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!
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.
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 ( label.