“For me, entertainment is very important,” says Makoto Kamiya, one of Sakebar Nippon’s two managers. “There’s shouting, and it’s lively. We always do traditional things, wear traditional hats, and encourage customers to laugh and enjoy themselves.”
He demonstrates by taking off his cap and donning a headpiece that transforms him into a genial Japanese warrior. “We welcome customers with the drum,” he adds, as one of the front of house team demonstrates. He calls Taka Don, one of the restaurant’s seven Japanese chefs, to meet me. Taka trained as an opera singer in Japan and as he bursts into the traditional Japanese song, Sakura, it’s clear his voice has lost none of its beauty and power. No wonder customers come to Sakebar and specifically ask for him to sing. If there’s a birthday, Taka and the front of house team serenade the guest of honour with Happy Birthday, compete with instrumental accompaniment.
Fellow manager Kyoko Ohba agrees. “Entertainment is very important to us. It’s our point of difference from other Japanese restaurants.”
While the food (we’ll come to that) is important, with all chefs Japanese and steeped in the nuances of Japanese cuisine, Sakebar is about having a great night out. Whether it is a family with kids entranced and entertained by the sushi train, or a group of adults here for a night of food and entertainment, Kyoko and Makoto and their team are dedicated to sharing their Japanese culture with customers in a way that makes their evening, and their meal, a memorable experience.
That experience can also include a karaoke session. A separate karaoke lounge is laid out in traditional Japanese style at one end of the restaurant, and two set menu options ensure food is delivered throughout the evening. The karaoke “menu” is as extensive as the food menu, with as Kyoko says, “anything from the Beatles to Bon Jovi” in English, and as many songs in Japanese, Thai, Korean, Chinese, and of course Japanese, as there are in English. Karaoke is available any day of the week, but she recommends booking, especially for Fridays and Saturdays, when it gets very busy.
The emphasis on team starts every evening before the restaurant opens, with stretching exercises before the team briefing.
Kyoko has been in New Zealand for 10 years, and with Sakebar since it opened in Takapuna in 2012. Makoto has been with Sakebar for 12 years – first in its initial premises in Epsom, and alongside Kyoko in Takapuna since it opened this side of the bridge. They both stress that the energy and atmosphere within the restaurant comes from the whole team. Kyoko adds that they all know and become friends with the many regular customers who enjoy sharing their Japanese culture with them.
The food is all designed for sharing, as in a traditional Japanese family meal, with the menu covering the gamut of Japanese cuisine from perfectly fresh and beautifully arranged sashimi, to sushi, skewers, teppan, tempura and more substantial udon dishes. Food can be selected from the menu, or from the sushi train, which offers not only sushi but also a wide selection of other smaller dishes.
If someone is in a hurry and does not want a large meal, they can select just a couple of things from the sushi train, as eat-in or takeaways.
Sakebar describes itself as an Izakaya restaurant, best translated as a Japanese style gastropub, which originated from sake shops that allowed customers to sit on the premises to drink. It’s clear that in Sakebar Nippon, the informal and sometimes rambunctious atmosphere of the sake shop has translated well to Takapuna.
Open for dinner Tue-Sun 5pm til late, closed Mon and public holidays
32-34 Anzac Street, Takapuna 09 486 2249 www.sakebar.co.nz