Category Archives: Ginza

Posts about izakaya, restaurants and bars in Ginza, written by Rebekah Wilson-Lye for Ichi for the Michi.


I’m excited to announce that Ritsuko Shimada & I will be MCs at The 2nd Satozake Festa For Women 2015, on September 26th (Sat), in Ginza.

It’s a wonderful opportunity sample the jizake (regional sake) of 30 small artisan breweries, who draw on the natural resources located within 100kms of their kura. Through this terroir-driven sake you can journey the length of the country, and discover the unique flavour of each region.

The third session (6:30pm-8:30pm) will be bi-lingual and open to both men & women.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Follow the link for more details.

Satozake Festa

Tokyo Sake: Sake no Ana, Ginza – 酒の穴、銀座

Ginza is an area synonymous with international luxury brand stores, posh boutiques and exclusive gentlemen’s clubs. Given that the real estate is famously amongst the most expensive in the world, this is a place you should expect to dine out on an expense account – not a budget. Well, so I thought, until I discovered a welcoming watering hole named Sake no Ana (literally The Sake Hole), a veritable rough diamond amidst Ginza’s glitz.

Despite its location, Sake no Ana is a reasonably priced izakaya, with an excellent sake selection and decent food. Built during the bubble years, it may look a little worn around the edges these days, but I find its old school ambience rather charming. The clientele is mostly portly mid-management level salarymen, who chain smoke and talk nonsense, while the kimono-clad waitresses attentively tend to their needs. 

Seating is available at the counter, which overlooks an impressive wall of glass fronted sake fridges, or at small tables inlayed with snazzy individual copper sake warmers. The in-house sake sommelier, Sakamoto-san, is an invaluable guide, and is often able to ‘find’ you something not listed on the menu from the the 130 plus labels he keeps in stock. 

Case in point: My recent visit. I was keen to introduce my visitors to nigori, knowing this is a type of sake they would rarely find in their home country. When I enquired why there was none listed on the menu, Sakamoto-san disappeared for a few minutes and returned with an unopened bottle of Harushika ‘Shiromiki’ Junmai Daiginjo Nigori (春鹿 しろみき 純米大吟醸 活性にごり酒 – Yamada Nishiki 50%), from Nara. I was chuffed; not only did I he find the kind of rich and textured nigori I was hankering for, but I was also introduced to a label I had never tried. Well played, Sir!

Flushed with success, we perused the menu while nibbling on a dainty otooshi of mitsuba, chrysanthemum petals and enoki mushrooms in a chilled dashi broth. 

The menu offers a comprehensive range of standard izakaya fare: a wide variety of sashimi, grilled fish and meats, as well as the deep-fried treats and umami packed sake snacks, which are the staples of many a salaryman’s drinking session. Their English menu is a boon for non-Japanese speaking travellers, however, because it is not updated, you will need to ask about daily or seasonal specials.

When confronted with such a broad menu, I tend to lower my expectations of the food quality from the kitchen – corners often need to be cut in order to prep so many dishes. That said, I always find the fish served at Sake no Ana to be of good quality and nicely prepared. On this visit, we started off with a simple trio of mizutako (octopus), hamachi and shime-saba (cured mackerel) sashimi.

A current favourite: Kameizumi Junmai Ginjo Namazake (亀泉 純米吟醸 生酒) from Kochi, a tiny prefecture on the island of Shikoku, which has the distinction of having one of the highest rates of sake consumption per capita in the country. Sake from this area tends to be dry, clean and robust without a lot of aromatics. Kameizumi’s namazake shirk this generalisation, by being softer, fresher and more fragrant in style, which may come down to their use of the yeast strain CEL-24 – a yeast that went into space, apparently. I don’t know what happened to it in the stratosphere, but whatever it was, it’s creating some wonderful sake back here on planet Earth. 

Autumn is a great season for saba (mackeral), and this grilled, home-smoked saba was outstanding.
Fatty, with mild smoky flavours and a big wallop of umani. A wonderful match for sake.

Having lived in the Izu area of Shizuoka, the local himono (salted semi-dried fish),  is comfort food for me. It’s not the most photogenic of foods, but a whole hokke is a tasty and inexpensive way to fill up at an izakaya.

Namashima, from Saga-ken in Kyushu, produces consistently good sake. Their purple labelled junmai ginjo (鍋島 純米吟醸 山田錦 – Yamada Nishiki 50%) is a favourite in the summer months, but as the weather cools I turn to the fuller flavours of their orange label junmai ginjo (鍋島 純米吟醸 雄町 – Omachi 50%) to match the heartier autumnal fare. Clean, balanced and softly fragranced, this sake never disappoints. 

Once the sake kicks in there is no escaping the sirens call of deep-fried goodies. These enticing golden nuggets of panko encrusted kani (crab) cream croquette were delicious and restorative. 

Out of curiosity I ordered the in-house label, Sake no Ana Daiginjo (酒の穴 大吟醸 – Yamada Nishiki 50%), which is brewed in Nagano by Osawa brewery, makers of the well regarded Meikyoshisu (明鏡止水) label. It was soft and pleasant,  but given their excellent selection I would only order it for the sheer novelty.

Drained sake pitchers signal the end of another eventful evening of ‘research’. The combination of friendly, knowledgeable service, good food and a comprehensive sake selection, means that it is very easy to justify repeat visits to this ‘Sake Hole’ –  especially when it doesn’t put too much of a hole in your wallet.

Sake no Ana

Tokyo Sushi: Sushi Kanesaka, Higashi-Ginza – 鮨かねさか, 東銀座

It was their penultimate day in Tokyo, and despite spending five (sleepless) days in constant pursuit of flavours, knowledge and inspiration, the boys from Maaemo still had one regret: not eating any high-end sushi. Being one of the lucky few who were treated to their superlative creations during a two night pop-up event at Fuglen, I knew there was no way the local foodie community could let these wunderkinds leave without enjoying such an experience. However, with less than 12 hours before service started at Tokyo’s starred sushiya, securing a booking was going to be neigh on impossible.

If there was one man who would be sympathetic to my pleas, it was Shinji Kanesaka, the chef of the eponymously named two-starred sushiya; a man highly regarded not only for his exceptional skill, but also for his amiable nature.

The call was placed, negotiations made, and voila! He would open dinner service two hours early for us (and two lucky dinners whose reservation had been languishing on the waiting list). What a gentleman.

At the appointed hour, our motley crew of eight bundled into the tiny 14-seat restaurant, located a stones throw from Tsukiji market, in Higashi-Ginza. Despite its diminutive dimensions, Kanesaka’s atmosphere is open and relaxed, a feeling reinforced by the warm and welcoming staff. Taking our seats in front of Sanpei-san at the gleaming shiroki counter, we were visibly apprehensive, but the chef’s disarming personality quickly put us at ease, allowing us to sit back and savour the experience that was about to play out before us.

Sushi Kanesake only offers their Edomae sushi as omakase, so while there is no menu, you are able to state your dislikes and preferences – in my case, a smaller shari to allow me to eat a full course without discomfort.

At lunch, the omakase prices range from ¥5,000 (sushi only), ¥10,000 to ¥15,000, while at dinner, prices hike up to ¥21,000 and ¥30,000 – the latter offers a couple of extra otsumami (entree) courses and higher grade cuts. Given our time restriction, we were only able to order the ¥21,000 dinner course, which consisted of 6 ostumami dishes and 10 sushi, but due to the early hour and our hungover condition, this proved to be just right.

Sitting in quiet reverence to the man and his craft, we began: perfectly seasoned and subtly sweet shiro-ebi (white shrimp), from Tottori-ken.

Nama-gaki (fresh oyster) from Hokkaido. Lightly seasoned as if it had been washed over by an ocean wave. Milky. Fresh. Divine.

Katsuo (skipjack tuna) is a fish that I usually associated with summer, but Sanpei-san informed me that in autumn, when the fish migrate south from Russia, they have a layer of fat which makes the meat more tender; at which point he pointed out the faint white streak that coloured the edge of the fish. Paired with negi ponzu and grated ginger, it was sensationally soft and delicious.

Charcoal-grilled anago (sea eel) with momoji (grated daikon with seven spice) and ponzu.

From a large ceramic pot, the chef fished out a huge whole awabi (abalone), which had been simmered in its own stock. I think shock and awe must have registered on my face at this point – I haven’t seen a specimen that big since my childhood days in New Zealand, where paua (as it is called there) is something of a national treasure. I adore the distinct succulence and pleasant al dente texture of awabi, but I was even more impressed with the sliver of its own flavoursome liver that it was served with. A highlight for me, but for my companions, this was the least enjoyable texture and flavour of the meal.

Salt grilled tachiuo (scabbard fish) served with a simple garnish of daikon. With fish this good you hardly need any embellishment.

Kanesaka has a small selection of sake from reputable kura. I chose the Kudoki Jozu ‘White’ Bakuren Dry Ginjo (くどき上手 超辛口吟醸 白ばくれん – Yamada Nishiki 55%), a light tasting, clean sake with a sake value meter of +20 – this is about as dry as it gets. A perfect foil to the unctuousness of the maguro that was to follow.

The rice was called for, and the sushi course commenced with a balletic display of knife skills and graceful hand-eye coordination. First, shima aji (striped jack – a close relation of aji and hamachi).

A note about the rice, Kanesake uses only akazu (red vinegar) and salt to season his rice. No sugar is used in the process, which results in a more savoury, slightly firmer texture. This is a point that has some reviewers divided, but as I have a predilection for salty flavours, I thought it was spot on.

It is also worth mentioning that Sushi Kanesaka use the same fish as three-starred, and the current #1 sushiya on tabelog, Sushi Saito. The reason: Shinji Kanesaka is a part-owner of his former apprentice’s restaurant. Every morning, all the fish orders arrive at Kanesaka, where they are broken down and portioned, before being sent on to Saito for the day’s service.




The anticipation was palpable when the chef pulled out a tray of glistening maguro cuts. Here come the big boys!


I regret that I had quickly dispensed with my cumbersome camera and only used my iPhone to document the sushi course, as I was not able to adequately capture the rich, jewel-like colours of the tuna.



One of the more keen-witted amongst us noticed that the rice used for the o-toro was slightly warmer than for the previous pieces. The reason, I was told, was because the warm rice helps to melt the fat and release more flavour. And what a flavour: the rich marbled flesh completely dissolved in my mouth and left a wonderfully lingering after taste. I discovered in post-meal enquiries that the Holy Trinity of tuna was not part of the ¥21,000 course, it was Sanpei-san’s expression of respect to the Maaemo chefs.

Ika (squid) seasoned with sadachi lime.

Kohada (herring). Lightly cured in salt and mirin, this was the star of the night.

Karuma-ebi (imperial prawn) stuffed with ebi-miso (its own entrails). The men in our group were served theirs whole, but Kanesaka-san thoughtfully cut each piece in half for the women, so that we could, errr… keep it classy. I found the ebi slightly overcooked, which seems to be something of a common occurence in Japan.

Another standout of the evening: Aji (jack fish) with negi (leek). By now, the chef noted the Norwegian’s affinity for aozakana (silver fish), and was interested to discover that both cultures used similar preparations for curing it.


Deconstructed sushi. Glistening corals of Hokkaido uni, with a side of ikura (salmon roe). Sublime. From here the conversation took on comic proportions as I was given the unenviable task of translating the Norwegian name for uni, kråkebolle, into Japanese. Sanpei-san quickly got the joke and diffused my awkwardness by declaring, in English, that these were indeed very “tasty balls”.

A semi-sweet treat to end on: again, we were served grilled anago, but this time with a sweet tare sauce and sancho pepper seasoning. It was followed by a thick slice of the most perfectly formed tamago-yaki. Sweet, spongy and custard-like, this was an inspired finale.

Fabulous food and an equally fabulous dining experience. Sanpei-san executed a meal that was not only technically impressive, but also wonderfully composed. Throughout the course of the meal he took time to give detailed explanations of the fish, as well as graciously answer our questions of how each was prepared. His ability to seamlessly transition from quiet, masterful chef to jovial host – cracking a few jokes in his limited English – made the evening infinitely enjoyable.

But above all, that Kanesaka was able to turn ‘Maaemo Dreams of Sushi’ into a reality, is something for which I will always be indebted.

Sushi Kanesaka