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Shonzui: Aging like a fine wine bar

by Robbie Swinnerton

New is good; but sometimes a favorite old place is even better, especially when it comes to relaxing over a nice bottle. Shonzui is one of Tokyo’s oldest specialist wine bar/diners, and it’s still one of the best.

While the rest of Roppongi has been slowly gentrifying, Shonzui has remained virtually unchanged since it first opened 20 years back. Owner Shinsaku Katsuyama was one of the pioneers of natural wine in Japan and, unlike so many aficionados, he has always kept things casual and affordable. He’s also been a strong believer in hearty, meaty bistro fare.

The menu at Shonzui, chalked on a huge blackboard in the cheerfully cramped dining room, includes a generous charcuterie platter built around homemade pâtés and terrines, stick-to-your-ribs cassoulet and massive wagyū steaks as thick as phone directories. Needless to say, red is the predominant color in everyone’s glasses.

These days, Katsuyama has a new venture to take care of in Gaienmae, called Rakki, where he pairs natural wines with hearty, meaty Chinese cooking. So he’s rarely in attendance at Shonzui.

Instead he has a younger crew in charge, and they draw in an enthusiastic crowd. Always cheerful, always busy, always full, it’s a Tokyo institution. Be sure to book ahead.

2F, 7-10-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-3405-7478; open dinner only (closed Sun., hols).; nearest stations Nogizaka, Roppongi; no smoking; price ¥3,500 per head plus drinks; Japanese and French menu; some English spoken.

Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.