Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on February 2009
The Hazelburn wears its heart on its sleeve. From the moment visitors descend from the frenetic streets of Kabukicho, they are entering the land of bagpipes and haggis. Sure enough, the background music is something-on-a-bagpipe and the most eye-catching item on a pretty impressive menu is haggis pizza.
Stereotypes aside, The Hazelburn is a remarkable place, with over 400 whiskies and an array of five draft beers and a dozen or so bottled ales. Surely there are very few establishments anywhere in the world with so much Scottish liquid to select from. (We must note, though, the bottled beer selection did include a couple of interlopers from south of the border.)
The Hazelburn is neither raucous nor rowdy, but more a studious drinker’s pub. Regulars tend to sit at the bar and are the kind of folks who can tell their Islay (¥1,000) from their Campbletown Malt (¥1,500). For anyone who is a little bit confused (and who wouldn’t be after a few of these?), the helpful staff and fellow consumers are always on hand to debate the relative merits of each.
After coming to grips with Scottish sensory overload—flags of a red lion on a yellow background, tartan tablecloths, Highland tea-towels and a Raith Rovers scarf proclaiming “Fife’s finest”—it would have been sacrilege not to try the dish that the rugged Highlanders have donated to global cuisine (¥1,400). (Although we’re not sure if they ever envisaged haggis being served on top of a pizza.) It was tasty, but needed support from an unusual chicken and chips dish (¥1,000) in which the chicken was fried in a batter containing sliced almonds—another culinary first for us.
Meanwhile, the drinks were sliding down faster than we could hum “Flower of Scotland.” Scotch is all very well and good, but tends to floor some people faster than a direct hit with a caber, so we alternated the wee drams with the much larger ones—and still ended up “bawsed.” What can you expect when some of the bottled beers are stronger than a fine wine?
Strongbow cider (¥1,000) served to freshen a palate still coming to terms with the sweet Traquair Jacobite House Ale (¥1,500) or an Arran Sunset (¥1,600), let alone the Banana Bread Beer (¥1,500), Bombardier Satanic Mills (¥1,500) or Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (¥1,500) that had talked themselves onto the menu. And the bill.
Even a trip to the lavatory serves to remind you that you’re in the land of the thistle, with beer mats on the walls and the spare toilet roll stored in a 25-year Macallan Malt wooden box.
As is often the case when the Japanese take something to heart, The Hazelburn is more Scottish than Nessie in a kilt, but it’s a thoroughly good night out.