Whenever we think we’ve seen it all, some enterprising chef or restauranteur brings something new to the LA food scene. In the case of Aroha in Westlake Village, it’s the food of New Zealand, now available to local diners for the first time. What is New Zealand cuisine, you wonder? “The mindset with New Zealand cooking is to always push the natural flavor above all else,” says the 27-year-old chef-owner Gwithyen Thomas. “All the food on the menu at Aroha is inspired by the experiences I had as a child in New Zealand.”
Many of the dishes that Thomas brought with him across the ocean will have a familiar feel to eaters accustomed to the farm-to-table California cuisine of recent years, but Aroha’s are made distinctive with the use of produce and ingredients imported from New Zealand. All the seafood on the menu—appearing in dishes like an Ora King Salmon served with grilled plum, corn, green beans, and miso-sesame glaze—is flown in fresh from sustainable fisheries around the island nation.
“I fly in all my seafood from New Zealand because I like to know exactly where my food is coming from,” he says. “It’s a pretty cool thing that just 12 to 14 hours ago, this beautiful fish was across the world.”
The lamb and elk, too, are straight from the other side of the world, as are all the cheeses, and the even butter used in the kitchen. New Zealand bottles are prominent on the wine list as well. Other ingredients come from an on-site garden that Thomas oversees. He grows his own tomatoes and even passionfruits just outside the restaurant’s patio, in view of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Living so far from home, Thomas uses his cooking to stay connected to his roots. “We used to go on trips in the winter to several snowy mountains and pick wild elderflower. That light, beautiful, fragrance really takes me back on a journey, so whenever I’m feeling particularly inspired by that memory, I like to make a fresh elderflower seafood broth with snapper and grouper. I tend to describe the dish as magical and playful, reminding me of those childhood dreams of pixies and fairies.”
Aroha, located at 30990 Russel Ranch Road in Westlake Village, is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and brunch on Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.