Previously I wrote about my time at Kamozou in Kagurazaka. Kamozou is part of a chain of nihonshu bars that is run by Noriharu Nozaki. I believe the very first restaurant in this chain opened in Shinbashi under Noriharu’s own name, Nozaki Sakaten. As of writing this post, they have about 5 restaurants being run by him under different names. I would assume that each restaurant generally has the same the concept with a few derivations between each shop. I found Kamozou to be a bit more relaxed and open while Nozaki was a bit cramped and livelier.
The first time I went to Nozaki was on a weekday and it was by chance that I stumbled upon the shop. It would take a year before I would return and this second time I went on a Saturday evening after a long day at work and unfortunately they were full. With sake on my mind, I decided to wait for a seat to open up. It took about 20 minutes to get a seat at the bar but it was well worth the wait. Note that I didn’t physically wait there as I decided to go somewhere else for a bit. If you are ever in Shinbashi and in need of good sake, Nozaki is a great place to go, but be aware that they are definitely not foreigner friendly when it comes to their menus and such, but they will help you as best they can.
The outside of Nozaki is pretty simple, yet very complex. They have a few large wooden barrels of nihonshu outside, although I suspect they are not full of nihonshu. There is also a typical cedar ball as a sign of good luck for the sake breweries. The area can feel a bit seedy as there are girl’s bars above the restaurant and I was even propositioned to enter one of the touch pubs in the area. Funny note, a Chinese man tried to get me to go to a touch pub when he said “Do you have breasts?” in Japanese (おっぱいがありますか？). I never did enter whatever shop he was promoting.
Once you pass the gauntlet of smut and the objectification of women and enter Nozaki, you enter a fairly small shop with bar seating as well as a few tables. If you have a larger group you can head downstairs where they have a tatami style room with enough space for over 20 people. The dishes at this restaurant were different to Kamozou but Nozaki had a similar theme, washoku (Japanese food). Every dish was created by the chef using dishes that match very well with nihonshu and the current season. I can’t remember what I ate on my first trip but on my second trip I had a lot of raw meat. I had some raw liver, yukke, raw horse with egg, and some other dishes. It was all very Japanese and they all paired with the sake selection very well.
The only problem I had with Nozaki, compared with Kamozou, is that the servers were not as knowledgeable in nihonshu as the main bartender at Kamozou. In Kamozou I was helped by a nihonshu sommelier who knew her nihonshu. In Nozaki, the staff seemed a little younger and less knowledgeable so I ended up just ordering whatever looked good. I went with Kochi as I enjoyed it last time in Kamozou but it was a lot sweeter than the variety I had at Kamozou. It wasn’t bad but I wanted something a bit stronger to go with the dishes I had ordered. I enjoy trying different nihonshu and I never had a “bad” nihonshu at either Kamozou or Nozaki but I didn’t get exactly what I wanted either. I will still go back to Nozaki again because the selection and quality of the nihonshu and food is great.
If you are in Shinbashi and have the chance, head to Nozaki and see if you can get a seat. Even if you have to wait a bit, you’ll relish the opportunity to have some nihonshu that no one else has ever tried. You can also be fearful, or fearless, of the food you order. The menus are all in Japanese making it difficult to know what you are ordering. Even for this experienced resident of Tokyo who has been to many places and tried many things, the food menu at Nozaki is difficult to read. I can understand the main ingredients but it can be difficult to know exactly what I was ordering. It can be food roulette, so you need a strong stomach and a good sense of adventure.
Bring a Japanese friend along to help you know what you are ordering but be aware that because some of the dishes offered there are not always common in Japan it can be difficult for Japanese people to know what they are ordering as well. You won’t find many of your standard yakitori and karaage on this menu. You’re more likely to find raw liver and fish heads instead but that is all part of the adventure and fun of going to a place like this.