SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) It looks like a scene from The Wolf of Wall Street: loud American investment banker types chugging down expensive wine and boasting about big money deals, spitting out profanities in quick procession like they were getting paid $1,000 for each one. There are no naked women but there's plenty of food - artfully displayed canapes that they barely touch.
Such a waste considering that they're in Tokyo and eating at the new Takazawa bar - the brand new offshoot of the acclaimed and hard-to-book modern kaiseki restaurant Aronia de Takazawa.
Although it tends to attract mainly American expats, Takazawa Bar is chef Yoshiaki Takazawa's take on the traditional izakaya but minus the smoke and the whisky highballs. Instead you get a stylish (and pricey) range of tipple from sake to wine, fragrant grape beer and even artisanal Japanese ginger ale which comes in a tiny bottle.
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Like the flagship restaurant (which incidentally is just behind the bar), the food is ingredient-based and sourced from Takazawa's stable of artisanal producers. The fresh mozzarella in his tomato salad, for example, comes from a farmer in Hokkaido who learnt his craft in Italy. The firm milky cheese, fresh sweet tomatoes and pesto are a familiar combination but popping with flavour.
Everything is prepared in the main kitchen at Aronia because the bar space is so tiny there are no cooking facilities and only enough space for one server to move around comfortably.
Takazawa and his wife Akiko are used to working in tight spaces so it comes as no surprise that they've managed to turn this tiny space into a stylish nook. A curved wooden counter is covered in glass, under which is a decorative zen garden of pebbles and stones in all sizes. Behind the counter is a cupboard door not unlike Harry Potter's room under the stairs, from which Akiko and Takazawa take turns appearing magically bearing food. The door actually leads to the back lane, from which it's just a 100 metre dash back to the main restaurant.
Some of the highlights include beautiful live Hokkaido abalone (2,800 yen, S$32) that's flown in live every morning. He deep fries the critters alive coated in crunchy Panko crumbs, while the liver is mashed into a creamy pate with a bit of mustard to cut the richness.
Shirako or cod milt (1,600 yen) is done two ways - creamy on the inside and crunchy on the outside as tempura; or takoyaki (octopus ball) style with a thin crust smeared with a coating of savoury balsamic soy sauce reduction.
The signature dish is Takazawa's home made duck curry, made with a mix of 50 spices cooked in a mildly spicy gravy thickened with blended onions, served with fried onions and raisins and artisanal steamed rice.
If you've always despaired of getting a reservation at Aronia de Takazawa, the bar is a happy consolation prize. Just tune out the Wall Street wolves and enjoy this modern izakaya for the good food it serves up.
This article was first published on Nov 28, 2015.
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