Above: (JiBiru Japanese Craft Beer Bar)
The Japanese invasion in Singapore is happening again, but this time it’s a welcoming endeavour.
With both authentic and Nippon-inspired bars and restaurants cropping up all over the island, punters are spoilt for choice.
We walked pass the chōchin lanterns and through the Noren curtains to try the ji-biirus, teppanyakis, sakes, sushis, yakitoris and kaiseki ryōri to suss out our favourite few Japanese bars.
Known as the first bar in Singapore that offers Japanese craft beers, JiBiru has grown to become beer hunters’ favourite booze joint. Founded by Charlie Guerrier who’s also the Director of the Japanese Craft Beers Association, the bar’s beer menu is drool-worthy to even the most discerning beer aficionados.
If you ask the Japanese about beers, you will hear them grumble about the famed “four giants” dominating their local market. You might have heard or consumed the likes of Asahi, Sapporo, and Kirin (the 4th one being Suntory, though not popular here), but as Singapore and the world’s beer palate gets more affluent, it’s bars like JiBiru that are giant killers.
We lost count on how many beers they’ve brought in; with seasonal and special guest brews slipping in and out the menu. Must-tries include ladies favourite Kinshachi Imperial Chocolate Weizen ($17) from Nagoya, the easy-drinking and flavourful Yona Yona Pale Ale, plus the extensive ranges of Shiga Kogen ($16-48.50) and Hitachino drafts (from $10). If you’re hungry, staple Japanese food from donburi to soba are available.
#01-26 [email protected], 313 Orchard Rd., 6732 6884
Kinki blends gritty street edge with traditional Japanese elements
“Japanese with an urban attitude” is a tagline that perfectly sums up Kinki. With traditional Japanese cuisine given a modern twist and of course, the elaborate floor mural by tattoo artist Chris Garver (from Miami Ink fame) housed in an edgy interior complex with exposed pipelines, Kinki brings the sexy to edgy.
Talking about edgy – or rather living on the edge - their grilled fugu (blowfish, $18) is highly recommended with the tender and slightly sweet fugu nicely offsetting the creamy and spicy sesame togarashi aioli. From Kinki’s Custom menu, the pan seared foie gras with Hokkaido scallop sushi ($22) and baked king salmon maki with snow crab, asparagus and cucumber ($22) is a sumptuous exploration through authentic Japanese cuisines.
And what’s food without a drink; a digestive one perhaps. Their quirky Shokult ($35) is a Shochu based thirst quencher infused with Yakult and raw sugar –a tasty blend that comes in grape, orange and apple flavour. For the more adventurous, the ice-blended Geisha Sake-rita ($18) is a heady concoction of tequila and Yuzu sake, and given an added citrusy palate with orange juice and liqueur, mixed with fresh passion fruit syrup. Another Kinki original, the Nippon Chi-Chi ($18) is delightful as it is appealing. The Yuzu sake based beverage is mixed with coconut liqueur and syrup, and doused over with orange and pineapple juice, and topped with fresh cream. A delicious tropical blend if Japan ever had one.
#02-02 Customs House, 70 Collyer Quay, 6533 3471
San-Sui means 'Mountain Water'
This chic contemporary Japanese restaurant and bar caters to a more affluent clientele. San-Sui’s (which means Mountain Water) signature traditional charcoal grilled or sumiyaki cuisines offers only the finest imports of meat and seafood. And coupled with its well-stocked bar serving top of the line Japanese alcohol beverages as well as pristine indoor and outdoor dining area, the establishment is a must go if you haven’t.
There are a lot of dining choices to appease your Japanese craving here. At the live station, sumptuous yakitoris and other Japanese delicacies like sushi and sashimi (from $8) are available. If you are going for the aforementioned, check out the sets with an assorted selection of 10 sushi ($55) and five sashimi ($60). However, the top billing recommendation would have to go to the sumiyaki. Go by the stick ($3 per chicken parts) or head straight to their San or Sui course (from $45) which includes an appetizer, a side dish, vegetables, rice and soup.
For drinks, with a mind-boggling choice of over 35 different kinds of sake (from $18 per glass), you will be spoilt for choice. But what stood out must be the San-Sui cocktails and martinis; think authentic Japanese tradition with a modern twist. The R&R ($18) is a dark rum and raisin infused sochu based martini shaken with cream and vanilla giving it a milky and fruity balance. The Dark Moo ($15) is another delightful cocktail. With Hakkiado coffee liqueur, the vodka and maple syrup concoction is a wonderful perk me up blend.
Five is perfect for salarymen and cheapskates
If you’ve been to Japan, their Tachinomi Izakaya bars are favourites among salaried men going for quick drinks at 300 yen ($5) per glass. And staying to true to the bar namesake, Five Izakaya popularity is stamped from the same reason.
Almost everything here goes for $5—from their house spirits to their Asahi draught, red wines, sochu, sake and choya, and even their bar snacks like chicken karaage and potato wedges. Patrons usually come here to fuel up prior to their late night party shindig, but many have chosen to stay till closing and became regulars instead.
On weekdays, office dwellers can be seen thronging the bar in drones. Apart from the $5 drinks and food, the bar also offers cocktails and martinis (from $12) and beer buckets ($35 for 5 beers). If you are planning for a longer stay, bottle opening starts at $120.
En Japanese Dining Bar has become an establishment in the scene since its opening more than a decade ago
One of the first Japanese restaurant to establish itself in the Nippon explosion along Robertson Quay, En Japanese Dining Bar still manages to pull the crowd ever since its inception more than a decade ago.
Okinawan favourites like the succulent pork belly stewed in thick soy sauce and grilled items from the kushiyaki have been receiving perennial picks. In addition to the staple of sashimi, sushi, noodles and tempura ($48), the wafu steak ($17.50) is a must try.
The fully equipped bar serves an extensive collection of sakes (from $15), the easy-drinking awamoris (Okinawan distilled rice liquor, from $11) as well as Japanese beers, umeshu and sochu (from $7). Aside from the usual suspects, the establishment also offers their sochu and awamori based signature cocktails. The Awamori Buck made from awamori, fresh lemon and ginger ale, and the Sochu Oolong Tea (both $9.50) are refreshing accompaniment to your food selection.
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