photo from Kirin website
In summer we love to head to the roofs of department stores for Japanese beer gardens. Kirin has a beer garden in Ginza that features a great new product, frozen draft beer. Well, not quite frozen, but very cold, and the foam on top is frozen.
Here is a map of restaurants in Tokyo (in Japanese) serving the frozen Kirin draft beer.
Alternatively, go to the Kirin Ichiban Shibori Frozen Garden Tokyo in Otemachi. Beer friendly dishes like edamame, fish and chips, rotisserie chicken, chips and guacamole, and more.
Chiyoda-ku, Otemachi 1-7-2, Tokyo Sankei Building 1F
090-3342-0148 (no reservations)
Weekdays 16:00～23:00（Last Order.22:30）
Sunday and holidays 12:00～20:00（L.O.19:30)
Grabbing a drink after work with colleagues or friends in Tokyo is great fun as there are so many options to choose from. These are some of my favorites from Food Sake Tokyo.
This friendly tachinomi (standing bar) is located on the back streets of Shinjuku Sanchome. Designed with Showa era items, it feels like stepping back in time. The shop features grilled innards, but you can have some items sashimi style. The brains are creamy and the yudetan (boiled tongue) is tender. If you can, grab a spot at the counter and notice how vigilant the staff is at keeping their cutting boards spotless. You can also see everything that’s being grilled and coming out of the open kitchen staffed with young, handsome men.
Shinjuku 3-7-3, Marunaka Building 1st floor
17:00 – 24:00, no holidays
Near Yoyogi-Uehara station is an upscale izakaya with a great selection of sake in the windowed refrigerator behind the long counter. The menu is diverse, including seafood, and small bites that call out to be had with nihonshu such as nuta, a vinegary miso dressing with seasonal seafood, or grilled ginko nuts.
Shibuya-ku, Uehara 1-32-15, Kobayashi Bldg. 1st floor
17:00 – 23:00, closed Sunday and holidays
Since 1925, Yamariki has often been ranked as one of the top ten izakaya in the city. Located in the shitamachi district of Morishita, there is usually a line waiting to get in. There is a second shop down the street and the staff will direct you there. Their signature item is a nikomi made from cow innards, port wine, Hatcho miso, sugar, and bouquet garni. The store proudly says that they have been adding to the same nikomi for over 40 years now. The other house specialty is the yakiton or grilled pork bits on a skewer. What makes Yamariki unique is they have a wine list (French only) and a friendly sommelier, Mizukami-san, who will help you match a wine with your food, as well as, of course, sake.
Koto-ku, Morishita 2-18-8
17:00 – 22:00, closed Sunday and holidays
Tachigui Sakaba Buri
The walls at buri are decorated with colorful cup sake from all over Japan. There are over 30 different types of sake served in individual cups. A unique sake to try is the frozen sake that is like a slush. The menu is filled with small plates of sake-friendly foods like seasonal seafood and grilled meats.
Tachigui Sakaba buri
Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Nishi 1-14-1
17:00 – 3:00 a.m., no holidays
Stand Bar Maru
Maru may be one of the best bargains in the city for standing bars. Located next door to a wine shop with about 200 wines, customers can purchase a bottle and have it opened for drinking at a nominal fee. The first floor is standing only (tachinomi), but if you get there early enough, you may be able to snag a seat in the second floor restaurant. Following the tapas concept, legs of Iberico ham are shaved per order, small plates are to share, and the grilled meats are highly recommended. This shop is in an out of the way area and is always busy with local young hipsters and salary-men from the area. The staff at this fourth-generation shop is very friendly.
Stand Bar Maru
Chuo-ku, Hatchobori 3-22-10
17:00 – 23:00, closed weekends and holidays
This article first appeared in the ACCJ Journal.
I first came upon this great standing bar about five years ago when it first opened. It had great reviews for being cheap, with great food, and a fun environment. It was exactly that. This is not your typical izakaya with Japanese fare but includes many tapa-style bites. The menu includes home-cured bacon, escargot, smoked butter toast, pork simmered in balsamico, and deep-fried octopus. The drink menu is extensive, including cocktails and whisky, but I stick to wine or sangria as it seems to be the best match with the food. The bar serves seven wines by the glass and is it is a busy place, the bottles are usually fresh. It is only a few minutes’ walk from the station, so perfect to stop by and have a drink and a few small plates if you are in the area.
Shibuya-ku, Ebisu 4-4-2, Kuresuto Ebisu 1F
closed Sunday and holidays
17:00 – 4:00 a.m.
Izakaya 居酒屋 are literally places to have something to drink. When I was working as a sommelier at the New York Bar and Grill at the Park Hyatt Tokyo my shift would end late at night, well after dinner. I would often stop by a local izakaya for a beer and some small bites. What made this one so special was the friendly mama-san. I was always welcomed and the food was all made by okaasan. Good izakayas should be just this, offering good food and drinks, and making the customer feel comfortable.
Tokyo is also home to some of the world’s top mixologists at places like Star Bar Ginza or Bar Tender. These will be covered in a separate post. For now, here are my favorite places to have a drink in Tokyo.
- A popular izakaya in the nostalgic shitamachi district of Morishita, Yamariki 山利喜 was introduced to me by Japan’s first Master Sommelier Ned Goodwin. Ned brought me here one night to drink French wines with izakaya cuisine. Yamariki has a sommelier on staff, Mizukami-san who will gladly pair wine with your order. One night here I ran into John Gauntner, who said the restaurant also has a great selection of nihonshu. Yamariki is also known for its nikomi, soy-simmered innards, which has been made with the same broth for over forty years. It is also known for its yakiton or grilled pork bits (like yakitori but made with pork instead of chicken). Koto-ku, Morishita 2-18-8.
- Sasagin 笹吟 has one of the better selections of nihonshu in the city and exquisite fare to go with it. Best of all, if you ask them to help you select interesting ones to try they will. It is very popular so reservations are highly recommended. Shibuya-ku, Uehara 1-32-15.
- For wine I love Maru マル because of its value. Next door to the standing bar is a wine shop. Pick up a bottle there and the corkage fee is only 500 yen at the bar. It feels a bit like a European wine bar with food like cured ham and cheese but there is also a grill station on the second floor for grilled skewers. There are also seats on the second floor. Chuo-ku, Hatchobori 3-22-10.
- Buri is a popular standing bar near Ebisu. I come here for the one cup sake, a selection of about 30 to choose from. Small plates to share, seasonal seafood, and some grilled meats. Ask for the frozen sake which is almost like a slushy. (I don’t think the brand I had was Hakutsuru, but this video shows you what the slushy looks like.) Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Nishi 1-14-1.
- Everyone needs at least one reliable place for beer and my go-to bar is The Harajuku Taproom. Delicious craft beer by the talented Bryan Baird and kushiyaki (grilled meats and vegetables). It is also conveniently located just off of Takeshita Dori, a few minutes’ walk from Harajuku station. There is also a location in Naka-Meguro. To educate your palate, try small cups of a variety of his beer. You won’t be disappointed. Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 1-20-13, No Surrender Bldg. 2F
- Saiseisakaba 再生酒場 is the place to go if you are into innards. From sashimi to simmered to grilled, you’ll find a wide selection to choose from. My personal favorite shop is in Monzennakacho but there is also a branch at the Shin Maru Building near Tokyo station. Alternatively, the Shinjuku branch too is a lot of fun. I usually drink shochu as it is a great partner for the offal. Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-7-3. www.ishii-world.jp/brand/motsu/nihonsaisei/shinjuku3/
- Located in the heart of Ginza, Sake no Ana 酒の穴 is on John Gauntner’s great book, The Sake Handbook. I came across it as I was looking for a place to try a variety of nihonshu over lunch and this was the only place that was open. I called ahead and was told that there was a kikizakeshi (sake sommelier) on staff and that he would be there for lunch. Sakamoto-san gave us exactly what we were looking for, a variety of different nihonshu. The evening menu is also available at lunch if you ask for it. Traditional izakaya bites like grilled himono (salted and air-dried fish), natto omelet, and much more. Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-5-8.
- It is a bit of a journey to Ikejiri Ohashi, but well worth it to get to Tsukushinoko つくしのこ. One of my favorite nights out learning about nihonshu with beer writer (and nihonshu aficionado) Bryan Harrell. It feels very local and cozy inside and the selection of nihonshu is great. Staff are also very knowledgeable and can help guide you through a variety of sips. Typical izakaya fare – ask for a nabe (hot pot) in the winter time, you won’t be disappointed. Meguro-ku, Higashiyama 3-1-11.
- If you are looking for somewhere to celebrate an occasion then the New York Bar & Grill in the Park Hyatt Tokyo is on top of my list. Perhaps you’ll recognize it from Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. The high ceilings and the spectacular views from the 52nd floor are breathtaking. My recommendation is to go just before sunset so that you can see the lights come up on the city as it sparkles below you. I used to work here, and I am even more convinced that this is one of Tokyo’s special places. Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 3-7-1-2.
- A good martini and burger can be found at beacon in Aoyama. One of Tokyo’s top chefs, David Chiddo not only makes a great burger, he also knows his martinis. David’s Perfect Martini is made from one of my favorite gins, Hendricks. Parent company T.Y. Express is also the owner of the brewery TY Harbor, making really good beer, which is also on the menu here at beacon. Solo diners can sit at the bar and enjoy their martini and burger. Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 1-2-5.
3. Juyondai Honjozo 十四代 本醸造
Premium sake, very hard to purchase retail. Often sold at much higher prices on E-bay (Sakamoto-san, the sake sommelier said that the bottle we had would go for 10,000 JPY even though the retail price is only about 2,500 JPY.)
From Yamagata prefecture.
http://www.yukinosake.com/juyondai.html (sake brewery site in Japanese)
rice: gohyakumangoku (somewhat popular for sake making)
4. Denshu Tokubetsu Junmaishu 田酒 特別純米酒
Also a premium sake from Aomori prefecture. Very hard to find outside of restaurants like this. Also sold overpriced on E-bay.
rice: Fubuki (don’t see this too often)
http://www.densyu.co.jp/list-d07_1.htm (sake in Japanese)
5. Dassai Junmai Daiginjo 獺祭 純米大吟醸
From Yamaguchi prefecture.
This is a top sake that is imported to USA. Good to look for at restaurants, and it is at most Japanese restaurants with a good sake list. This is one brand that I highly recommend.
Dassai also makes a nice nigori (unfiltered) sake that is also sparkling. Very fun to try if you get the chance.
Dassai is also famous for milling the rice down to only 23% of the original size. Dassai 23.
rice: Yamada Nishiki
http://www.asahishuzo.ne.jp/en/ (brewery site in English)
6. Kokken Yamahai Junmai Nigorizake 国権 山廃純米にごり酒
From Fukushima prefecture.
Nigorizake is unfiltered sake.
This one is also in the yamahai style where the sake ferments with naturally occurring yeasts in an open tank.
rice: Miyama Nishiki
http://www.kokken.co.jp/eng/top.html (brewery site in English)
http://www.kokken.co.jp/eng/makingsake.html (great info on sake making process in English)
http://www.kokken.co.jp/eng/products/pro20.html (sake in English)
7. Sake no Ana Daiginjo 酒の穴 大吟醸
A private label daiginjo sake made for the restaurant.
From Nagano prefecture by the Ozawa brewery.
Nagano is famous for its water. The bottled water they served here was also from this brewery.
rice: Yamada Nishiki
http://www.sakenoana.com/sake/nihonshu/index.htm (sake in Japanese)
8. Ryujin Daikoshu 1970 龍神 大古酒 ３０年
From Gunma prefecture.
Aged 30 years.
9. Kameizumi Junmai Ginjo Namazake 亀泉 純米吟醸 生酒
From Kochi prefecture.
Made with yeast that went into outer space called CEL-24.
There are many wonderful izakaya in Tokyo, however finding one that is open for lunch is a challenge. I was in particular looking for an izakaya with a wide variety of sake by the glass that is open for lunch. All of my favorites, including Sasagin and Takara are only open for dinner.
I found this izakaya from John Gauntner’s great book, The Sake Handbook. John Gauntner’s wonderful website is also an outstanding resource that lists the top izakaya in the city. Out of all of these, only Sake no Ana is open for lunch. Sake no Ana in Ginza is an amazing place to go for lunch if you want to try many different sake by the glass. The location also can not be beat, in the heart of Ginza across the street from Matsuya department store. When I made our reservation I confirmed that a sake sommelier would be on hand to help with the tasting.
Sakamoto-san (no relation, unfortunately) was amazing. I asked him to taste us through all of the different types of sake (from honjozo, junmaishu, daiginjo) and asked him to put in some other fun stuff like nigorizake and koshu. Also, good to know that the evening menu which is full of sake-friendly bites, is available at lunch, you just need to ask for it. The restaurant is busy at lunchtime, mostly with salarymen and office ladies taking their set lunch specials, so it is not really the most conducive environment for such a tasting. But if you are in Tokyo for a limited time and want to use a lunch to explore sake, then I truly believe this is the best spot in the city. And Sakamoto-san is friendly, knowledgeable, and provided exactly what we wanted, a variety of sake.
Highlights of our tasting:
All sake below are between 15-16% alcohol unless stated.
1. Suzune すず音
Sparkling sake from Ichinokura (name of brewery) in Miyagi prefecture.
http://www.ichinokura.co.jp/english.html (website in English)
http://www.ichinokura.co.jp/syohin/t/suzune.html (picture of the bottle with notes in Japanese)
You called this the Moscato d’Asti of sake.
alcohol: 4.5 – 5.5%
nihonshudo: -70 to -90
2. Fukucho Purasu X Karakuchi Natsu Ginjoshu 福久長 プラスX 辛口夏吟醸酒
Made by Miho Imada, a female toji (sake brewer) – very rare for Japan where most sake brewers are men.
Made in Hiroshima prefecture.
Yamada Nishiki rice (most popular rice for making sake)
http://fukucho.info/?mode=f6 (sake brewery site in English) – good notes here on the sake making process
On average the MW demands around a decade of study and is a mutli-disciplined course that examines vineyard work, vinification, marketing / business and contemporary issues such as Global Warming, the rise of China et al. These sections are woven around four-days of exams that constitute the ‘Theory’ section of the exam. Each day consists of three one hour essays aside from the final and fourth day, which consists of two essays.
In addition, each morning over the first three-days, one sits the ‘Practical’ section of the exam. The ‘Theory’ follows in the afternoon. The ‘Practical’ constitutes a white, red and ‘mixed bag’ (often fortifieds and sparkling, but not necessarily) paper; each 2 1/4 hours long with 12 wines across each discipline.
These two sections are then followed by a 10,000 word dissertation on a subject pertinent to the market that one works in. Diss was on Jap. sommeliers & whether the wine by-the-glass in a tightly defined tier of restaurant chosen by them, had physiological synergies with a tightly defined customer type that both drinks wine and goes to the defined ilk of restaurant. In other words, are sommeliers here giving customers what they like, or do Japanese prefer (possibly) other similarly priced wine by-glass styles, that for some reason or other, are not popular here (Gruner, Rose etc.).
The Master Sommelier is more service-focused without the overall range or discipline across many facets of the wine world, that the MW demands.
2. What are some of your favorite places to drink wine in Tokyo?
Shonzui in Roppongi (Minato-ku, Roppongi 7-10-2)
Buchi at Shinsen kousaten (Shibuya-ku, Shinsen-cho 9-7)
Fiocchi in Soshigaya-Okura (Setagaya-ku, Soshigaya 3-4-9)
Tharros in Shibuya (Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 1-5-2, Shibuya SED Bldg).
3. What are your favorite retail wine shops in Tokyo?
I mostly get my wine directly from producers, wholesalers or importers albeit, if I were to purchase wine at a retail level, Tokyu Honten (Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 2-24-1) is very good.
I think pairing wine with Japanese food is relatively straightforward given that the dominant flavour profiles are sweet/salt, with and subtle textures an important part-at least with traditional Japanese fare. The major stumbling block is the rather ethnocentric and closed mentality of many Japanese chefs and even sommeliers when it comes to matching wine with anything Japanese. True, there is of course beer and Nihon-shu, although wine offers a different and equally fun experience. Izakaya-styled food is particularly good with a slew of rose styles although, perhaps due to their perceived simplicity, rose has not really taken on here as a category. Umami and its yeasty, savouriness lends itself well to wines that have spent time on lees, such as many Chardonnays and bottle-fermented sparkling wines.
5. Any wine trends you see in Tokyo or in Japan?
Recessionary pressures mean less expensive wines and the rise therefore, of imports from places such as Chile. There is an overall lack of dynamism in the market and the power of China, Hong Kong and other SE Asian markets has usurped Japan’s muscle, to a great degree, on the world stage. I believe that many Japanese still want to drink quality at a better price rather than a cheap price, however. Yet because selling in a western sense is foreign to most Japanese and their attention to ‘face’ and ambiguity / lack of direct sales techniques; wines that sell themselves (cheap and/or from mainstream regional brands such as Chianti, Chablis etc.) are relied on instead of sommeliers and salespeople actively suggesting real value across, perhaps, lesser known regions. Salespeople in Japan rarely engage the customer, but play to a love of pomp and aesthetics in terms of sertvice styles. Unfortunately, these approaches often fail to get good wine of value in glasses!
Ned’s links include:
UPDATE as of December 15, 2012:
Ned has made two wines under the “Good Wine” label. These Australian wines are perfect for entertaining or for your new house wine. Pinot Grigio and a Cabernet & Shiraz blend. E-mail me for details for delivery in Japan.
Imbibers in Japan, be on the lookout for Drinking Japan, A Guide to Japan’s Best Drinks and Drinking Establishments. The author, Chris Bunting, has an impressive website on Japanese whisky:
Here is the link to the book on Tuttle Publishing’s website: