So, you’re fairly confident with Japanese food and enjoy washing it down with some cold, delicious Japanese beer. If you’re looking to expand your palate, lucky you, for with the rise of ramen bars and sushi joints comes a whole new world of exotic alcohol to explore.
Know what you’re drinking
Long familiar on our shores, made from fermented rice and produced in every prefecture in Japan. Personal preferences vary, but we reckon you can’t go wrong with any sake originating from Yamagata, especially Hatsumago. Like bubbles? Be on the lookout for sparkling sake, steadily rising in popularity in both Japan and London.
A distilled and diverse beverage produced from rice, potato or barley. Low in sugar, calories and extremely versatile, it can be consumed on the rocks, neat or with either chilled or hot water. It also serves as a base for cocktails, including the wildly popular ‘chu-hi’, in which is topped up with juice, soda or iced tea.
A delectable wine made from ume, an indigenous plum-apricot. Then there’s yuzushu, yuzu being a sour mandarin which is way more delicious than it sounds. Don’t even get us started on the awesomeness of Yuzu-umeshu, which is not something we made up. In short, if you like it sweet and fruity, this tipple is dangerously addictive.
Enough already, professor, where can I go replace my blood with it?
There’s a growing trend of restaurants and eateries in the capital housing bars with heaps of stuff for you to paw at, pre- or post-dinner, or just slipping in for a quick one. Here are some of our picks:
The newly opened sake bar that adjoins the Soho branch of Shoryu, which serves up some pretty decent Ramen in Denman Street, is our Nippon happy place, boasting a 120-strong selection that includes sake, sparkling sake, shochu, whiskey and around 20 types of umeshu (plum wine) at reasonable prices. If head sake sommelier Naoyuki Torisawa happens to be around, take the opportunity to grab him for a quick chat – either to geek out or ask for recommendations. 3 Denman Street, W1D 7HA
The sultry low lighting, deep-house beats, low slung sofas and discrete service make this sophisticated drinking den, located under Roka on Charlotte Street, an ideal place to cosy up with a date. The menu recently beefed up the whisky, and is packed with shochu in an array of house-infused flavours, from cherry to coffee. You can get creative with the ‘Shochu Master’ (his official title) and distil your own from fresh ingredients. Your bottle is then stored until you return. 37 Charlotte St, W1T 1RR. Sake distilling costs £280.
Too classy? You can sneak across the road to the more homely Yoisho, where you can imbibe sake starting from £11 a bottle. As long as you order a snack, the good times will keep on flowing.
Beer, sake, shochu, umeshu and cocktails are to be had at this unassuming and unpretentious bar resting under the floorboards at Life in Barbican. A no-frills, concrete urban dwelling, it’s popular for meet-ups, post work drinks and weekend dancing. Have a chu-hi, kick back, relax and maybe watch a film or whatever they’ve got going on the projector. 2-4 Old Street, EC1V 9AA
London’s only dedicated Japanese whisky bar is stocked with an expertly curated cocktail list and has recently started hosting whisky tasting events. For your Suntory time, confidently stride through to the back of Bincho yakatori in Soho’s Old Compton Street, descend the stairs and sink into a highball. 16 Old Compton Street, W1D 4TL
Resist the eye-wateringly expensive sushi and head straight for the bar of high-end Aqua Kyoto to check out the chilled sake and Asian-inspired cocktails while enjoying the roof terrace that overlooks Regent’s street with views of the London Eye and as far as Canary Wharf. Like most rooftop haunts, it gets pretty busy at peak times or, in this case, utterly rammed with the up-market clientèle. 5th Floor, 240 Regent Street, W1B 3BR
The Sake Experience is now a solid feature of the Hyper Japan event, offering samples of some of Nihon’s finest and the chance to converse with brand ambassadors — it’s a must for any aspiring sake buff. Don’t forget you can pick up some bottles of hard stuff to take home, usually at good prices, from stalls in the venue itself.
While you’re there: This year sees some exciting additions to the Hyper Japan Taste programme, with cocktail masterclasses from Niya Martin (of aforementioned Mizuwari) and Alessandro Palumbo of Bone Daddies shaking up a storm. And there’s also a tea station. If you’re into that kind of thing.
Hyper Japan takes place 26-28 July 2013, £12,Earls Court Two, Earls Court, Lillie Road, London SW5 9TA. Tickets for the Sake Experience costs £15, and you must already have a Hyper Japan entry ticket.
Images supplied by respective establishments