Head into any sake bar or izakaya and you’ll often find the beverage menu organised by grades. The junmai daiginjos usually get the spotlight, followed by the ginjos and junmais, and there’s almost always a Dassai on the list.
Not at Tanoke however. The newly opened upmarket sake bar and restaurant on Purvis Street has chosen to showcase their sakes by Japan’s regions instead – something you don’t see often – yet done here for good reason.
“Different regions feature different brewing styles, usually decided by the ingredients available as well as their cuisine and climate for brewing,” explains John Chen, the sake sommelier for Tanoke as well as sister venue Kabuke.
Head into the tucked-away second-floor shophouse space and the first thing that’ll catch your attention are the bright fridges stocked with sake, all sorted according to regionality. Since Japan is vast, the regions are grouped up as North, South, East and West.
Chen tells us about the intricacies of each. “Northern sake tends to have a cooler brewing season, hence sakes found in these regions tend to have more fruity profiles with a little bit more elegance and softness. Soft water coupled with extreme cold produces some of the most perfumey notes and pristine flavors in the sake world.”
“West tends to have more livestock and preserved meats, traditionally speaking, and typically these sakes exhibit richer flavors and structure. Some brewing water found in these regions also tend to have a higher mineral content, furthering the complexity of the brews. Food friendly, complex tipples, with a lace of masculinity are not uncommon in this region.”
He continues: “East and Central are a mixed bag. Their style definitely depends on what ingredients are made available to them. They range from soft and light, such as the famed Niigata Tanrei Karakuchi style, to the settled and matured flavors of Ishikawa and Fukui. Sakes from Ibaraki and Tochigi are some of the most interesting as of late. They make award winning excellent sake that would appear to not have any regional style at all.”
Still, caveats exist. Chen reminds us that as brewing technologies advance, so will the styles that come forth. The younger generation of brewers will offer a different take due to their more adventurous mindsets too.
He says convivially: “In reality, due to modern production methods and drinking trends, regionality does matter less and less over time. But that will not get in the way of it being a good conversation starter.”
The regional nuances and expressions are great for those with a degree of familiarity with sake to explore. But even if you’re a beginner, you’ll still find it a breeze to order at Tanoke. Their carafe selections are reasonably priced, with some offering taste profiles more often found in higher grades.
We’d recommend the Katsuyama En Tokubetsu Junmai (S$42/300ml), an approachable sake that’s just the right amount of dryness, acidity and umami to pair with a wide range of dishes.
But if you’re up for it, the regionally-profiled sakes by the bottle should be your go-to. Prices start from S$88 and can range upwards to the high hundreds, ensuring there’s surely a bottle that can go with your mood and your food.
Speaking of which, the dining menu at Tanoke is an equal reason to visit. Go for the tasting menu if you want a good range of what acclaimed chef Rio Neo (formerly from Kinki and Fat Cow) can offer.
If not, must-have items from the ala carte menu are the appetite-inducing Spicy Baby Corn (S$10), tender and flavoursome Coastal Lamb Rack (S$38) and the oh-so-delicious aged Surume Ika Ichiyaboshi (S$24). There are decadent wagyu rice bowls and sandos too, if you’re feeling a little more fuss-free.
It should also be pointed out that their grilled items taste so good, perhaps in large part due to the use of a shichirin binchotan grill. The smaller, compact and focused grill cooks more efficiently than its larger cousins, allowing the right amount of heat and smoke to interact with what’s being cooked.
[Read more: Sake: A beginner’s guide]
It will be remiss not to mention Tanoke’s Sunday brunch offerings as well. Find Japanese-inspired brunch fare like Foie Gras & Onsen Benedict (S$34) available ala carte, but more importantly, a free-flow sake option (S$48 per person) for the big imbibers among you.
Tanoke is located at 7 Purvis Street (2/F), Singapore 188586.
About the Author
Dannon Har is the Managing Editor of Spill. Discovering his innate gift for drinking only at a ripe age, he spares no time trying to find more delicious drops to imbibe during his time on Earth. When he’s not minding every little detail of Spill, he spends his time concocting luscious libations at his home bar.