Jonathan Barthelmess on The Apollo, Japan

22 May, 2018 by
Annabelle Cloros

Jonathan Barthelmess and Sam Christie opened a Greek restaurant in the heart of Tokyo. Here, he writes about cultural differences, the struggle to find the right ingredients in Japan and the differences between Australian and Japanese customers. 

The Apollo Ginza came about when Sam Christie and I met our business partners on a research trip to New York. It started as a conversation three years ago, and that conversation turned into reality when we opened the venue in 2016.

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Communication and cultural differences can be challenging. Most of our staff are Japanese, but there are a couple of ex-pats as well. The team has been working together now for over two years, and I feel we all have an understanding of each other’s expectations. Cultural differences are all better for the experience! Additionally, we have a number of staff members who work at both the Sydney and Tokyo venues.

Getting produce has been difficult. There is plenty of European, Italian and French products available, but no Greek ingredients. We had to work with the Greek Embassy and the Australian Embassy to get the right suppliers.

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We have kept the key ingredients of olive oil, fresh seafood and vegetables cooked over a wood fire, but there are some new additions such as Japanese beef and fresh roe for the taramasalata instead of cured.

We use locally sourced Japanese produce that changes seasonally in Japan — it’s definitely a more seasonal menu than Australia. We’re also showcasing Australian and Japanese beef in Tokyo, which we don’t have on the menu in Sydney.

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The biggest difference between Australian and Japanese customers is lunchtime dining. The Japanese clientele expect and enjoy set menus for lunch, which we have embraced at The Apollo Ginza.

We have tailored The Apollo to embrace Japanese produce rather than tailor it to the Japanese market — it is extremely important to stay true to what The Apollo is. We are very lucky to be a part of such a great, energetic city. I love it!

Image credit: Nikki To