Right now, more and more people are rethinking what they know about Japanese sake in Tokyo. Even amongst the younger set, there is a dramatic increase in people whose eyes have been opened to all of sake’s many appeals. So for beginners coming in from overseas, we’ll introduce some restaurants where you can get to know the real deliciousness of Japanese sake. (Top photo: Miogi)
Honoka - Where you can sample all the sake you’d like to find that one bottle just for you
One point in drinking delicious sake is to know what you like. While ideally it’d be best if you could sample different kinds, there’s the problem of the wide variety of flavors, aromas, and prices.
We recommend stopping by Honoka, located at Musashikoyama Station, two stops on the Tokyu Meguro Line from JR Meguro Station. It’s a sake-only bar with none of the draft beer and shochu normally found in Japanese izakaya restaurants. They have 70 - 80 different sake brands available, each only JPY 550 (120cc). From popular name brands to satisfying selections, you can sample them all at a reasonable price.
Restaurant owner Mitsuru Takizawa explains why all his sake is one price: “When I go out drinking myself, I don’t want to pick what I drink based on price.” And for those who want to try all the name brands, you can order in 90cc (JPY 450) and 60cc (JPY 300) sizes as well.
Takizawa recommends the 3-set sampler for those who don’t know where to start. In addition to the dry sake set and the ajiwai set, you’ll find sampler sets where you can really taste the difference in the rice used and the brewing methods - perfect for the beginner looking to have their eyes opened. Even dry sake will open your eyes to how good brewing rice can be, and how sake can be as smooth as fresh water.
Takizawa comes from a famous restaurant background, and his dishes are extremely popular. His famous fried miso goes so well with sake that patrons rarely put down their chopsticks or glasses. Once paired with a delicious snack, you’ll find that you’ve emptied your sake glass in no time. Sample to your heart’s content to find the brand that’s just right for you.
Koyama 3-5-20, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo Tel: 03-3792-3232 Hours: Tues. - Sat. 18:00 - 1:00, Sun./holidays 18:00 - 23:00, closed Mondays
Miogi - For a real Kanzake (heated sake) experience!
Time unlocks the taste and aroma in wine, much the same way that temperature brings out a variety of features in sake. And nothing brings out the richness of sake more than kanzake, or heating sake.
One place that’s popular with people who love heated sake is Miogi, located near Ginza-icchoume Station on the Yurakucho subway line. While heated sake is popular in winter, it’s available here year-round - Ai Watanabe, the bar owner and a master at heating sake, jokes, “You can order hot miso soup in the summer too, right?” You can order cold or room temperature sake here, but Watanabe says lovingly, “I guarantee there’s nothing better than a heated glass of junmai sake as I talk with a sake manufacturer and sample various wares.”
Once you try her heated Shinkame sake, you’ll be surprised at how different it tastes from elsewhere. What sets it off are the subtle layers of flavor after the initial smooth, rich taste. “For people who drink heated sake, they say even the same sake tastes different depending on the temperature.
Heating sake is an extremely delicate task, and another feature of Miogi is their preference for junmai sake. Junmai sake uses an old brewing method of just rice, malted rice, and water. It has a rich body, and you can really taste the deliciousness of the rice. Watanabe says, “It’s perfect for heating, and goes great with meals. Since you can really bring out the best in junmai sake, many manufacturers are pushing people to drink it.”
The chefs here show off their skills in Japanese culinary skills too. They offer quality dishes that aren’t too lavish, but taste nothing like home cooking. Their handsomely prepared dishes stand out. Out-of-the-ordinary food, with real heated sake - even in Tokyo, izakaya restaurants like this are rare.
B1 Hulic Nishi Ginza Bldg. 2, 2-2-4 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo Tel: 03-3563-6033 Hours: 17:00 - 23:30, open year round (occasionally closed Sundays/holidays)
Kiraz - Nouveau sake and Spanish cuisine in harmony
Here at Kiraz in Meguro, you’ll find the perfect marriage of Japanese sake and Spanish cuisine.
The bar’s owner, Kana Mamiya, says, “We introduced a Spanish bar style here to make people who don’t normally drink sake feel more at ease. I hope more people will get to know all of sake’s charms.”
Mamiya actually comes from Miyoshikiku Brewery, which has been brewing sake for over 100 years. Of course, she introduces people to and supports other regional breweries as well.
The majority of her sake is non-filtered/pure sake fresh from the brewers. You’ll also find a wide selection of new brands from young brewers here as well. It’s sure to be a hot-spot for new sake trends.
Today she offered some nouveau sake, a bubbly, tart Miyoshikiku Happo served in a champagne glass that makes a perfect aperitif. Yamayu Sakekomachi has a colorful, fruity flavor to it; you’ll wonder if either of these sakes is really made from rice. Their elegant aroma and flavor are popular with women.
Meanwhile, the Spanish cuisine goes surprisingly well with sake. Mamiya notes, “How Spanish cuisine brings out the essential taste of its ingredients is very similar to Japanese cuisine, making it a great match for sake.”
Enjoy modern sake in this casual atmosphere together with western-style snacks. No wonder Kiraz is popular with the younger crowd familiar with, and fond of, wine and sake. Even Japanese people should stop by to give their fresh sake a taste.
Mita 2-9-5, Meguro-ku, Tokyo Tel: 03-3712-7277 Hours: 18:30 - 23:00, closed Sundays and Mondays, irregular holidays may apply