Stepping inside this quaint little “shop” – as co-owner Daniel Kwok likes to call it – for the first time, you are immediately struck by how intimate and cosy Big Sake Bar feels. Despite the name, Big Sake Bar is not big in size. In fact, it emphasises instead on being big on food, big on service, and big on sakes. And I’ll add to that – big on warmth and heart.
On the dining scale, you have on one end the immaculate Michelin-starred restaurants that sometimes feel too stifling and pretentious, and on the other extreme your fuss-free and functional hawker fare. Big Sake Bar sits nicely in the middle as the type of place you’d love to go to hang out with friends for good food and drinks. And by ‘hang out’, we mean really hang out. The vibe here is so comfortable and inviting you just find it difficult to tear yourself away. Regulars have been known to hang out with the owners till even sunrise the next day.
Helmed by co-owners Daniel Kwok and Jeremy Goh and Head Chef Andy Quek, the vivacity and zest of these three young men shine through in their approach towards their craft. They are unafraid to express themselves, be it through imparting their passion for sake and whisky with customers, or being bold and experimental with the food served.
In a city where new restaurants regularly sprout up and vanish overnight before you have a chance for a repeat visit, Big Sake Bar has built a steady following and just celebrated its first year anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, it has launched an eight-course omakase menu featuring premium grade A4 wagyu beef. Priced at S$88 nett per person or S$108 nett per person with sake included, we’d say definitely go for the sake pairing option. For just S$20 more, we think it’s a steal as you get to taste from three different types of sake and your preferred option will be served to you in a Tokkuri (carafe) to slowly enjoy with your dishes.
There are three sake options for pairing with the new omakase menu. The Toyo Bijin (Asian Beauty), a junmai daiginjyo (milled to at least 50% removal of each grain of rice) from the Sumikawa Shuzojo Brewery in the Yamaguchi prefecture, is described as having a clean entry with a slightly sweet finish. The Nabeshima “Pink Label”, a tokubetsu honjozo with 30-40% milling that is sweet from start to finish, teases with slight effervescence. The third, Masumi’s Karakuchi Ki-ippon, is a delightfully dry junmai ginjyo with 40-50% milling.
My favourite was the Karakuchi Ki-ippon which had a nice milky taste, mild sweetness and makes for easy drinking. This sake carries a Sake Meter Value (SMV) of +5, which was perfect for me. SMV is used to measure whether a sake is dry or sweet, with the higher the positive number being drier and the lower the negative number being sweeter. As a treat, we got to try the Yamaboushi Junmai Nama Genshu Bakurai Karakuchi from Yamagata with 70% milling and an incredible SMV of +28. It is purportedly the driest sake in the world and might be a tad too dry for food pairing. But hey, different strokes for different folks and there are always connoisseurs with a palate for super dry sakes.
I learnt, with the help of esake.com (a very useful site for learning about sake by the way), that Ginjyo sake is known as premium sake with only 8% to 9% of all sake brewed being of Ginjyo grade. Junmai Ginjyo and Junmai Daiginjyo sit at the top 2.6% of all sake so you know you’re getting top quality stuff at Big Sake Bar. With over 40 different types of Japanese sakes and whisky to choose from, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find something that suits your palate.
But let’s not forget about the food, for what is great sake without equally enticing food to go with it? The omakase purports to open on a light note with Chef Andy’s homemade Pi Tan Tofu. Although the star of the show is supposed to be the Wagyu Beef, the tofu with century egg really stole the show for me. The crunchy tempura crust juxtaposes nicely against the silken smooth texture of the tofu with its rich creaminess. Seasoned with shoyu and dashi sauce and with leeks added for a bit of punch, this was a delightful start to the meal.
The Sashimi Platter builds up the momentum for the wagyu beef to come and features a nicely seared aburi salmon and my favourite mekajiki (swordfish) with its distinct crunchiness.
The slices of A4 grade Wagyu Beef Sirloin from Kagoshima did not disappoint with the right balance of taste and texture without being overly marbled. Marbling that is too high can sometimes make you feel like you’re just drinking oil so this was perfect for me. Dipped in the accompanying Ponzu sauce, it complemented and brought out the natural flavours of the beef without overpowering it. This was followed swiftly by a Wagyu Beef Temaki, which as I learnt from Chef Andy, should only contain one-third the amount of rice in a normal piece of sushi to allow the hand roll to be eaten in one to two bites.
The Negitoro Don was the climax of the meal, with the tender and juicy otoro blending perfectly with a raw quail egg atop a bed of premium Japanese rice. So satisfying.
In line with Chef Andy’s constant quest for innovation, the hotate (scallop) that is part of the Sushi Platter comes bathed in uni sauce, giving it an extra umami taste. Even as a regular consumer of Japanese food, this was a style I’d never tried before and was rather refreshing.
The Yuzu Ice Cream that rounded off the meal surprised with real yuzu chunks in it and was a blissful way to end the meal.
I was assured by Daniel at the start that with good sake, one is not supposed to get drunk. After all, the alcohol content is only comparable to that found in wine. I certainly found that to be true, and went through the entire meal completely unscathed. That is, until Daniel (what did I say about the warm and generous vibes here?) decided to introduce us to the world of sochu and rum at the end of the meal. Let’s just say it was somewhat more challenging getting through the rest of the day thereafter.
I can’t wait to be back to try the other items on the menu. But this time, I’m sticking to the sake.
Big Sake Bar
302 Beach Road
Concourse Skyline, #01-02
Tel: +65 6291 2700
Email: [email protected]
Opening hours: Mondays to Saturdays, 5pm to 12am. Advance reservations are advised for the omakase menu.