Gen Yamamoto: Japan’s cocktail shokunin

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With the likes of Shuzo Nagumo (Mixology Laboratory) and Hiroyasu Kayama (Bar Benfiddich) at the helm of some of the most inventive cocktail bars in Tokyo – cocktail shokunins who choose to embrace unusual techniques such as molecular gastronomy or go to lengths to ensure the best produce possible in cocktail-making (Kayama-san is said to grow his own herbs in a drying room at home) – the world has taken notice, and foodies and alcohol aficionados alike flock to the Nihon capital for a cocktail experience of a lifetime.

Gen Yamamoto is one of such devoted shokunins. His cocktail menu is centred on the seasonality of local fruit produce handpicked and sourced directly from farmers, which he later marries with herbs and different high quality liquors. There are no cocktail classics here, only a compact selection of fruit-based cocktails which Yamamoto-san alters and perfects from season to season. And forget about only ordering one drink from the menu – the cocktails are designed to be consumed omakase style, reminiscent of sushi and washoku dining in Japan, in a progressive tasting series of four (¥4,500) to six cocktails (¥6,500).

Unlike other flashy or theatrical bars (including the eccentric Nagumo-san’s Mixology Laboratory), the beauty of Yamamoto-san’s cocktail creations lies in their purity of taste. Organic, earthy and sweet flavours of Fukuoka strawberry, Niigata sweet potato, Shizuoka citrus and even Miyazaki kumquat come through and warm the palate, despite being paired with stronger tastes of Japanese shochu, sake and spirits (other types of alcohol, including Yamazaki whisky, may be used during other seasons).

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First course: 华吟 Local spirit (distilled sake) with citrus and daikon

It is also fascinating to watch Yamamoto-san work alone behind his large, 500-year-old mizunara oak counter, cutting fresh fruit, grating and muddling herbs, and stirring each cocktail with precision before handing them directly to each customer. At each course, Yamamoto-san would explain the different ingredients used, and everyone seated at the tiny eight-seat counter instantly quietened in response, nodding their heads as he spoke. There was an unanimous silence among strangers that the young bar master deserved only full attention that is worthy of his shokunin status.

Yamamoto-san’s gentle and focused movements during cocktail-making, as well as his preference for a minimalistic cocktail philosophy evokes a graceful appeal, transforming the experience at his counter into an art form. In the midst of all that is loud, crazy and whimsical in Japan, Gen Yamamoto is a welcoming and elegant addition to the Tokyo bar scene, and a revisit is in tall order.

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Second course:七田 shochu with kiwi and matcha
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Third course: Wakayama 纪土 nama sake with organic Shizuoka orange and wasabi
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Fourth course: Imo nama shochu (said to be delivered and consumed within 30 days from production) with Fukuoka strawberries
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Fifth course: Warm Imo nama shochu with Miyazaki kumquat. Really loved this one
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Bottle of Imo nama shochu (冬季限定 winter edition)
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Final course: 大正 Taisho shochu with roasted and mashed Niigata sweet potato, milk and a dash of matcha powder

Gen Yamamoto

Reservation: (you can email in English)

Anniversary Building, 1F
1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0045

Tuesday to Sunday = 15:00-23:00
Closed Mondays and occasionally on certain days of the month, check website for details.