Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Hinomoto Beer Parlor: Drink locally, eat independently

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing Writer

It wouldn’t be wrong to call Hinomoto a pub. After all it’s a craft beer specialist, with 10 taps all devoted to Japanese beers and a counter where you can sit and drink to your heart’s content. But that doesn’t tell the whole story by a long way.

Hinomoto also has a strong emphasis on sake, plus an excellent menu of Japanese food to go with it — just right for an after-work evening of sipping and nibbling. But that doesn’t make it an izakaya tavern, either.

In fact, with its simple furnishings and laid-back atmosphere, Hinomoto is hewing a path all of its own. And that’s no doubt why the master of the house, Daisuke Tamura, decided to call it a “beer parlor.” It tells you where the main focus of his menu lies and that you’ll be made to feel at home.

Tamura is not your typical publican. He was previously in IT but walked away from that world after falling for craft beer in a big way. He hails from Akita Prefecture, and may one day set up a microbrewery there. But for the past two years, his base has been here in the backstreets of Jinbocho.

There’s a reason why he sources his beer from small-scale breweries around Japan, his wine from independent vintners and much of his sake from his home prefecture. His aim is to support independent companies, especially in far-flung regions that share little of the economic largesse that Tokyo consumers enjoy.

Kindred spirits: Chef Masashi Yasuta (left) and owner Daisuke Tamura | ROBBIE SWINNERTON
Kindred spirits: Chef Masashi Yasuta (left) and owner Daisuke Tamura | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

It’s the same reason why the food served at Hinomoto is Japanese. Yes, there are a few beer snacks — smoked nuts, potato salad and the like — but no sausages, fish and chips or any of the usual pub grub. Instead you’ll find sashimi, karaage (deep-fried dishes) hiyayakko (chilled tofu), ohitashi (dashi-simmered vegetables) and other staples of the home-cooking canon.

Masashi Yasuta, the man in charge in the kitchen, is a jazz musician by calling — hence the hipster hat and T-shirt in place of chef’s whites. He has a great repertoire, too, and a bold, creative touch.

What to have with your first pint? Go straight to his kibinago karaage, tiny herrings the size of young sardines, deep-fried whole till they’re a crispy golden brown. You’ll never look at potato chips again.

Nor should you miss Yasuta’s excellent namerō. The coarsely chopped fish tartare is seasoned with Kyoto Saikyo miso and, when the whim takes him, he even blends cottage cheese into the mix.

Another of his specialties is aemono — cooked vegetables and seafood with dressings such as sesame or tofu. They’re so good they have a small blackboard devoted to them. You may well end up trying each of them in turn.

And here we have it: Hinomoto is not a mere beer parlor, it’s a homespun, low-key, first-rate little Japanese gastropub.

Kanda Jinbocho 1-44-8, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0051; 03-6273-7622; hinomotobeer.jp; open 4-11:30 p.m., Sat. 3-10:30 p.m., closed Sun. & hols.; beer from ¥600; dishes from ¥350, main dishes ¥1,980; nearest station Jinbocho; nonsmoking; major cards accepted; English menu; some English spoken