corporate philosophy, our goal is to continue to provide happiness through smiles and joy.