Barbara Adam test drives Sake Central Saigon, the first of three Japanese-inspired outlets set up by the dynamic international team at the Eight Four Collective. Photos by Romain Garrigue.

Barbara Adam test drives Sake Central Saigon, the first of three Japanese-inspired outlets set up by the dynamic international team at the Eight Four CollectiveA dark labyrinthian staircase leads you from downtown Ho Chi Minh to the stylish and dimly-lit cocoon that is Sake Central Saigon.

With only 24 seats, Sake Central is intimate, yet interactive. Unlike other upscale establishments, where you’re seated far from other people to ensure privacy, here guests sit at a long communal table, designed to generate conversations between the bartenders and other guests.

Sake Central has 30 types of sake available, and a visit to this microcosm of Japanese elegance is as educational as it is fun — and delicious — as you learn about sake and build your taste memory. (If you’re a strident anti-sakite, Sake Central has its own bespoke craft beer, the Czech-style Renkon Pilsner, brewed at Heart of Darkness Brewery.)

The bar channels Japanese culture and attention-to-detail with contemporary flair to create a refined haven of sake and otsumami (food that’s eaten while drinking).

“Everything on our food menu is meant to pair well with sake,” said Sake Central General Manager Jesse Selvagn, a certified Sake Sommelier. “It gives everyone a wide variety of eating stages.”

Each type of sake is available by the glass, by 180ml tokkuri (miniature carafes) or 720ml bottle. The AsiaLIFE team started our sake journey with Sakurago Tokubetsu Junmai (VND210,000/glass), a soft fruity style of sake that we paired with a trio of pickles, comprising kimchi, baby jade radish and shiso cucumber (VND200,000).

We slurped down some fresh oysters (VND40,000 each), enjoying how the brininess of the shellfish was complemented beautifully by the zesty flavour of the sake.

We moved on to a full-bodied and nutty Narutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu, an unpasteurised sake from Shikoku island. As per recommendation, we paired this with the famous, but not very photogenic katsu sando (VND220,000), an incredibly delicious combination of Japanese milk bread, breaded pork, cabbage and a tangy bulldog sauce.

“This sake has a really rich body to it, with hints of ripe banana, red fruit and a powerful finish,” Jesse said.

To round off our tasting experience, we sampled the dish simply called “tomato” on the menu (VND210,000), a tasty and beautifully-presented salad of Dalat cherry tomatoes, black garlic, tofu and fried milk bread croutons.

Instead of dessert, we ordered “cheese” (VND270,000). The type of cheese served changes regularly, and the price includes a glass of pre-selected sake. We tried camembert, paired with Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai sake from Iwate.

The Eight Four Collective has two more outlets in their high-end Japanese-inspired ecosystem opening soon – Renkon, a modern izakaya-style bar and restaurant which opened early July and Irusu a lounge/bar, which will open at the end of the year.

59 Dong Du, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
www.facebook.com/sakecentralsaigon