4 Best Gourmet Sake Bars To Get A Taste Of Japan

The recent return to Phase 2 Covid-19 restrictions may have dashed our dreams of escaping the borders, but while we eagerly anticipate the opening up of travel, here’s where you can have a taste of Japan through its sake offerings, without having to leave the country.

01 | Rockon Tokyo

The intimate 22-seater Rockon Tokyo on Tanjong Pagar Road serves up obanzai, home-styled cooking native to Kyoto, presented in a menu that changes every two weeks depending on the availability of fresh seasonal ingredients. The name “Rockon” is a play on the Japanese word for “6” (roku), inviting diners to appreciate their meal with all six of their senses. 

A concise a la carte menu of both cold and hot dishes include kushiyaki skewers as well as a selection of oden (Japanese fish cake stew) that some diners may find familiar: the team here are also behind Kamoshita on Neil Road, famed for their oden.

A good introduction to Rockon Tokyo’s food comes in the form of their eight-course omakase menu ($88), which comprises a starter, assorted obanzai, a warm dish, seasonal sashimi, charcoal-grilled seasonal fish, seasonal fried fish, tamago kake gohan (rice bowl topped with a torched egg white meringue and yolk) and dessert. Up the extravagance of your rice bowl by opting for the Gout-O ICU, the holy trinity of ikura, caviar and uni; or the Rock On! Tokyo Treasure Box, with its generous servings of uni, caviar, crabmeat, ikura and shavings of black truffles. You can also opt for a five-glass sake pairing.

A former chef at the Japanese embassy in London, sake sommelier Koki Miyoshi has curated one of the most comprehensive sake lists in the city. For sake connoisseurs, speciality sakes like Juyondai Daiginjo and Isojiman Daiginjo will no doubt delight, while favourites from Akita’s Aramasa sake brewery like the Amaneko Sparkling and No. 6 are also on the list.

106 Tanjong Pagar Road; facebook.com/rockontokyo

02 | Tanoke

A portmanteau of the words “taberu” (to eat), “nomu” (to drink) and “sake” (the nihonshu that celebrates the bond between people, food and drink), Tanoke is a new sake bar along Purvis Street opened by the same folks behind izakaya and sake bar Kabuke.

Tanoke’s cuisine revolves around head chef Rio Neo’s expertise with the traditional shichirin binchotan grill, where he coaxes out the natural flavours and textures of quality cuts of meat and seafood. Not-to-be-missed grilled items include the A5 Tochigi Wagyu Ribeye, tender koji-aged New Zealand coastal baby lamb rack and air-dried Japanese flying squid served with yuzu kosho cream. Busy executives would appreciate the lunch sets, where a variety of rice bowls topped with binchotan grilled meats or seafood are accompanied by miso soup, salad and ice cream.

For something special on the weekends, Tanoke has created a free-flow sake brunch. Available from 11.30am to 3pm on Sundays, the brunch menu includes reinvented staples like pancakes and karaage, foie gras and onsen egg benedict and sandwiches, as well as the option of an unlimited flow of sparkling sake, Bijofu Junmai Ginjo and beer.

Tanoke curates a selection of over 40 premium artisanal sakes that not only complements the cuisine but also brings one on an experiential journey across Japan to taste each region’s natural terroir. The sake selection is categorised by regions and includes offerings from boutique breweries in the area and seasonal specials. To further showcase Japanese nihonshu and ingredients, Tanoke also has a special cocktail section featuring in-house creations like Nimechi’s Pond, a combination of Katsuyama En Junmai, Fabbri Elderflower, Campari and lemon juice; and Yoi Sakusha, with Sharaku Junmai, Sakura Vermouth, Fabbri Elderflower and soda.

7 Purvis Street, level 2; tanoke.sg

03 | Sake Labo

From the same guys behind Japanese omakase restaurant Nishikane and casual bar restaurant Cicada in Clarke Quay, comes this new F&B establishment on Stanley Street that combines three concepts into one space: a retail bottle shop, gastrobar serving Japas dining and speciality sake, and an omakase Chef’s Table experience. 

Upon entering Sake Labo, one is in the retail space, where massive refrigerators contain a curated selection of high quality and small batch craft sake imported directly from Japanese breweries. The purpose-built refrigerators are kept at negative temperatures to preserve the integrity of each sake’s flavour and aroma. Other sake paraphernalia one can pick up here include sake carafes, tote bags for sake bottles and a variety of sake cups made of tin, a material that helps to bring out the flavour of sake.

Beyond the retail shop are the dining areas: an intimate bar space downstairs and main dining halls upstairs. Sake Labo specialises in what they term Japas, or Japanese-style tapas, with signature dishes like Truffle Somen, topped off with sakura ebi, avruga caviar and tobiko; Ebi Al Ajillo, Josper-cooked prawns with sake kasu served on a sizzling hot plate; and Labo Sando, juicy wagyu katsu sando served with homemade tonkatsu sauce. Complementing the fare are cult brand sakes, artisanal sakes brewed in minutely small batches, as well as a range of house blend sakes brewed in collaboration with Kamonishiki brewery.

At the back of the upper floor is an open kitchen, helmed by award-winning executive chef Angus Chow and where the Chef’s Table experience takes place. 

29 Stanley Street; envyhospitality.co/sakelabo

04 | Sakemaru Hideout

Sake enthusiasts will undoubtedly have heard of Sakemaru, an online boutique for artisanal sake that also offers a monthly sake subscription service. After five years of educating consumers about sake appreciation through their online presence, they’ve decided to make the world of sake even more approachable by opening their first restaurant. 

Sakemaru Artisan Sake Hideout, or Sakemaru Hideout for short, is an intimate gastrobar nestled in a shophouse along South Bridge Road, where modern Kappa-style Japanese cuisine is paired with an ever-evolving list of 300 artisanal sake. Working with small batch and at times rare breweries in Japan, Sakemaru’s sake menu is curated by Tadashi Okushima, who was designated by the Japan Sake Sommelier Association as its first honourable sake sommelier. Some of Sakemaru’s exclusive sakes are from breweries like Tempoichi Shuzo, a 111-year-old small brewery in Hiroshima; Kikuzakari Shuzo, a family run brewery from Iwate Prefecture; and Mikunibare Shuzo, a 136-year-old brewery in Ikuji, Kurobe in Toyama Prefecture, famed for its pristine spring water.

On the food front, an a la carte menu lists delightful bites such as tuna tossed with chilli pepper, miso-based horse mackerel tartar, charcoal grilled Miyazaki pork, simmered tender beef tongue and snow crab and scallops claypot rice, perfect for pairing with the sake on offer. Diners can also opt for the 12-course omakase tasting menu (from $200), with an optional sake pairing. This entitles one to sit at the coveted counter seats where one has a view of the magic taking place in the kitchen. 

55 South Bridge Road; sakemaru.me/sg/hideout

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