Header image courtesy of Sake Central
Originally published by Inés Fung. Last updated by Celia Lee.
Hongkongers love all things Japanese, so it’s no surprise that Japan’s national drink, sake, is enjoying a wave of popularity here in the 852. Whether you’re an aspiring sake samurai, want to check out some new bars, or just looking to expand your drink horizons, there’s a sake bar in Hong Kong for you.
Although beer remains the widely accessible drink in Japan, sake is still Japan’s treasured national drink for celebrations, sealing business deals, gifting, or any special occasion, really. Sake can be served hot or cold, but it’s most commonly served cold so as to properly enjoy the subtleties of the flavour profile.
Sake has a much higher alcohol content than beers and most wines as it’s made with rice (specifically saka mai, a breed of rice that’s larger and firmer than regular rice), water, and kōji (the mould used to ferment soy sauce and miso). The production process encourages the conversion of starch to sugar and sugar to alcohol to happen simultaneously.
Temples and shrines were the primary producers of sake up until the Meiji Restoration. Today, there are around 2,000 sake breweries in Japan, some specialising in junmai.
There are heaps of varieties of sake. The flavour, quality, and price of a bottle of sake are determined by the percentage of bran polished away from the saka mai, whether sugars and/or seed alcohol is added, and other unique steps a brewery may use in their process.
Some words you may hear when tasting or shopping for sake are:
1. 酒 / shu: The Japanese word for alcohol.
2. 純米 / junmai: A sake made with no added alcohol or sugars
3. 本醸造 / honjōzō: A sake made with additional seed alcohol.
4. 特別 / tokubetsu: Indicates a special step or variation.
5. 吟醸 / ginjō: High-quality sake with 40 percent of the rice polished away and fermented at low temperature.
6. 大吟醸 / daiginjō: Top-quality sake made with more than 50 percent of the bran polished away.
7. 生酒 / namasake: Unpasteurised sake to be consumed within six months of bottling and two weeks of opening.
8. 甘酒 / amazake: Sweet rice malt liquor produced during sake brewing, commonly served with ginger juice.
Co-founded by “sake samurai” Elliot Faber and Japanese culture representatives Ken Nagai and Takashi Endo, the collection of over 200 bottles of sake (from all prefectures and beyond) is unparalleled. The dark space is also fitted out meticulously with temperature control settings and non-UV LED lights to protect the integrity of the liquor on display.
Grab a bottle or two to take home, or look for the 16-seat bar hidden behind a heavy curtain, which serves up an innovative seasonal menu of otsumami (snacks meant to be eaten with drinks) curated by chef Lok Yan-li. Sake Central is both an educational space for sake enthusiasts and casual drinkers alike, and a great place to drink.
Sake Central, S109–S113, Block A, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central | (+852) 2656 6552
You must book ahead at the Hong Kong outpost of the famed Tokyo yakitori joint Toritama, as it’s got limited seating, but you’ll want the best seats in the house to watch as the chefs expertly prepare 28 different parts of 40-day-old chickens in the semi-open kitchen.
If you’re indecisive like us, the restaurant handily provides a detailed anatomical guide on the back of the menu for the uninitiated, pinpointing exactly what cut of meat you’ll be getting, as well as giving you the option of customisable yakitori set meals (seven-, 10- and 12-skewer sets, which also include a rice bowl, salad, and dessert).
Of course, no yakitori dinner is complete without drinks, and Toritama takes pride in their sake collection of nearly 100 bottles, only a few of which are available by the glass at wallet-friendly prices. Visit Toritama and leave in a chicken- and sake-induced food coma.
Toritama, 2 Glenealy, Central | (+852) 2388 7717
Truth be told, our livers were truly uninitiated to Wako Sake Bar. The first and only bar in Hong Kong to offer a dangerous all-you-can-drink nihonshu deal, Wako Sake Bar has more than 100 kinds of Japanese sake, fruit wine, and shōchū on offer.
The bottles in the bright refrigerators are personally selected by manager Randy, who is also the first Hong Kong sommelier to be recognised by the Sake Service Institute. In contrast to some sake bars in Hong Kong, the vibes at Wako Sake Bar are super laid-back. Come in, grab a cup, and pour yourself a drink. As a Japanese liquor enthusiast, Randy also organises wine tastings and workshops to promote Japanese wine culture. Wako Sake Bar is the go-to choice for the most bang for your buck.
Wako Sake Bar, 2/F, South Pacific Hotel, 23 Morrison Hill Road, Causeway Bay | (+852) 3619 5358
Not only does Fumi serve up Edomae-style sushi and other authentic Japanese dishes from all corners of the country, but it also offers an extensive sake menu that includes speciality sparkling sakes. The menu details each bottle’s brewing location, type of rice used, percentage of rice polishing, drinking method, as well as texture.
Fumi, 6/F, California Tower, Lan Kwai Fong, 30–36 D’Aguilar Street, Lan Kwai Fong | (+852) 2328 3302
Goshima Shinya, affectionately known as Goshi-san by his regulars, chef and sake master at Godenya, closed up his Tokyo shop (also named Godenya) in 2016 to show Hong Kong what his country has to offer. Obsessed with discovering the secret of minute differences between taste and the sensations they deliver, Goshi-san has been working on the various possibilities of matching sakes with fine foods since he was just 20 years old.
After training at a sake brewery, Goshi-san published his university graduation thesis, A Study of Overseas Consumption of Sake, which became the most-cited article on the topic of “sake globalisation.” We have never met a man so meticulously dedicated to sake, nor one with such a fine palate. There are only seven seats at the bar inside this nondescript restaurant, and reservations can only be made after acquiring a top-secret password on their site. Even when you visit, you may very well miss the covert door tucked into an alley that’s actually above its listed address. There is only a single sake pairing dinner menu, the contents of which are hyper-seasonal and combine the best of Japanese haute cuisine and technique as well as some familiar Cantonese ingredients.
Each course is minimal, delectable, and served with a sake in a different container and cup that is tasted and temperature-controlled by Goshi-san himself. The highlights of our visit were the strong starter of botan-ebi, scallops, crab roe, tofu skin, and seed of grass that was served with the 2018–2019 Iseno Shiroki (Mie) Junmai Nama Sparkling at 10 degrees Celsius exactly, and the simple pumpkin, century egg, and beetroot dish that was paired with the Monsoon (Shiga) Junmai Kijoshu 2018–2019 served at precisely 40 degrees Celsius.
We were left full, drunk, and in awe of Godenya, clutching our daily printed menus in both English and Japanese, and a simple map of Japan that listed the origins of the breweries and ingredients used in that night’s experience.
Godenya, 128 Wellington Street, Central
Since its opening in early 2021, The Aubrey has continuously served up unique experiences for its patrons through the spirits and seasonal ingredients from the Land of the Rising Sun. With featured sake breweries as part of its beverage programme, The Aubrey’s sake bar offers a truly authentic experience of the traditional Japanese spirit in a luxurious reimagining of an izakaya designed to be intimate and relaxing. The bar offers an exclusive selection of 25 sakes, three of which are sparkling.
The Aubrey, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Road, Central | (+852) 2825 4001
Zoku offers a luxurious environment filled with the trappings of Japanese zen and an innovative take on Japanese cuisine and spirits. Meaning “clan” in Japanese, Zoku is designed to be a hub for socialising while enjoying in-house craft cocktails with Japanese ingredients and their sake, which comes in a range of kunshu (君主; aromatic), soshu (相州; refreshing), junshu (遵守; rich), juku-shu (熟酒; aged), and fruit sakes.
Aside from being a premium sake bar under the restaurant’s signature asymmetrical origami ceiling, Zoku also has a number of tasting menus listed with Japanese delicacies for diners to indulge in. Good vibes, delicious food, and a nice drink—what’s not to love?
Zoku Restaurant and The Terrace, 2/F, 330 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 2129 0338
Izakaya lovers will definitely be familiar with Yardbird. A modern reimagining of the classic izakaya, it serves a selection of Japanese spirits and cocktails along with its specialisation—yakitori. It has received a first Michelin star so you can only expect the quality of the sakes, cocktails, wines, and even the traditional yet lesser-known Japanese spirits, shochu (焼酎; liquor) and umeshu (梅酒; plum sake), to be excellent.
Yardbird, Shops A & B, G/F, Winsome House, 154–158 Wing Lok Street, Sheung Wan
The second concept developed by Matt Abergel and Lindsay Jang, Rōnin is another izakaya dining bar specialising in Japanese spirits. You can dine at Rōnin à la carte, or give their tasting menu a try! This menu is available each night, but subject to daily changes based on availability. Be sure to reserve ahead of time to secure your seats!
Rōnin’s sake collection is equally impressive. Spanning over two pages on their menu, you can find a variety of cold and room temperature sakes, together with a range of craft and speciality cocktails for diners to choose from.
Rōnin, G/F, 8 On Wo Lane, Sheung Wan | (+852) 2547 5263