We had one of the most unique and special experiences of our travelling life at Bar BenFiddich on our last night in Tokyo.
David is as much into mixology and cocktails as he is into cooking, and Bar BenFiddich was a must do for him on our trip to Tokyo. We had heard all about the special vibe here, where owner and mixologist Hiroyasu Kayama mixes drinks on the spot based on your likes. No drinks menu here!
It’s hard to find, on the ninth floor of a very narrow and tall building in the less busy (but still colourful) Nishishinjuku area. Usually, you look up for the sign (but it wasn’t very visible), so it’s best to get directions from its Facebook page. Even then, you may need to ask for directions (as another couple did as they joined us in the very tiny elevator ride up to the bar).
As you open the door into the very small space, it’s dark but inviting. The Bar BenFiddich name is a play on “glenfiddich” whisky and the decor is like you are stepping back in time in England and Scotland with dark wood and old world paintings. It’s a trip with modern Tokyo right outside!
While there are a couple of tables, it’s all about the show at the bar here. Seven big comfy chairs lined up to a large wood bar. The dim lights all shine towards Mixologist and Alchemist Hiroyasu Kayama in his sharp white suit. He is surrounded at all times by his small group of assistants as they prepare drinks and entertain the patrons, with piano music playing in the background. It feels like an honour just to be here, and then Kayama turns his attention to us and it gets even more special.
We gave Kayama a run down of the kinds of drinks we usually like – which ended up in a pisco and pineapple drink for me and an amaro and gin drink for Dave. Wonderful!
Watching Kayama work precisely and attentively, with his attendants at his side, laughing and joking with the other patrons in Japanese and speaking to us in great English, was a joy. It’s like watching a ballet – truly beautiful to watch. It is clear that people come here to watch him work, with women admirers shyly ordering drinks while giggling and Japanese salarymen engaging with him in hushed tones and sharp laughs following what I can only guess is an off colour joke. Kayama really is the show here.
It got even more fun on the second set of drinks. I asked for something like a New York sour (whisky with a wine float). We were surprised that he wasn’t sure what that was (but it makes sense as the bar doesn’t serve wine). He replicated the taste by choosing a sweet vermouth to replace the wine – which was perfect.
David’s drink took over 15 minutes for Kayama to make and was an absolute sensation from start to finish! He told us he was making David a special campari cocktail – and his assistant lined up 14 apothecary jars across the bar with interesting looking herbs and ingredients. He also took the opportunity to spend time with his assistants to teach them about everything. All together, these 14 ingredients made a campari taste (including a beetle that when mashed made the red colour) – and David was appreciative and honoured by the effort, and enjoyed the herbaceous drink!
We decided to have one final round, and said “bartender’s choice!” to this one. In retrospect, a third round was a bit much (as we hadn’t had dinner yet). David really loved his Bourbon, creme de cacao and lillet cocktail.
I got a little worrried when I realized Kayama was making me a “corpse reviver” which is as strong as that name implies! I tease David mercilessly when he orders it himself, and the gin, cointreau, lillet and absinthe drink knocked me out. Well, not literally, but it was definitely too much for me (as my cranky, tired, “had too much” vibe followed us around like a cloud for the rest of the night). But, I can’t blame Kayama for that!
Bar BenFiddich is a must do experience for any cocktail lover! It’s one of the top 50 bars in the world (for very good reason). As we left, Kayama walked over to bid us farewell at the tiny elevator, and gave us a very deep bow to thank us for coming. Really, we were the ones that owed him the deep bow for the warm memories that we will carry with us always.