Time Out says
Personal service, exclusive bottles and heaps of character at this tucked-away sake bar in Central
Sake producers are revamping their industry to stave off its decline. You would be forgiven for not noticing the decline. In Hong Kong, sake seems to be on the rise. Under the stewardship of resident Sake Samurai Elliot Faber (more on him later), hot spots like Yardbird, Ronin and Sake Central have helped skew our perception of the drink for the better. In Japan, however, sake is rapidly losing ground to other adult beverages, like wine and craft beer.
To rekindle an industry that has over 2,000 years of history, Japanese producers are trying to export sake culture to places like, well, here. It helps that we have Faber banging the drum for the drink. So far, the Canadian sake expert has given Yardbird an edge (as if it needed one) by developing a killer sake programme. He has authored a critically acclaimed book titled Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries. He opened Sake Central in 2017. And now he and his group have launched a new project, Saketen.
Nestled behind the ramen restaurant Nojo in an alley off Pottinger Street, Saketen diverges from Faber’s other projects in a few notable ways. For one, it’s a bar, plain and simple. Saketen stays open until 2am and tends to attract after-dinner groups or crowds crawling out of neighbouring watering holes like The Iron Fairies and J. Boroski. It’s small and intimate, and the design is absolutely magnetic, even from the outside – the walls and floor are filled out with pebbles that evoke the look and feel of grains of rice, the greyscale of the stones offset by colourful posters with soft, round edges. It’s another feather in the cap for interior architect and designer Sean Dix, who has worked with Faber on all his projects in Hong Kong.
Saketen also focuses on one-on-one service. The word ‘saketen’ in Japanese refers to a liquor store, where the staff are uniquely knowledgeable about their products and will probably pop open a bottle for you to try. Here, the name plays on the fact that the bar features sake from 10 different producers (these 10 rotate a few times a year), but you get that same level of ‘saketen’ service.
The staff, including an affable sake sommelier named Yoko, can give you a primer or a deep dive into the seasonal, limited-edition and mainstream offerings available from each producer. Those include a fruity, dry junmai daiginjo from Hyogo-based Fukuju (starting at $120 for a 90ml pour) and ‘birodonoaji’ from 269-year-old Shichiken (starting at $130 for a 90ml pour), a dry sake with a pineapple-like aroma and mellow finish. These are kept cold – stored between -5 and 0 degrees Celsius – in a custom, wall shelf-like fridge.
There are some clever modern touches, too, like sake on draft. (At the moment, Saketen is one of only a few places in the world to offer sake on draft, although expect that to change as Japanese producers further modernise the industry.) The sake is kegged by the producers in Japan and then flown in temperature-controlled containers to Hong Kong. The first time it sees air is when it’s poured; give it 15 minutes, and the flavour and aroma will change. The team also makes an oolong tea highball ($78), which is kegged in-house and poured on draft, and serves a selection of fruit-based infusions, including yuzushu and umeshu. Stay long enough, and the bar staff might knock back a shot of that umeshu with you, too.
Saketen is the kind of place where you could start or end your night, and it feels remarkably far removed from the run-of-the-mill bars lining the streets of Central: the soundtrack is eclectic and great (expect everything from The Beatles to the Notorious B.I.G.), and the service is attentive, approachable and above all fun. Whatever the state of sake culture in Japan may be, it feels like it’s ready to take off in Hong Kong. We can thank sake sanctuaries like Saketen for that.
G/F, Shop 4, Lower Block, H Code, 45 Pottinger St, Central
|Opening hours:||Mon-Sat, 6pm-2am|