Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on October 2009
This smart little wine bar is premised on a seriously good idea. Every so often, one of the millions of bottles of plonk that are imported into the country each year meets with a little accident: the label gets peeled off, say, or the foil around the neck gets slightly scuffed. This being Japan, such imperfections are enough to make a wine aficionado’s hair stand on end, so the bottles are sold off cheaper as “outlet wine.” And that’s where Wine Sakaba Shibuya comes in, snapping up some great bottles for a far lower price.
A short way from the east side of Shibuya station, the bar is on the second floor of a building that looks to have undergone a major facelift recently. It’s spotlessly clean inside, with wine racks recessed into faux-brick walls and wood paneling.
Counter seats are apparently at a premium, but there is plenty of room at the high tables around the corner, or at the single long table that runs in front of the window. The red-and-white lampshades are pretty funky, but the deer skull and antlers hanging on the wall seem a little out of place. Still, after sampling a few of the wines, we quickly forgot all about Bambi’s bonce.
You never quite know what’s going to be on the menu when you turn up for a glass or three at Sakaba. The house wine comes in either red or white and is probably best kept in the kitchen, but the fruity Loire Muscadet we tried was well worth ¥480 a glass (¥2,700 for a bottle), while the Malandes Chablis was very reasonable at ¥790 (¥4,050). We skipped the sparkling Fete D’Or (¥530/¥2,880) to get stuck into the reds as soon as the food arrived, though the Riond Rosso (¥330/¥2,000) was a bit too tangy for these taste buds. The Errazuric Chardonnay, on the other hand, was very pleasant (¥520/¥2,850).
As befits a dedicated wine bar, the rest of the drinks menu is pretty thin, though there are some good bottled beers, including Orval (¥1,420), the hard-to-find Gouden Carolus Triple (¥1,380) and Boon Kriek (¥1,580). Tokyo’s newfound fascination with highballs is also much in evidence, starting at ¥480 for a Yamazaki highball and running to ¥750 for a Macallan and soda—the very thought of which would probably make a Scot turn puce.
The accompanying food is generally excellent, although slightly larger servings would have been good. The emphasis appears to have been on melding Kyoto cuisine with European fare, hence the salad with bacon and fish (¥830) and the Kyoto eggplant with chicken and stewed tomatoes (¥800). The roast duck with black pepper (¥880) was worth saving room for, as was the roast ham from pigs raised in Tsukuba (¥780) and Kyoto peppers with grilled spare ribs (¥1,100). We wouldn’t recommend the country paté (¥500), but the cheese platter (¥980) was reasonable—and works neatly with the wine theme.