There are plenty of posh and pricey sake bars around town; here’s where to drink sake in London that will feel a bit more relaxed – and a lot more affordable.

What exactly is sake?

It’s not rice wine, and – contrary to what you may have heard on a well-known cooking show – it is neither a Japanese whisky nor a strong spirit! Sake is unique in that it is brewed very like a beer but enjoyed more like a wine; you can buy special drinking cups called ochoko, but most bars will serve sake in a wine glass. The ABV (alcohol content) of sake is generally only slightly higher than wine at 18-20%, but the fact that it is (usually) a clear liquid and sometimes used in cocktails means it is often mistaken for a spirit.

Sake pairs incredibly well with pretty much any food, so don’t save it for sushi. Excellent choices to start with are as varied as a seafood platter, a cheeseboard or fried chicken, but the list is endless.

Central London

Moto, Covent Garden

The UK’s first independent Japanese sake bar showcases artisan sake from small producers. They will advise you on which dishes from their menu pair best with the sake of your choice and you can buy bottles to take home; each bottle comes with a comprehensive tasting card, which includes recommended food pairings and serving temperature. Moto also run a Sake School, with individual sessions on topics such as how to taste sake like a sommelier and basic principles for optimal sake & food pairings.

Photo by Amanda David

Sake: Moto offer sake flights with three 60ml serves of either rich, aromatic, or light and refreshing sake selected by their sake sommelier for you to taste and compare. You can also get individual serves, including a warm sake also available by the 180ml carafe, which come with tasting notes.

Other Drinks: You can choose from a range of Japanese spirits – including, unusually, an absinthe – plus craft beer and an imaginative cocktail list; we liked Under Mt. Fuji.

Food: They do bento boxes if you want something substantial but there are also excellent otsumami – basically Japanese tapas, delicious small dishes designed to pair with drinks. Staff will advise you of the best combo with your chosen sake.

Photo by Amanda David

Vibe: Informal, unassuming and smack in the centre of town, Moto is a great option for anything from a quick drink to a whole evening with food; it’s not one for huge groups though, as it is pretty compact!

Check out the website here.

Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden and Oxford Circus

Japanese izakaya restaurant Flesh & Buns has an extensive drinks offering that includes a decent range of sake.

Photo by Amanda David

They have a good selection of sake available by the glass, carafe and bottle, plus the option of a flight of any three sakes of your choice to try for £15.00.

Other Drinks:
There’s a huge range of other drinks: wine, beer, spirits, Japanese whisky and cocktails, including the Lytini with vodka, yuzu sake and lychee.

Cheapo Top Tip: If you’re planning a lunchtime or early evening session, check out their great value set lunch and pre-theatre menu. Oh, and if you like a bit of drama in your life, order the Lucky Cat cocktail.

This is a strong option if you’re planning to make a night of it, as the food here is good. You can go for maki and sashimi, a selection of small plates such as Korean fried wings or corn tempura, or mains of crispy duck leg, miso grilled aubrgine or half a spatchcock chicken.

An izakaya is basically a casual bar that provides a range of snacks and small plates to help soak up the alcohol; as you would expect this has a lively, buzzy vibe, great for groups.

Check out the website here.

North London

Oeno Maris, Newington Green

Technically, Oeno Maris is a fishmonger that sells low intervention wine by the bottle. In fact they also have a casual seating area behind the front shop section, open Thursday-Saturday, where you can sit down with some freshly-shucked oysters and a glass of sake – incidentally, one of the most outstanding food/drink pairings there is. It’s no-reservation and last orders are 6pm on Thursday and Friday, and 5pm on Saturday.

Photo by Amanda David

Sake: There is a small list of four or five sakes imported directly from Japan. Co-owner Sarah is the expert on the drinks side and will happily advise on suitable pairings if you are eating (which you really, really should).

Other drinks: They specialise in low-intervention wine and have a daily selection available by the glass. You can also buy a bottle from their shop and drink in for a small corkage charge.

Food: There’s no kitchen, but there is absolutely delicious raw fish and seafood: fresh oysters, sashimi, tuna tartare or sea urchins (according to the season). Quality and sustainability are key here; co-owner Dan is a Master Fishmonger and an amazing, generous source of advice.

Vibe: It’s a friendly and relaxed gem of a place, a charming, cosy hideaway in which to settle down with your sake. I would recommend picking up some fish or seafood from the shop to take home while you’re here, it’s absolutely top class.

Check out the website here.

East London

Sake Collective, Shoreditch

With the largest collection of sake in the UK together with friendly and knowledgeable staff, you are sure to find something to your taste at this Shoreditch shop and bar. Many of their sakes are from small independent breweries, and are difficult to find outside of Japan; they also run regular tasting events.

Photo by Amanda David

More than 30 sakes are available from £5.00 for a 60ml glass. The menu structure is really helpful, with sakes listed under general styles such as ‘fruity and aromatic’ or ‘crisp and clean’. Each sake on the page is then described with just four tasting notes, such as complex/popcorn/honey/toasted rice cracker or full-bodied/white flower/minerality/dry finish.

Other Drinks:
The bar also serves beer and a number of spirits including shochu, whisky and gin by the glass.

There are a selection of light Japanese bar snacks; think wasabi nori crisps, rice crackers and pickled vegetables.

The shop has an open and airy 12-seater bar area where you can sip your sake and browse the menu while you decide what to have next.

Check out the website here.

Issho-Ni, Shoreditch

Issho-Ni translates from Japanese as ‘together with’ and reflects not only the izakaya-style sharing plates to be served with drinks, but also both their varied drinks menu designed to pair with the food, plus the idea that people will gather together to share them.

Sake: One warm sake and a selection of cold sakes by the glass (100ml), carafe (400ml) or bottle (300-720ml). Glasses are around £9.00 with carafes averaging about £33.00.

Other drinks: There is a decent Japanese whisky list and a small wine list but the Japanese-inspired cocktails at £10.00£13.00 each would be the way to go; think a Miso-Whisky Sour or a Yuzu Plum Gin & Tonic.

Food: Izakaya-style small plates plus some larger grilled or fried dishes. Good sushi/sashimi selection, classics such as chicken katsu and salmon teriyaki plus bougie options like black cod, wagyu beef and foie gras if you’re feeling flash (and flush).

Vibe: Casual, relaxed, hip. Good for groups and newbies, as it’s not all about the sake.

Check out the website here.

Cheapo Top Tip: If you’ve developed any kind of interest in sake then membership of the BSA (British Sake Association) is a must; it’s a very Cheapo-friendly £40.00 for the calendar year (Jan-Dec), reduced to just £20.00 if you join after June. In addition to a range of discounts – including a whopping 15% off sake at the Japan Centre – there are regular tastings and events where you can meet brewers and socialise with other sake enthusiasts. We’ll see you there!

South London

Kanpai Sake Brewery, London Bridge

Recently relocated from its original Peckham site, Kanpai – appropriately meaning ‘Cheers!’ in Japanese – is the UK’s first sake brewery and a wonderful starting point for sake sampling. We can highly recommend the Saturday Tours & Tastings, where you get a detailed tour of the brewery and three sakes to taste for just £30.00 – although the tap room is also our happy place. You can buy bottles to take home and there is an online shop for when you run out.

Photo by Amanda David

Sake: Kanpai’s taproom has their own sake on tap by the glass plus more options by the bottle, including sakes from other brewers around the world.

Other Drinks: Japanese and craft beers (including their own collaboration beer) are also available alongside Japanese whiskies and a range of cocktails.

Food: Extra points for the food, as the izakaya-style dishes at the Kanpai Kitchen are from chef Tai Nguyen, ex head chef of local Bermondsey restaurant Hakata and Bone Daddies.

Vibe: Laid-back, fun and buzzy, much like their Bermondsey Beer Mile craft brewery neighbours. With super-enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff, it’s a great place for asking questions and advice on all things sake.

Check out the website here.

West London

Sake & Oyster bar at Japan Centre Ichiba, White City

The classic saying that ‘sake doesn’t fight with food’ is illustrated perfectly here; a perfect pairing for otherwise tricky foods, sake has a high level of glutamic acid, an umami bomb that heightens the complex flavour of oysters. It pairs so well that you can even pour your sake straight into the oyster shell and knock them back in one: heaven.

Photo by Amanda David

Sake: There are several sakes available at £5.95 for a 100ml glass or £15.85 for a 300ml carafe; this affordable pricing combined with very knowledgeable staff makes this a great place to start your sake journey.

Other Drinks: There is also a basic red or white house wine, Asahi and Kirin beers on draft or bottled (or £20.00 for a bucket of six bottles) plus a yuzu gin and tonic on offer.

Food: Pretty much what it says on the tin – Jersey oysters at an amazing 2 for £5.00.

Vibe: Casual counter seating at the entrance to the mammoth shopping area, but off to one side so you don’t feel on display. A perfect place to sample a couple of sakes before browsing the bottles in the store.
Check out the website here.

While we do our best to ensure it is correct, information is subject to change. This article was originally published in April 2024.

Written by:
BIO: Freelance writer, flâneuse and former blogger at London Girl About Town, Amanda is dedicated to sharing the latest on London's restaurants, bars, hidden quirks and general wonderfulness.
Filed under: Eating & Drinking

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