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

5 thoughts on “Tokyo Sake: Sake no Ana, Ginza – 酒の穴、銀座

    1. admin

      It’s sublime! I always order the special edition Kaiun Den Hase Shokichi junmai-daiginjō or daiginjō when I find it on a menu.

      1. Martineau Robert-Gilles

        Actually did you know that Hase Shokichi left us (for a better world probaly!) some time ago. I had the chance to interview the grand man! But the next generation of Noto Toji are doing weel!

        But there so many sake that are unknown in Tokyo!
        Incidentally have you ever tasted sake by Bandai Berwery in Shuzenji, Izu Peninsula?

        Another thing that not many people realize outside Shizuoka Prefecture is that we also have incredible craft beers including those brewed by Bryan Baird, a close friend of John (Gautner)!

        And do you also know about he Shizuoka shochu?

        1. admin

          I recall trying a Banyou sake from Shuzenji many, many years ago – is it the same shuzō?
          I’ve been enjoying some lovely sake from Eikun recently. It seems to be appearing with increased frequency on the menus of some of my favourite sake izakaya.
          Yes, I’m well familiar with the joys of Shizuoka microbrew. I lived in Susono for a while, so Gotemba Kogen and The Taproom were in close striking distance. Baird’s Beer is hugely popular here in Tokyo. It’s even on the menu of a couple of izakaya in New Zealand!

          1. Martineau Robert-Gilles

            Yes, it is the same shuzo!
            As for Eikun it is actually marketed along Isojiman!
            As for Bryan his beers were made known to the world two years ago when he put Numazu on the world map with 3 gold medals at the Bi-annaul World Beer Contets in the States!

            There are presently 10 microbreweries in Shizuoka Prefecture (double the Japanese average per prefecture!) and we shall have the 11th one next April in Shizuoka City!
            See them all there:

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