The Sake Bar development is in full bloom in the trendy cities of the world. Gone are the days of throat-scorching free shots of low quality alcohol served at the end of a meal in some Japanese restaurants.
Finally Europe and US are starting to understand and appreciate the true taste and quality of this very refined and delicate beverage. Whether it is slowly sipped and evaluated by connoisseurs or used to create the most innovative cocktails, if you party with the hip crowd you have noticed the new sake trend.
It was five decades ago in the trendy, high-end 5th arrondissement at 3 rue de la Valette, that Takumi Ashibe opened Takaraya, Paris’ very first Japanese restaurant. In the swinging ’60s, he moved the restaurant to Opéra and renamed it Takara; but it wasn’t until after he gave up the business that off-the-radar sake bars started opening, including the popular Sake Bar (found at Ashibe’s original rue de la Valette spot). The sake trend not having emerged on the mainstream Parisian culinary scene yet, bars remained underground and welcomed a largely Japanese business clientele. Fifty years later, every hotel worth its salt and every high-end Japanese restaurant now has a sake menu, sometimes elaborate enough to rival the wine list. As for Ashibe’s original restaurant, it was given a new lease of life — and a sake menu including some very eye-catching labels.
Three years ago, Takaraya’s complete transformation reached its final phase with a brand new style and name; the original Takaraya now goes under the name of Sola. Youlin Ly, the restaurant’s new owner, has gone right back to the source, and today Sola is one of those glittering places that is a must on any sushi and sake itinerary. However, the name on every self-respecting sake amateur’s lips is Toshiro Kuroda’s (the man behind sake institution Workshop Issé) more down-to-earth Izakaya Issé (izakaya denotes a casual bar where sake is usually served in Japan), which has more than 50 different sakes to try. And contrary to what below-average “fast food” sushi joints will have us believe, real sake can be paired with a meal, just like a good bottle of red wine.