Japanese-style izakayas are a dime to a dozen in Singapore. Primarily a casual drinking establishment that just so happens to offer food as well, izakayas are essentially Japanese gastropubs that are extremely popular with working professionals looking for somewhere to chill and have a drink with colleagues. ShuKuu Izakaya 酒空居酒屋, located right smack in the Telok Ayer stretch in Singapore’s Central Business District, is the very epitome of an izakaya that would not be out of place under the rattling tracks of a Japanese train station in downtown Tokyo.
What sets ShuKuu Izakaya apart from the other izakayas in Singapore is that it is actually founded in 2015 by four lifelong non-Japanese friends who just happen to to share an enduring passion for all things Japanese, and two of them are even certified sake sommeliers. As such you can expect the sake selection here to be top-notch, some of which can’t be found in other sake bars.
Take for example, ShuKuu’s own Tokubetsu Junmaishu ($53++ per bottle, above). It’s specially bottled for them by a sake brewery from Nikko in Tochigi prefecture, and when served hot – co-founder Luis Liu, a double certified SSI International Kikisake-Shi (國際唎酒師) and SSA Certified Sake Sommelier (pictured), insists on serving it at a specific temperature – is incredibly well-textured with umami and savoury notes.
Another special sake you can find at ShuKuu is the Imanashi Bodaimoto ($118++, main picture) from the Nara prefecture-based brewery, which is a rich and strong sake. Only certain temple-affiliated sake breweries are allowed to brew sake in this traditional style; in fact today only six temple-affiliated breweries adopt this method – think of it as the Trappist version of sake. In the Bodaimoto process, steamed and uncooked rice is first steeped in water drawn from temple wells or streams for spontaneous fermentation, and when the water becomes sour from the development of lactic acid it is then used in the brewing of sake.
Also limited is the Hanaabi Junmai Daiginjo ($148++, above). ShuKuu had originally approached the brewer for his more popular lines of sake but was instead presented with this instead, which impressed enough for the izakaya to decide to stock.
But co-founder and sake sommelier Liu is a strong proponent of promoting sakes that normally fly under the radar of drinkers. “Most people think that just because a sake is a junmai daiginjo means it’s of the best quality,” Liu muses. “I’m here to show that even a regular junmaishu can be equally delicious. And better for the wallet as well!”
As a case in point, he points to the Kaze no Mori Akitsuho Junmai Shiborihana sake ($128++ per bottle, above), which is a lightly sparkling sake that’s fruity and acidic at the same time. “In a blind tasting, most people would assume it’s a junmai daiginjo,” he says.
Aside from the sake, ShuKuu’s food impresses as well. An absolute must-try is the Pork Jowl Charshu ($12++), the meltingly-tender grilled roasted pork slices are the perfect accompaniment for a sake. Their kushiyaki menu impresses as well, especially the chicken meatball Tsukune ($4.50++ per skewer). Here it is even done in an authentic manner, mixing up ground-up chicken cartilage with the minced chicken before grilling them for a lovely crunch.
Between the relatively affordable food and impressive range of sake, and its co-owners’ expertise in pairing them, ShuKuu Izakaya is likely to become and remain a favourite of those working in the area and beyond.