During my recent trip to Tokyo in February, the group of us spent quite a few nights exploring different cocktail bars. I think Y and I have never explored cocktail bars in Tokyo despite our love for drinking especially delicicious cocktails, so it was pretty good fun that we managed to somehow find space in our tummies to consume lots of cocktails after our very filling meals every night.
Cocktail bars in Tokyo, are really on a different plane from other countries when it comes to making their cocktails. Given the level of attention to detail and precision that Japanese undertake in whatever they do, it’s no surprise that the Japanese mixologists also have their own unique ritual and process in creating their signature cocktails. Here’s a list of the bars that we checked out and Codename Mixology in Akasaka wins hands down for me as my favourite cocktail bar.
Code name Mixology Akasaka 〒107-0052 東京都港区 赤坂３丁目１４−３ 渡林赤坂ビル2F Tel:+81 3-6459-1129 (Best to make a reservation at the bar counter rather than tables)
Subtle entrance on the 2nd floor of a building.
This bar is located in one of many buildings in Akasaka on the 2nd floor, and after making our way through the discreet entrance, we were greeted by a long bar filled with all sorts of liquor, homemade bitters and infused liquor. Melinda Joe of Japan Times once described Code Name Mixology as the “Willy Wonka of extraordinary cocktails” and I totally agree with her. I noticed from the concoctions in the menu, they definitely have preference for making liquid cocktails from popular food dishes – foie gras, tom yum soup in a cocktail, no wonder it’s not just cocktails but their expertise here is molecular mixology.
Even the Gin & Tonic here was not just a usual Gin and Tonic, they make their own special ice tailored for different types of cocktails. Good thing our friends NF and D, made a reservation at the bar after having been here the night before and told us we HAD to be here.
Lots of interesting bitters and flavouring used in cocktails.
Head mixologist – Yukino Sato , a petite slim lady greeted us once we stepped in and we looked through the extensive menu of cocktails, and all of us deciding what to order. I started with the Apple Foie Gras Exmental, which was bourbon based and had homemade foie gras ice. It was amazingly smooth with fragrant notes of foie gras without being too overpowering and the sweet crispiness of apple goodness in it.
I was sitting just next to a rotary evaporator which they use to create infused alcohol such as their signature Foie Gras Vodka, it looked more like something I would find in a science lab. Next, I decided to get a bespoke cocktail made for me requesting for pineapple and yuzu. This was refreshing and lighter in taste compared to my first. My only gripe was that the alcohol in all the cocktails were decidedly much lighter, but I wonder it might also be intentional so as to showcase the complexity in flavour of the other ingredients.
One thing I have noticed is the speed they take to make the cocktails here. I am really impressed by Yukino’s speed and prowess in making the cocktails, considering the details involved, she’s very quick and precise be it making a standard cocktail from the menu or coming up with a bespoke one. I can’t wait to come back here again with Y and try all the other delicious cocktails, which is shockingly reasonable in price considering the intricacy and complexity in them, averaging around 1500 yen . It sounds a bit exaggerated to say but I was seriously flooded with euphoria after coming to this place. It was like that pilgrimage to THE cocktail bar that I had finally gone to.
Little Smith Japan, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo, Ginza, 6 Chome−4−12, KNビル B2F, Tel:+81 3-5568-1993
Located 2 floors underground, I liked the interiors of Little Smith. It felt like we had stepped into a modern cave, with arched concrete ceilings, and the mixologists standing in the centre with a long circular custom made wooden table wrapped around them. There was a definite buzz to this place, with lots of locals sitting there for dinner and drinks, many smoking away.
Here, it’s good to come here to have just straight up neat drinks rather than cocktails. And we were lucky to have found rare whiskies like Ichiro’s single malt whisky here, which Y and I couldn’t resist. When YW paid the bill, she asked what on earth did we drink, guess the bill was a lot more than the bill at Code Name Mixology. I am guessing my one shot could have easily been a 100 bucks. Oops!
Gen Yamamoto 1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo Tel: 03 6434 0652
Gen Yamamoto is a mixologist trained in New York City, but with a complete Japanese approach in his way of creating the drinks. He could easily pass off more as a sushi chef, given his clean shaven head, minimalist set up of the bar, fashioned exactly like a sushi bar format to seat only 8 persons. I made a reservation for the 6 of us to come here and was informed that I had to go for the omakase menu, which I didn’t mind. This was the first I have heard of doing a set menu of cocktails in a bar, quite a novel experience. I liked how many of the Japanese bars from Code Name, to Little Smith and this, all had the customers seated at a dining height rather than a bar height, with the mixologist standing in a lower platform, this gave a more friendly level to speaking and interacting with them.
Once we sat down by the bar made from a 500 year old Japanese oak tree, I noticed even the glass ware was also as intricate as the wood table top. There was a choice of 4 or 6 courses, but given our very filling meal earlier, we opted for the 4-course tasting menu, which were composed largely of local seasonal Japanese ingredients.
Our first course was yellow Mandarin from Shizuoka, and daikon with rice shochu, served with cherry blossom. Yamamoto had a calm and meticulous approach to making the drinks, often stirring and measuring everything by eye. We also realised how loud we could sound in this bar, given that it was intentional not to have any music in this bar.
Next on the list was Kiwi from Shizuoka with matcha, sake leaves and shochu. I liked this the best, the matcha and kiwi had a lovely surprising combination together. Plus, the Japanese kiwi was sweet and not as tart as the typical ones we get in Singapore from Australia.
Third on the list was a gin based cocktail with ginger, rosemary and Bailey’s.
The last on the list is Pink Lady apple from Nagano with Yamazaki single malt whisky. It was nice to end off the list with a warm cocktail, likening to ending a meal with a hot soup. Using apples from Nagano was a nice touch, given they are famous for their apples there.
And after we ended our omakase, we asked Yamamoto what rare whiskies he may have and lo and behold he took out Karuizawa and Ichiro’s Malt whisky, so of course we had to try a glass each which we shared amongst the few of us. Personally for me, I wasn’t that blown away by the cocktails here despite the utmost precision I could see in mixing the drinks. I loved the use of local ingredients but somehow the concoctions seemed to be very light in flavour. However, I am glad I still came here as the experience was quite different from many other cocktail bars that Y and I have been to.
Ichiro and Karuizawa whisky, hope to own these one day.
All I know is I can’t wait to be back in Japan again to visit Code Name Mixology and visit some other bars including Bar High Five which I heard is rated very highly.