Ginza sushi restaurant tests Champagne pairing

by Melinda Joe

Special To The Japan Times

Nothing says “festive” like Champagne, that most elegant of elixirs. The drink’s life-affirming effervescence makes it a natural choice for New Year’s celebrations, but Champagne pairs so well with many of my favorite foods that I drink it far more often than once a year — with everything from raw oysters to fried chicken.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of bubbly in Tokyo; Japan is now the world’s fourth-largest importer of the beverage, according to data from The Comite Champagne, the trade association that represents independent Champagne producers. The drink is a staple at upscale restaurants all over the city, but until last month, I had never experienced it as part of a sushi course.

Enter Ginza 815 (pronounced, “Ginza Hachi-ichi-go”), a stylish new sushi bar that seeks to marry the food culture of Japan with the drinking customs of Europe. Although wine and sake lists are expanding at sushi restaurants in Tokyo, it is still rare to find precise pairing suggestions. However, Ginza 815 offers a six-glass beverage course for ¥8,000 to match its ¥13,000 tasting menu, which includes a seven-piece assortment of nigiri (classic bite-sized) sushi.

Opened in early December, the restaurant is a collaboration between esteemed producer Bollinger — famous for making James Bond’s Champagne of choice, which appears in more than a dozen 007 movies — and Michelin-starred Tokyo restaurant Ginza Iwa. While the emphasis is on Champagne, Ginza 815 also serves a range of French wines, with a few prestige bottles from Italy and the U.S., such as Luce Brunello di Montalcino and Opus One. A short selection of sake, shochu and whisky rounds out the drinks list.

Likewise, the food menu consists of more than just sushi. In contrast to the traditional approach taken at Hisayoshi Iwa’s flagship restaurant, Ginza 815 intersperses the raw fish courses with eclectic French- and Italian-accented dishes presented on Japanese ceramics. When I visited Ginza 815, the meal began with chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) layered with tomatoes, creme fraiche and caviar, and paired with classic Bollinger Special Cuvee NV. Seared wagyu beef, dusted with a flurry of shaved black truffles, was served with delicately spiced Domaine Chanson Marsannay 2013. The Bollinger Rose NV, a soft and lovely strawberry-tinged Champagne with a hint of roses, was a stellar match for the Hokkaido snow crab cake, covered in a fiery romesco sauce, alongside a miniature sandwich of pate and passion fruit jam from Okinawa.

The sushi was expertly prepared, each piece artfully shaped into finger-width mounds of vinegared rice topped with seasonal fish. It came with Morita Muroka Ginjo Hon-nama, a lively unpasteurized sake from Aichi Prefecture. With its taut umami and clean finish, the sake was a great match — but I had been looking forward to trying Champagne with the sushi. However, my wish was granted when the server poured a glass of Bollinger La Grande Annee 2005 — an opulent wine with nutty complexity intermingled with notes of honey and fruit — to sip with the final pieces of sushi, fluffy steamed anago (sea eel) and a hand roll filled with marinated salmon roe. The pairing was worth the wait.

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