Category Archives: bar

Sake: Decoding the Label | Bar Zingaro – July 11th, 2015

Click on image for full-size flyer

Click on image for full-size flyer

Sake labels can be as aesthetically pleasing as they are frustrating to comprehend. The indecipherable names and classifications can make approaching a bottle of sake an intimidating experience, even for Japanese speakers. But fear not. By becoming familiar with some sake basics, as well as a few keywords, you will be able to take some of the guess work out of making your next sake selection.
This month at Bar Zingaro we will be decoding sake labels and learning how to use this information to predict the aromas and flavours inside. Join Rebekah Wilson-Lye for a presentation on “Sake: Decoding the Label” followed by a guided tasting of beautifully crafted sake from seven innovative breweries.

Aramasa 新政 – Aramasa Shuzo, Akita

Kid 紀土 – Heiwa Shuzo, Wakayama

Tamagawa 玉川 – Kinoshita Shuzo, Kyoto

Koikawa 鯉川 – Koikawa Shuzo, Yamagata

Iwaki Kotobuki 磐城壽 – Suzuki Shuzo Honten Nagai Kura, Yamagata

Ishizuchi 石鎚 – Ishizuchi Shuzo, Ehime

Kidoizumi 木戸泉 – Kidoizumi Shuzo, Chiba

We look forward to seeing you at Bar Zingaro!

Please contact us with the following information to
-Number of participants
-Phone number.
※Please note that the reservation will not be completed until you receive the confirmation e-mail from Bar Zingaro.
Do not hesitate in contacting us by phone if you have any questions: 03-5942-8382

<Entrance fee>
JPY3,000 (to cover the sake tasting and a plate of cheese and ham) will be collected on the day of the event.

Special thanks to my sponsors for this event, Atilika Inc.

Special thanks to my sponsors for this event, Atilika Inc.





新政 − 新政酒造、秋田県

紀土 – 平和酒造、和歌山県

玉川 − 木下酒造、京都府

鯉川 − 鯉川酒造、山形県

磐城壽 − 鈴木酒造本店長井蔵、山形県

石鎚 – 石鎚酒造、愛媛県

木戸泉 − 木戸泉酒造、千葉県





Tapas dining in the heart of Tsukiji Fish Market: Uogashi Bar Tamatomi – 魚河岸バル 築地 TAMATOMI

Wandering through the narrow alleyways of Tsukiji’s outer market after dark is a fairly surreal experience. There is no trace of the drama and energy of the early morning operations, when the world’s largest fish market is a buzz with action: wholesalers and retailers noisily touting for trade, lorries whizzing perilously through the maze of streets, narrowly missing (or perhaps aiming for) the crowds of gaping, SLR totting tourists who descend on the area, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. After hours the place is eerily quiet. Shops are all shuttered. The sightseers are gone. The only sign of life comes from men in white sushi shop uniforms standing forlornly outside a brightly lit, and depressingly empty, 24-hour chain store.

Tsukiji Tamatomi

But what lured me to the area was not the prospect of a cheap sushi dinner, rather a seat at one of Tokyo’s best kept secrets: Uogashi Tamatomi, a tiny 10 seat tapas bar which continues to do a bustling trade while the rest of the market sleeps.

Born and raised in Tsukiji, owner and chef Takamasa Mochizuki is a true Edo-ko. For four generations his family has made a humble living catering to the needs of the local workforce; former incarnations have been a condiments store, an o-bento shop, and more recently a tobacconist. So when Mochizuki-san inherited the space, relatives advised him to open a donburi or sushi shop – both sure-fire sources of revenue; advise that he promptly, and willfully, ignored. Travels had broadened his horizons and firmed his resolve. His dream was to open his own casual eatery where his friends could enjoy the best of Tsukiji’s produce with Mediterranean flavours, washed down with a chilled glass of his preferred tipple, Lambrusco.

The dimensions of the space are impossibly small. The whole counter has to reorganise themselves each time a new customer enters to take their seat. It’s so small in fact that there is no space for a bathroom. But somehow this just adds to Tamatomi’s charm. These little inconveniences are insignificant when compared to the excellent food that comes out of the miniscule kitchen each night.

Given its location, there is only one protein on offer: fish – and plenty of it. For a non-mammal eater, like myself, his weekly changing menu is a pescetarian’s delight. During the summer months, heat ravaged constitutions can be revived with a light and refreshing dishes like this new season sanma (Pacific saury) capaccio.

Or perhaps a shime-saba salad with a bright balsamic dressing.

This amadai (tilefish) dish was notable not only for being beautifully cooked, but because it served unscaled. Mochizuki-san had grilled it in such a way that the scales had become papery crisp; adding an interesting textural element to the dish.

But it’s in winter, when fish is most bountiful and delicious, that I return to Tamatomi with almost maniacal devotion. And I’m not alone – it’s the most difficult season to secure a booking.

Case in point: this crudo of kanburi – thickly marbled cubes of winter yellowfin which had been caught in the frigid coastal waters of Toyama. The beauty of this dish is the simplicity of its preparation: cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of lemon. The seasoning was perfectly balanced to enhance, rather than mask, the exquisite flavour of the fish.

The raw delights continued with a dish of tairagai (razor clam) capaccio, dressed in a piquant herbal marinade. I adore the texture and sweet succulence of this bi-valveespecially with sharp flavours to cut their richness.

The Mame Kinki (baby thornhead) fritto was light, crispy and delightfully fun to eat.

While wine is available by the bottle, there is a by-the-glass selection of a red, a white and, of course, a Lambrusco. All are pretty decent, and – at only ¥500 a pop – very good value for money.

Initially, I wasn’t quite sure of the logic of pairing Lambrusco with fish, but my God did it make sense once I had my first taste; light, refreshing and with a good amount of acidity to cut through the rich olive oils that Mochizuki-san uses so liberally.

Lambrusco is a much derided wine due, in part, to the glut of mass-produced, cloyingly sweet swill that saturated the North American market in the ’80s. In recent years, however, it has undergone something of a revival, with small producers cutting back yields, improving grape quality, and utilising traditional winemaking techniques. The result is a far cry from the cherry-cola like alco-pop of yore – this is now a wine to be taken seriously.

The ‘genuine’ Lambrusco of the Emilia-Romagna region is young, fresh, with the flavour of fresh berries anchored by a faint earthiness – and it’s almost never sweet. Its gentle frizzante sparkle, acidity and dry finish make it a perfect partner for rich, olive oil based dishes.

Tamatomi’s house Lambrusco, Cavicchioli Amiable, is a very reasonably priced entry point to this underrated style. It’s simple, light and zesty, thought not much in the way of tannins or body, but a charming and very drinkable wine, nonetheless.

Foremost amongst the superior producers is Manicardi, from the hilly Castelvetro region of Emilia-Romagna. It’s difficult to resist its lively violet foam, wild berry flavours and dry, savoury finish. This wine pairs beautifully with roasted fish.

And roasted fish doesn’t get much better than Oma maguro. Available for only a limited season (October to December), and caught using the labour intensive ippon zuri method – single-hook hand-line fishing – which is unique to the area that gives it its name, Oma is regarded as Japan’s highest quality, and therefore most expensive, bluefin tuna. While the up-market sushi shops of Ginza snap the prime belly meat, Mochizuki-san prefers to use the more humble, and less expensive, off-cuts such as this jawbone; oven roasted to golden perfection so that the meat literally fell off the bone. The gamey, rich flavour of the meat was enhanced by an infusion of fresh thyme – elevating this simple dish to something quite heavenly. Served with a side dish of rocket salad tossed through with a Reggio Emilia balsamico dressing, this was indeed a hallelujah moment.

Tamatomi was born out of Mochizuki-san’s refusal to confirm to conventional ideas of what a Tsukiji eatery ‘should be’, and in doing so he has created a unique dining experience where the strict rules that apply to fish & wine do not apply. He serves apologetically simple, well executed food and easy-drinking wine without superficiality or artifice. For me, that’s a recipe for success – and why converts like myself continue to make the pilgrimage his small but inviting door.

Closed on Sundays and all Tsukiji Market holidays. No English spoken. No English menu. If you don’t speak Japanese think twice, or take a friend who does. Reservations at least one week in advance. 

Uogashi Tamatomi

Tokyo Coffee: Fuglen Tokyo – Yogogi-Hachiman, フグレン トウキョウ – 代々木八幡

A Nordic ‘Bird’ has nested in Yoyogi Koen, and if the number of fixed-gear bikes parked at its door is any indication, it’s certainly got Tokyo’s bespectacled hipster set atwitter. 

This new foreign resident is Fuglen, a Norwegian import which, since its opening this past May, has built a solid reputation and garnered a loyal following amongst foreign and Japanese coffee aficionados alike. Originating in Oslo, this multi-concept space is a cafe cum vintage store by day, and by night a cocktail bar where cultures, conversations and design converge.

The retro colours, 60’s modernist furniture and dark wooden cabinetry, which showcase a selection of vintage Nordic ceramics – all are available for purchase – create an aesthetic which is effortlessly cool yet decidedly laidback. Customers can lounge on the leather sofa while flicking through a thoughtful selection of Scandinavian design books and the latest edition of uber-style bible, Monocle, or take a pew at one of the window seats which look out over a quiet residential street. All the while the place hums with conversations spoken in a multitude of languages, and so for a moment it’s easy loose one’s bearings. The reason for this is, explains manager Kenji Kojima, “This isn’t Japan, this is little Oslo.”

Unusually for Tokyo, Fuglen is open from 8am on weekdays (I predict this will be a growing trend as locals cotton on to the idea of a cafe breakfast), and, rarer still, serves remarkably good coffee. Along with Nozy Coffee beans, which are used for espresso, they also offer a selection of Norwegian roasts as fresh brew & aeropress coffee. Again, all are available for purchase – albeit at steep Norwegian prices.

Food is minimal: you can order a smoked salmon sandwich or choose one the pastries that are occasionally displayed on the counter.  But if you’re peckish, don’t dispair – bring your own. Yes, that’s right, one of Fuglen’s charming idiosyncrasies is its BYO food policy – a system it has adopted from its parent store. Bring along some tasty morsels from a local bakery (I recommend Viron and Cheese Stand), or order a takeout from your favourite delivery service. No one will bat an eyelid.

The atmosphere changes at dusk when the dim lights come on and the bar seats fill. Japanese and Norwegian craft beers are popular on a balmy summer’s evening, as are their extensive list of cocktails, all conceived by champion mixologist, Halvor Digernes.

I was fortunate enough to meet the man himself on one of his regular trips to Tokyo to update the staff on the preparation of his bespoke cocktails. His signature Dandy Lion, the cocktail which scored him a victory at the 2011 Linie Awards, is a revelation: Linie Aquavit, Dandelion root, bee pollen syrup, lemon, egg-white and burdock bitter all shaken into a pillowy dream. Sublime.

It is the attention to consistency and quality which really makes Fuglen stand out from the new faces in Tokyo’s burgeoning cafe scene. From the decor to the coffee beans, everything is of exceptional quality and executed expertly by the welcoming & talented crew.

On a recent visit I managed to inadvertently become part of a photo shoot for the popular style magazine, Brutus. So if you see a photo of a girl sipping a Shiga Kogen craft beer while nonchalantly holding (someone else’s) Shiba puppy – you’ll know its me. But be warned, once that publication hits the news stands it will be standing room only at this little bastion of cool.

Fuglen Tokyo

Tokyo Food: Higashiyama, Nakameguro

January 29th, 2011
This birthday I was given a clear directive from friends: no Japanese food, and I can’t make the reservation. Harsh! Well, I suppose they did have just cause given that last year I had taken them to an izakaya that, despite having high ranking on tabelog (I was yet to discover the disparity between rankings and reality), was abysmal and resulted in the entire party coming down with food poisoning.
However, after employing a little diplomacy, I was able to wrestle back control with the compromise of a Japanese restaurant in the painfully hip environs of Nakameguro.

Named after the chi-chi neighbourhood it is located in, Higashiyama is patronised by local tarento, the design/fashion clique and a small coterie of foreigners who have no doubt stumbled across praising reviews – that damn ‘the New York Times effect’. From the street, there is little in the way of signage to indicate Higashiyama’s existence, but once you make your way along the path to the rear of the building, an open courtyard is revealed with a striking water feature bathed in subtle lighting.
Higashiyama is the flagship restaurant of the Simplicity, a design company which promotes its vision of bringing Japanese lifestyle and culture to the global stage through the fields of architecture, interior design, food and food related design products. 
Before being seated, guests are lead to a dimly lit alcove, which is in effect a showcase for the wabi-sabi designs produced by the Simplicity workshops. 

On display are ceramics, tableware, woodwork, metalware, along with a selection elegantly presented Japanese sweets from their wagashi shop, Higashiya… all conveniently available for purchase, of course.

Counter seats overlooking the immaculate kitchen would be my preference, but given the number in our group it was impractical. We were more than happy, however, with seats at the large communal table in the central dining room. There are also smaller tables set along the atrium windows with views over the courtyard for more intimate dining. 

The attention to detail is impressive. The place settings, with thick cotton napkins, metal chopstick holders and hand-crafted ohashi, beautifully complement the food. 

The menu could be best described as contemporary Japanese washoku utilizing the best of seasonal and locally sourced produce. The menu is available a la carte or there is a choice of prix fixe courses which range from ¥3,500, for a 2 course option, to a more elaborate ¥8,000 wagyu course. We stumped for the ¥3,500 course with two of us supplementing our course with sashimi moriawase (for me), and a gobo & nanohana (burdock root and rapeseed greens) salad in a goma & kurumi (sesame and walnut) dressing (for the Greek).
A simple appetiser of homemade tofu and lightly pickled Kyoto vegetables started the meal. The silken tofu was accompanied with Iburi Jio sea salt, from Akita, which is smoked with cherry wood. The wonderful smoky flavour and aroma that this artisanal salt imparted to the dish was a revelation. So good, in fact, that I kept nibbling at it long after the tofu was gone. 
All this talk of food, and I have failed to mention the drinks menu, which is comprised of a good selection of sake, shouchu, as well as French & New World wines from some fairly reputable vineyards. I was tempted by rieslings from Serensin Estate (New Zealand) and Hugel (Alsace), but bubbles were the order of the day, so we selected a pleasant semi-seco Cava instead.

Confusion reigned, however, when two large platters of sashimi arrived along with a large ceramic bowl of the gobo and nanohana salad. Impressed with the generous portions, we greedily dived into the food before the realisation slowly dawned on us that our waiter had ordered each dish for the whole table. An expensive mistake which took our economical course option to well over ¥6,500 per person. 

An entree of Hokkaido snow crab, kazunoko (dried herring roe), micro greens and yuzu salad arrived in an impressive urushi (lacquerware) bowl. The contrasting flavours and textures of the soft, sweet crab meat, the spongy, crunchy kazunoko, and the crisp zesty vegetables made for a bit of a party in my mouth, and brought smiles to the all the faces at the table.

The main course of Iwate roast pork with quince sauce and wilted greens was deemed moist and delicious by all assembled.

All except me, of course. Due to my non-meat eating ways, the kitchen kindly allowed me to order a main from the a la carte list. My teriyaki glazed buri (yellowtail) steak was served with its traditional accompaniment of grated daikon, and some grilled sweet potato – yum! The glaze was sweet and smoky, and the fish was grilled to what seems to be the standard Japanese level of ‘done': cooked all the way through, though I personally prefer my fish cooked a little under. I also thought the dish lacked some acidity, and was screaming out for a big wedge of lemon; a small quibble easily remedied once the required citrus was procured from the kitchen. Again, the presentation was spot on, and I seriously contemplated smuggling the gold leaf urushi plate home in my bag.

A covertly orchestrated platter of matcha and vanilla panacotta was the surprise finale to the meal. Decadently rich, without being cloying and mellowed out with a warm bowl of houjicha, it was the perfect note to finish on. Note the candle holder is a big chunk of mizujokan… God is in the details.

Overall, a pleasant meal was had by all, though our experience was slightly soured when then bill arrived; with drinks, the total came to around ¥9,000 per person. Therefore the waiter’s ordering snafu had added an extra ¥3,000 to each person’s meal. As it was a special day my companions, bless them, preferred to pay up rather than make a fuss, which was incredibly generous and gracious of them. Definitely a lesson learned.

No good night out is complete without a 二次会 (after party), so the more robust drinkers in our group (the Greek and I), carried on the festivities in the lower level Higashiyama Lounge. Accessed by diners from the restaurant or via a discrete street entrance, the lounge bar is a destination in itself. The interior is a continuation of the industrial minimalist design of the main building, with the noir-ish lighting, luxe seating and jazz/soul BGM creating a sense greater intimacy. Supping Ron Zacapa 20 year Guatemalan rum in this environment one could easily forget the passage of time. And indeed we did. So if points were based on the hour one stumbles out the door, Higashiyama would be awarded an impressive 5 and a half stars (hick!)… minus 2 for the dent to the wallet.

Tokyo Bar: Bar Julep, Ikejiri Ohashi – ジュレップ、池尻お橋

Rum, rhum, ron, what ever you want to call it, is a drink that has bewitched me and become something of an obsession. I, of course, am not the first to succumb to the pleasures of this potent brew; it was the preferred tipple of pirate and admiralty captains alike; kept the navy in ‘good spirits'; fueled Hemingway’s bacchanalian adventures; and perhaps even soothed the conscience of Richard Nixon, who drank it with coke. There is, however, a flip-side to all of this inebriety, as man’s thirst for rum was directly responsible for driving the slave trade of the sugar plantations, and worse still, for the production of cheap, factory made swill that was disguised in Malibu laced, smuttily named cocktails and frozen concoctions. It may be churlish to say, but for me, this nefarious history seems to only add to its mystic.

My conversion to the joys of rumbustion began in a bar named, bizarrely, after a bourbon drink – Julep.  Just a short stagger from Owan, Julep is the go-to place for rum afficiandos – stocking over 300 varieties from around the globe. It’s an intimate space, six counter seats and a couple of tables areas for groups of four, with moody lighting, jazzy beats and a chilled out vibe that appeals to the area’s sophisticated demographic. 

Sidling up to the small bar, you will be greeted on most nights by the informed Yamamoto-san, or if you are lucky, by the owner, Sato-san. In either case you are in good hands because these chaps know their rum and revel in an opportunity to convert new devotees. Sato-san is a Ron Zacapa Ambassador, as well as a founder of R.U.M. JAPAN, an organisation whose aim is for “the recognition, propagation and rooting of rum in Japan.” In these dual roles he travels the globe to immerse himself in the culture of the areas where rum is produced, meet local producers and sample as much of the amber nectar as humanly possible. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

Presented with a thick leather bound volume, which constitutes as the drinks menu, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the varieties on offer: Cuba, Trinidad, Haiti, Venezuela, even India and Madagascar are represented. Sensing our bewilderment, Sato-san came to the rescue, “How about starting out with a cocktail?” Okay, lets!

We began with a Havana mojito, which was made with hefty handfuls of fresh mint, and a canchanchara, made with a generous dollop of golden honey and freshly squeezed lime. Both were sensational – a great entree to the proceedings.

With one round under our belts and a bit of Dutch courage, we tackled the rum menu. I ordered the Nicaraguan Zapatera Reserva Vintage 1996, which was dark and full bodied with flavors reminiscent of vanilla, toffee, oak and cocoa.

The Athenian requested the driest rum they had, which turned out to be the Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Millésimé 1997 (10 Years Old), from Martinique. In contrast to the Zapatera this rum has a much lighter amber hue, with rich herbal/spicy notes and a long clean finish. A great sipping rum to take your time over.

For the next round I went with the 23 year old Ron Zacapa, from Guatemala, that I had enjoyed on a previous visit. I was not disappointed. For me this is the epitome of a great rum; deep mahogany in colour, rich and complex flavour of butterscotch, spicy oak and raisined fruit, with a warming aroma of vanilla and roasted nuts. Yum, yum! I feel a sea shanty coming on.

The Athenian ventured to the continent of Africa for her next tipple, a ten year old Vieux Rhum Dzama, from Madagascar. This fragrant aged golden rum had the flavour of caramalised fruit accented with slightly nutty notes and a hint of, err…banana? Well, that’s what my increasingly illegible notes say. 

We sailed back in to the Caribbean (by way of Europe) for our next round; Rum Nation’s Barbados 1995. Rum Nation, the rum division of Italian whisky bottler Wilson & Morgan, started procuring rum in 1999, and specialises in single estate Latino style rums. The Barbados 1995 is characteristic of this Latino style; very sweet and honeyed on the palate, with hints of crushed mint and molasses. 

By now we were well and truly adrift on the sea of insobriety with Sato-san, who shall be referred to forever more as Captain Enabler, as our obliging navigator. I was foolhardy enough to ask, “What’s the strongest rum you have?” Without missing a beat Captain Enabler produced a bottle of Forres Park Puncheon Rum, from Trinidad and Tobago. “Puncheon,” he told me, is used to describe a high proof rum – 150% proof, in this case. Despite the obvious warning signs, I ordered a glass. The fumes that emanated from the glass were so strong that I had to make sure all naked flames were snuffed out before I even contemplated putting it anywhere near my face. The first sip was like a punch in the mouth and completely took my breath away. Yikes! Gingerly, I tried again, and once I was past the intense wall of fumes I noticed that when the alcohol evaporated – on contact with my mouth – it left behind the flavour of fresh, clean cane sugar. A revelation!  For anyone who is foolhardy enough to take up the Puncheon challenge, the company’s website suggests you “Pour it over crushed ice to improve the aroma, then sip slowly to improve your outlook on life. I, on the other hand, would recommend the Sign of the Cross, a round of Hail Marys and a fire extinguisher at the ready – just in case it all goes pear-shaped. You have been warned.

Someone – yes it was me – went off script with the next order: frozen mint mojito. A blasphemy, I know, but it was actually quite delicious. It looks a bit like an alcoholic kakigori, don’t you think?
In need of some respite after all this good grog, we ordered up a selection of nibbles from the limited list of snack options on offer: Smoked cheese, dried fruit and white asparagus pickles. Julep also stocks a comprehensive selection of Cuban and Dominican cigars if you feel so inclined. 

While we didn’t drink it, the Saint-Etienne had the Athenian and I reminiscing about our favourite 90’s house group of the same name, and the halcyon ‘daze’ of our misspent youth. Ahh, wistful tales of younger, more nubile days are always the beginning of the end.
While the Athenian went back to her preferred dry style of Martinique, I indulged my sweet tooth with a Havanese Arecha Elixir de Ron. This rich and decadently sweet drop is more like a rum liqueur than a rum. It is dark, viscous and honey-like in texture – check out the legs on the side of the glass – with warming notes of oak, nutmeg and spice.

Last drinks had been called two rounds ago, and Captain Enabler now became Captain I-regret-to-inform-you-it-is-3:30am by presenting us with a pirate’s ransom of a bill. Time to jump ship.

Back on the street we had warm hearts and lungs full of song, and despite listing dangerously, were keen to splice up the mainbrace one more time.
“Fancy an after drink drink?” 
I guess that’s why it’s called the Demon Water. Hic!