...an expat libertine with a penchant for sparkly dining partners, jazz bars and izakaya.
Opinions here expressed are not necessarily shared by any with whom I associate. Fault for errors and any offense caused is entirely my own.

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Entries in Sake (34)


Akaoni, Sangenjaya 赤鬼、三軒茶屋  

Akaoni, the lauded Red Devil of Sancha, is said to be one of the best nihonshu focused izakaya in town, famed for its list of 100 or more sakes – with a particular focus on smaller local breweries’ jizake – and quality food, both of which have been enjoyed by loyal patrons over the last three decades.

In my humble opinion, Akaoni enjoys a reputation better than it deserves.

Sure, the sake list is impressive and competitively priced. The food is good, but nothing mind blowing, the portions a little stingy (always leave feeling hungry) and the speed with which it is served at times agonizingly slow. 

My first visit, almost a decade ago, left me feeling that the place was a little unfriendly and lacking in warmth – an impression that remained on subsequent, infrequent visits.

A bonenkai there with Moxie, Woody and Tobi-chan in December of last year confirmed my previous assessment as far as the drink and food goes, although the welcome and service was much friendlier… perhaps too much so, as the lady of the house was in full sales mode, to the point of being overbearing.

Such gripes aside, Akaoni is still a good little izakaya, and worth a visit, as long as your aim is to drink plenty of sake and nibble as an afterthought.

When you do nibble, the sashimi moriawase is a good bet, and can be had at a discount (i.e., an extra fish is added) if you order when making a reservation. 

The towering stewed daikon was another favourite, as was the grilled lotus root.

On the other hand, the salads and nabe were pretty dull. 

If sperm sacks are your thing, then the shirako might please, being particularly soft and creamy of texture.

Don't believe the hype, but don’t neglect to stop by either. For a more thorough appraisal, look here and here.





Sakana no Daidokoro Oriental, Motosumiyoshi  元住吉

One of two (the other being in Musashikosugi) seafood-centric izakaya, Sakana no Daidokoro Oriental is a superb dining experience – providing you like huge servings of fresh fish and shellfish as extremely low prices.

Located on the Breman shotengai (out of the east exit of the station, on the left just passed ABC Mart), it’s not a place that jumps out at you, being hidden away on the 2nd floor of an inconspicuous building, unseen from the street. My dining partner and I stumbled upon the place having been tempted by the signs for an okonomiyaki restaurant in the same building.

Oriental, plays the blue-collar, days-gone-by card well – simple, lively interior complete with beer and beverage posters, rough wooden tables and counters, crates, paper lanterns and bucket loads of noisy, happy diners.

The menu was wide-ranging, covering sashimi and sushi, through grilled, baked, fried and stewed dishes, salads and sides, and a smattering of classic izakaya fare not of the sea. Portions were extremely impressive, tasted great, and then even better when we received the bill at the end of the night.

Service was efficient, friendly and informed. Each member of staff knew their way around the menu, and was happy to offer recommendations and advice.

The clientele were a mixed bunch, young and old, and seemed each and every to be having a whale of a time. The atmosphere was lively, although most of the action seemed to be in the (much larger) smoking section of establishment.

A good range of shochu and nihonshu were available, along with draft and bottled beer, Hoppy and soft drinks. Best dishes of the night were the immense nokezushi, and the succulent, flesh-laden tuna jaw, not to mention thick slabs of fresh, if rough-hewn, sashimi

Top stuff.


Sakana no Daidokoro Oriental



Toyoda, Midorigaoka  豊田、緑が丘

@izakayasanpo had been reminding me, intermittently, to check out Toyada for at least a couple of years before we finally got around to a visit. It was worth the wait.

Just a short walk from Jiyugaoka station, on the “green road” just before you reach Yamada Denki’s Labi store, this izakaya is all about chicken.

A family business – the Toyodas run the show, unsurprisingly – this small establishment is best booked in advance as it soon fills up, although you’ll need to be arriving between 5:30-6pm, or else it’s first-come first-served.

Service is good and the décor is simple; clean, polished wood and stainless steel kitchen – functional not stylish.

The menu is limited. Sit down, order drinks – beer or average nihonshu in cute little one-serving bottles – and then the “course.” You’ll be served a meal of succulent, flavoursome chicken deep-fried so expertly that you can eat it bones and all. Really, not a splinter need be left on your plate, and it tastes great.

The meal starts with tamanegi, a simple bowl of onion “salad,” followed by almost crunchy, fibrous chicken sunagimo (stomach), which was actually, despite my tendency to shun offal, delicious and not at all unpleasant in terms of texture/ mouth-feel.

In due course – nothing is rushed here – the extremely well-sized teba (wing) and momo (thigh) are served. This is the fun part. The skin is so crispy and delicious, the bones incredibly soft and, well, edible, and the flesh succulent and moist. Enough said.

This course-meal can be supplemented with pickled cucumber – if you arrive early you can get the “kyu” that have had a few days to mellow, or the less popular “shin,” which being freshly made are not yet at their best. The onigiri are best avoided (they let the place down to be honest), and the chicken broth that rounds off the meal is tasty.

For all its simplicity, this is definitely a “get thee hence” establishment.





Ginsuiso, Izu-inatori  銀水荘、東伊豆町

A stay at a ryokan is a fine thing. Especially if it provides a cozy room, onsen a sea view and an interesting menu.

Ginsuiso, an apparently well-reputed inn in Hagashiizu-cho (nearest station: Izu-Inatori), ticked all these boxes, and managed to heat the rooms so perfectly that one could ponce around in a yukata even in early January without the slightest shiver.

Both the evening meal and breakfast were substantial and nicely presented. The service provided was excellent, truly attentive and willing to explain and describe tirelessly. If there were any complaint with the food, it would be that they over played the seafood card with the breakfast. Sure, this inn is right on the sea, but every dish was some kind of fish, shellfish, unholy jelly-like substance or seaweed of some kind.

As expected, drinks were hugely over priced. Thankfully I managed to “smuggle” a few bottles in, so all was not lost.

Dinner consisted of a variety of dishes, ranging from shellfish to cream soup. 

Awabi odori-yaki – live abalone grilled on tabletop brazier

Shiro-ebi konoko gake – white shrimp served on sea cucumber ovary sauce – with shin-takenoko, ika kinomiae – new bamboo and squid topped with tree buds

Ikura, kinome, uni, yuba bekko an – roe, tree buds and sea urchin resting on tofu skin simmered in broth

Maguro, shiromi, uni sashimi – tuna, white fish and sea urchin sashimi

Kinmedai sugata zukuri to awabi – sashimi of splendid alfonsino and abalone

Kinmedai nitsuke – splendid alfonsino simmered in sweet soy sauce, complimented with daikon radish and aubergine 

Kinmedai sanma sushi, hatsuki kinkan mitsuni, hizu kazunoko matsumaetsuki, kukonomi, aiyu nibitashi shirozu – splendid alfonsino and mackerel sushi, honey-poached kumquat, salmon cartilage with herring roe, Chinese desert-thorn seeds and sweetfish simmered in white vinegar

Chilled Fubuki – the only sake of the evening

Steak with salad

Cream soup

Kani zosui – crab and rice porridge



Maguro sashimi, ebi, wasabi zuke – tuna sashimi, shrimp and fermented wasabi






Kaasan, Nishi-Shinjuku  かあさん、西新宿

Kaasan (“Mum”) is an interesting chain of izakaya dotted around the city in major transport hubs and business districts.

The theme is simple, yet successful. Focusing on down-to-earth home style cooking and presentation, these izakaya are staffed by teams of middle-aged motherly ladies who bustle around taking orders, relaying them at high volume to the kitchen, and pouring sake and kindly – if somewhat direct –  words for their customers.

The interiors seem to vary little between the handful of Kaasans I’ve visited (although I mostly end up in the Nishi-Shinjuku store, on the street behind the Yodobashi Camera honten); worn wooden floors, heavy set wooden tables and benches and long counter before an open kitchen, upon which huge bowls and dishes containing simple, robust dishes are displayed. Usually to rear of the shop, fridges chill a nice selection of sake, while beer kegs congregate around the till for some reason. In other words, it’s all intended to hark back to simpler times.

Tired as this approach can appear, it actually does serve to pull the heartstrings of older salarymen. The veneer of home, of the tender wife setting pickles and beer before him when back late from work, or else distant memories of his own mother back home in the mythical furusato. I doubt these images now resonate much with younger Japanese. The clientele seems mainly to be middle-aged men and women at any rate, with perhaps a smattering of younger “nostalgia” seekers.

They might get a dose of the good old days, but not much in the way of fine dining. Kaasan isn’t really about the food. Which is not to say it’s bad – it’s not. It’s just unpretentious, basic, hearty and yet decidedly average stuff. Fish and chicken, fried and grilled mainly, as well the kuroke are usually gracing most tables. Seasonal vegetable dishes usually make an appearance, but tend to suffer from being over cooked. Chunky, low-grade sashimi, potato salad and all manner of pickled, deep-fried and stewed dishes. Although way to oily, the deep-fried gobo (burdock) is a personal favourite. Prices are very reasonable, bordering on cheap. So too for the beer.

Although, Kaasan is more about sake than beer. They have plenty of the stuff, covering a surprising variety of regions and makers. Sadly, the sake is less aggressively priced than the food and beer. What seems like a cheap meal can soon turn out otherwise if you, or one of your dining partners, have a thirst on.

Still, the (usually) lively atmosphere and simple surroundings (not to mention large tables) make a nice change once in a while.





Gyōssantei, Shibuya  魚山亭、渋谷

The shop card I have for Gyōssantei – a decent little izakaya located opposite the entrance to Shibuya’s Bunkamura – has a date scrawled on it: 4/10/09/. I’m lazy about posting izakaya visits… 

Topline judgment? Well worth a visit, but with a few caveats.

They serve a fantastic line in Kyushu cuisine, the majority of which focuses on that of Miyazaki prefecture; which of course tends to mean jidori, or naturally reared chicken. Which isn't to say there’s not more than just chicken, whether charcoal-grilled or deep-fried and smothered in mayo - namban style, to recommend Gyōssantei’s pantry.

For instance, the abura miso salad was exemplary. Dynamic, in that delightfully “in your face” way that izakaya sometimes get so right. This “salad,” served in a wooden masu (a nice touch), consisted of chunky cuts of celery, carrot, cucumber, daikon and leaves accompanied by a miso and berry-oil paste.

On the other hand, the unashamedly chewy otoshi of snails succeeded in offending. A local (to Miyazaki) beer, Hideji, went some way to making amends, being light, crisp and faintly hoppy. So too the various grilled fish heads.

The sashimi, in this instance a moriawase of maguro, kasago and saba, was excellent, just way too dainty.

If grilled fish is really your thing (it should be) then the yaki kamasu, a somewhat infrequently served, thoroughly delicious long-snouted species, will put a smile on your face.

As will the Yukkuri – a potent shōchū which to be honest sent my head spinning…

When feeling tipsy, some meat helps. I looked no further than the buta kakuni with shiraga negi. The three succulent, weighty pieces were not at all oily and only lightly doused in juices, so as to retain some of that delightful crumbly texture that good braised pork offers.

A wonderful oshinko moriawase – cucumber, carrots, ginger, daikon, takuan, kombu and umeboshi – provided a fantastic array of strong flavours, too. This offset the overpowering sweetness of the Jūyondai; a sake I’ve not bothered to revisit since.

Food aside, the interior is tastefully appointed. Although not large, the floor space is put to good use. You don’t feel crowded. Avocado green walls framed with dark wood and dimly lit to boot create a suitably intimate, “Japanese” atmosphere. The hanging noren before the kitchen and the cute little counter near the entrance, upon which are jars of beans, pickles and freshly prepared recommendations of the day, reinforces this ambience. This considered approach to the interior design benefits from the application of seasonal sprigs and dried shishito (peppers) for chopstick rests.

What of the aforementioned caveats?

Despite the generally excellent service from the floor staff, the mama-san was pushy. Extremely so. Probably well intentioned – she is both proud of her menu and well informed regarding the foods and ingredients there in – she manages, nonetheless, to raise hackles. On each of the handful of occasions I’ve visited her establishment, she was hassling us from the moment we were seated. “What will you drink?” “What will you eat?” “How many of those?” “Why not try another of these and one of those to go with it?”

The approach was utterly out of kilter with the ambience of the place and the demure service provided by other – admittedly more youthful – ladies that wait the tables. This mama seemed more suited to some grubby snack bar. No one enjoys a hard sell at dinner time.

Fancy another sweeping generalization? Here it is – despite good food, decent drinks and pleasant surroundings, I always come away thinking it’s just a little over priced.





Orihara Shōten, Monzen-nakachō  折原商店、門前仲町

Yesterday's izakaya sanpo set off from Shinagawa station and took in Daiba (with some chilled beer out in the sunshine at dining bar Caress), the possible new Tsukiji site and a home center before landing us in Jon's manor; Monzennakacho.

While Jimmy Dean kept a place in the rapidly extending, yet patient, queue outside Uosan, Butterfly and I hopped across Eitai Dōri to explore the backstreets and alleys in the vicinity of the admittedly impressive Fukagawa Fudōdō.

Happily, we stumbled across a neat little sake shop/ standing sake bar by the name of Orihara Shōten. I should have recalled it from previous dispatches... Anyway, after dining at Uosan, we headed back there for a drink or two.

Despite the selection of cheap toys and candies at the entrance, the interior was nicely done and still had the lingering scent of fresh timber (opened for business just last month). To the left, shelves heaving with snacks, novelty tipples and the various accoutrements of the sake drinker. To the right, floor to ceiling refrigerators cooling a respectable line-up of choice sake.

We made - and paid for - our orders at the small bar and kitchen to the rear of the shop. To accompany our drinks, a variety of otsumami and sake no sakana, as well as the dreaded oden were available.

While the master of the house worked the kitchen, a jolly old chap with a ready smile manned the floor with its two sturdy tables at which drinkers prop themselves.

A simple menu of recommended chilled sakes offered some old favourites and a few I don't remember trying before. Prices were reasonable for both sake (¥250~¥750) and food (¥100~¥300). I stuck with the Dassai and Denshu, and Jimmy worked through plenty of the rest.

Mostly full from our excellent fish dinner, we ordered some food out of politeness more than anything else. All we sampled was more the adequate, especially for the price. The peppered duck was really rather good.

The turnover of patrons through the course of the evening was fair. The numbers present at any one time were too, although it was never exactly heaving. Great atmosphere too, thanks in part to the friendly old chap attending to our needs.