Just when you think you’re working it out, Japan throws you another curveball. Waiting for a table at Kuu, a Japanese-style bar in Nishi-Shinjuku, it slowly dawned on us that the gentle music tinkling in the background was a jazzy rendition of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, followed by a similar take on “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid.
It was an incongruous choice of soundtrack for this elegant little bar, with its exclusive ambience and minimalist decor. The lights are dimmed, the plates handcrafted. Near the entrance, a recessed counter provides some intimacy for couples, while the rest of the room is made up of alcoves seating four customers each. Towards the back, at a set of three tables, there’s room for a party of twelve. Decked out with dark woods and white plaster, this is a place for cultured conversation, not riotous celebration. The staff are friendly and service is swift.
Kuu’s specialty is umeshu plum liqueur, with 30 varieties on the menu. Though it may not be possible (not to mention advisable) to sample them all in a single sitting, highlights include the brown sugar umeshu (¥630) from Okinawa; Ume Bijin, with fish jelly (¥730); ranmeichu (¥600), concocted from blueberries, with surprising depth and freshness; and the bracing togarashi umeshu (¥630), which leaves a fiery tingle in the throat (that’ll be the chilli pepper at work). There’s a decent list of shochu, too, though the house Kuu Original Shochu (¥600) tastes just a little flat, lacking the punch of the good stuff. The less adventurous can always get a glass of Kirin (¥550) or Yamazaki 10 Year single malt whiskey (¥700).
Kuu also offers a decent selection of grub; specialties of the house include seafood and char-grilled meats. Topping the menu is a platter with six varieties of seafood (¥2,480), and there’s also intriguing fare like foie gras with sautéed Japanese yam for ¥1,280. We tried the Japanese-style seafood gratin (¥780), which was marred by just a little too much salt but packed with fresh prawns and crab in a creamy white sauce. For dessert, the perfectly presented crème brulée (¥530), topped with fresh fruit and cream, ended the evening on just the right note.
Kuu makes for a very agreeable drinking experience. Although it might be a little too serene for some and the menu is slightly on the pricy side, the skillfully chosen drinks menu and scrumptious cuisine elevate it above your average izakaya. While there’s no shortage of comparatively upmarket drinking establishments in Tokyo, a place like Kuu shows that it pays to have substance behind the style.