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.
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.
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.