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Sunday, 17 February 2013

Mizuwari, Soho

I'm no great fan of Japan. My advice-to-self, whenever I've worked there, has been 'soak up the corporate hospitality, take the Kyoto temple tour, get Comedy Garçons to fix the Jimmy Krankie-length sleeves on their lovely asymmetric jacket, then take the client's yen and run, hon.'  Seen through my gaijin eyes, (sweeping generalisation following) the Japanese are deeply deeply deeply odd sausages. How "odd'? I'm no shrinking violet; but some of the more extreme kidult cartoon comic porn these guys get off on makes Jimmy Savile-san look about as pervy as fluffy Orville the Duck by comparison. (Not that any bird that entertains Keith Harris's fist up its harris isn't equally odd; but you get my drift). Japan oozes style - an Issey Miyake dress as sculpture; the arcane meaning of the tea ceremony;  those geisiha girls that do New Romantic slap better than Boy George ever could. A trip to Tokyo is a trip indeed - wired, weird and guaranteed wildly entertaining. But so too, are my more eccentric friends and, like them, I suggest, exposure is best limited to small doses. As for whisky produced in the Land of the Rising Sun, as a son of Caledonia, my loyalty is to oor ain uisge beathe, OBVIOUSLY. Besides, look what the Japanese version does to Tokyo salarymen. After a few shots - an amount that widnae even qualify as a wee gargle in Glasgow - Hiro, Harumi, Hyoshi  and the rest of the boys from HSBC are rolling in the gutter, parking the fishy contents of their lunchtime bento box. That, or murdering Boney M at the local karaoke - "La-la-lasputin rover of the lush and queen." But what's this? With its finest Suntory whiskies, the new dive bar  - a Yukuza gangster dark, louche and conspiratorial cellar - at perma-packed Bincho Yakitori could yet convert me to the Japanese cause? That's because most of the aged distillations on offer here are a match for some of Scotia's finest. (What's gaelic for 'fatwa', as in the one now on my head for blasphemy, in force whenever I advance beyond Berwick-on-Tweed?)  Complex, sophisticated, cherry-sherry-smokey-oaky (so good I might also hit the karaoke), Hibiki 23-year-old could flatten you faster than a sandaname Sumo - if you slug rather than sip a spirit worthy of serious respect and attention. As for Hakashu Heavily Peated versus Laphroaig? My money's still on the latter, but expect the deciding bout to go the distance. Suave single malts from Nikka and rarities from the Karuizawa distillery (now mothballed) are worth shelling out for, and entry-level Suntory is a useful base for quality cocktails. Try Semei (Hibiki 12 maraschino liqueur, absinthe and lemon) and Risshun (Yamazaki 12, plum liqueur and ginger) - menu highlights at £11.50. The bar's name 'mizuwari' translates as 'mix with water'. Sound advice for Tokyo lightweights. Talking of lightweights; it's a great place to shift the flab, Japan. Sushi, green tea, a bit of Friday-night bulimia; you'll come back as thin as a skewer. Just like the ones Mizuwari uses for its tasty bar bites. 
16 Old Compton Street W1 7287 9111 www.bincho.co.uk