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Kabuke
Photograph: Kabuke

The best sake bars in Singapore

We suss out the city's top sake bars to cradle a ceramic cup and unwind over a bottle of rice wine. Kampai! Additional reporting by Lee Sihan

Fabian Loo
Written by
Michelle Ng
&
Fabian Loo
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Made by fermenting polished Japanese rice, sake is an alcoholic beverage that is rich in history and ceremonial significance. It can be sipped chilled, at room temperature or warm and is traditionally served in small cups called small cups called choko. A word to the wise – compared to other fermented beverage counterparts like beer and wine, sake has a much higher ABV of about 15 to 20 percent so you might want to go easy.

If you’re subscribed to a "rice is life" kind of attitude, let us help you apply this philosophy to your liquid needs as well. For goodness sake (pun intended), go out there, devour a stick or a dozen yakitori, knock back some sake, contemplate and repeat.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Tanjong Pagar

Like the Japanese art of Kabuki, which combines dance and drama, Kabuke blends sake with zany bar bites. You don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the pairings either – everything is easily broken down and you’re encouraged to order sake by the glass or carafe to savour a range of types throughout your meal. Each dish on Kabuke’s menu also comes pre-paired with a sake so ordering is a breeze.

  • Restaurants
  • Tanjong Pagar

Iko isn’t a typical Japanese restaurant. Funky neon lights help illuminate a wall of a hand-painted mural, while the concrete-washed floor and steel fixtures exude a grungy edge. Helming the kitchen at this hip, urban joint is chef Jeremmy Chiam (of Le Binchotan fame), where he infuses a touch of smoke – and fun – into the menu. They all pair well with a selection of sake, including the easy-going Miyakanbai Sparkling Yuzu Sake ($38) and Toyo Bijin Junmai Ginjo Okarakuchi (from $45).

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Raffles Place

Jidai looks and feels nothing like the standard izakaya. The drinking den swops a no-frills, minimalist approach for something loud and eclectic: coloured accent lights lend plenty of vibes, and bare walls come lined with oversized maneki-neko, or fortune cat figures. And the food, too, is an unexpected surprise. Chef-owner Darwin Wong, who also runs modern European restaurant Beurre, imbues French cooking techniques into the menu here to present novel bar bites and fun sharing plates. But this is a sake bar after all, and the fridges come stocked with a neat line-up of labels worth trying. Shichiken Yama-no-Kasumi ($98), in particular, is a cloudy sparkling sake that tastes crisp, clean, and oh-so-easy to enjoy.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Izakaya
  • Raffles Place

Slide open the small arched panel and squeeze through, inside you’ll find a U-shaped bar that fits about 20 people filling up the entire space. MoboMoga is a friendly sake spot that offers everything from full bottles to 180ml carafe. Looking for something new? Speak to the bar manager and he might just procure some rare labels from his travels – just ask what’s new and in-stock while you’re there.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Raffles Place

Don’t be fooled by its size – this intimate bar houses fridges full of shochu, umeshu and jizake (artisanal sake) from boutique breweries in Japan. None of the labels stocked here are run-of-the-mill. Orihara carries many seasonal, rare and onetime productions among its 200-strong bottles. They range from $60 to $2,000 for dine-in and $35 to $1,500 for retail. Though you can’t order sake by the glass, Orihara does offer tasting flights. 

  • Bars and pubs
  • Raffles Place

The clue is in the name: ‘Boruto’ is Japanese for ‘vault’. Skip past the unassuming façade, hop through the tapas bar on the first storey and climb straight up to the second level – there, you’ll find rice wine stowed away in a literal vault. It houses over 80 brands of prized sake, of which around 50 are exclusive to Boruto, such as the Daishichi Minowamon Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo ($480) and Fukuiwai Junmai Daiginjo 29 percent ($519). To really ball hard, pick up a Juyondai Tatsuno Otoshigo Junmai Daiginjo for a neat $1,380 a bottle. 

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Tanjong Pagar

BAM! fulfills all the trappings of the now-mainstream hipster decor – naked bulbs, exposed wires and bare concrete walls – but look past that and you’ve found yourself in a popular CBD office crowd stomping ground. Inspired by Chef Pepe Moncayo’s trip to the esteemed Katsuyama brewery where he was first introduced to the concept of sake and food pairing, the joint offers an eclectic mix of cuisines that is driven by textures, colours and flavours. Plant yourself along the bar facing the open kitchen to get up-close and personal with the lively kitchen staff, and order a few Spanish-inspired small plates to accompany your sake.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Tanjong Pagar

Paper lanterns and noren usher you into a dingy-in-a-good-way izakaya that feels like it’s straight out of a Tokyo back alley. Yes, the owners of ShuKuu are freshening up the post-work drinking scene of our CBD with a slice of life from the Japanese capital – but rather than pints of Asahi, sake’s the order of the day. Don’t bother with the menu. It changes so frequently that it might not even be updated – ask for recommendations instead. 

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Izakaya
  • Tanglin

Mirroring the live kitchen action (yakitori smoking over open flames perfuming the air with the intoxicating scent of grilled meat), the walls of Yujin Izakaya are decked out in framed manga scenes. It's a fun, vibrant space that doesn’t take itself too seriously. So, you shouldn’t too. A part of the Les Amis group’s diverse restaurant portfolio, Yujin offers the same quality of food you'd expect from the rest of the group. The sake list features some pretty out-there varietals too – think Hoya Daiginjo and Ohmine Junmai Daiginjo from Yamaguchi prefecture.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Izakaya
  • Raffles Place

Even during the middle of the week, Shunjuu Izakaya draws in a large crowd looking for a rowdy izakaya experience by the riverside. Its atmosphere and food – it dishes out a mean oyster omelette, golden-brown karaage and stupendous sticks of chicken skin, tsukune and pork jowl – are what keep people coming back for more. Aside from ice-cold beers on draft, the sake list pushes everything from the high-grade sakes like Toko Junmai Daiginjo ($199 for 720ml) to the sweet and fruity Amabuki Junmai Ginjo ($139 for 720ml). Pro-tip: reservations are highly recommended.

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