Top 5 hidden izakayas in Singapore

Patrons at Japanese gastro-pub Izy in Club Street.
PHOTO: Izy

Japan's equivalent of taverns, izakayas have traditionally been known as cosy joints Japanese salarymen visit for barbecued skewers and a few rounds of drinks.

Many such bars have been popping up all over Singapore recently, with a modern, hip spin. Here are some of the best hidden spots to check out.

1. Jinzakaya

Photo: SilverKris

This newly opened yakitori/sake bar is the latest addition to the establishments by the acclaimed Les Amis Group.

Tucked away in Owen Link, a small passageway within the Connexion complex near Farrer Park MRT, the decor here is eclectic and effortlessly cool, cleverly curated with interesting pieces like a ceiling lamp made of glass bottles.

Jinzakya offers a pretty comprehensive selection of affordably priced dishes that range from the usual skewered yakimono offerings to ramen, donburi, sashimi and more than 10 different types of sake.

Crowd favourites include the kaki, fresh oysters wrapped with bacon ($5.50), foie gras ($9.50), and the Jin Tori Ramen ($12.80).

2. Neon Pigeon

Photo: SilverKris

Hidden behind old school wooden shutters in Keong Saik Road, this bar stays true to its hipster zip code by presenting a modern rendition of an izakaya featuring industrial-chic design and trippy indie playlists.

What makes Neon Pigeon truly hip, though, is its selection of creative cocktails, which include the Miss So ($22), a rich concoction made with buffalo trace bourbon, luxardo cherry, miso syrup and chocolate. Its bar bites are equally luscious.

Try the chicken liver mousse ($17) and the smoked baby back ribs ($21) laced with an unctuous sake glaze.

3. IZY

Photo: SilverKris

Though not exactly hidden from plain sight, the fact that it looks nothing like a conventional izakaya provides IZY with a wicked camouflage.

Helmed by chef Kazumasa Yazawa, who earned his chops at the swanky Waku Ghin, IZY dishes up traditional Japanese bar bites in a narrow, chic looking space within an old shophouse at Club Street.

The signature dishes here are the Buta Pork Ginger Roll ($12), Ohitashi ($12) and absolutely addictive chicken karaage ($24).

4. Izakaya 95

Photo: SilverKris

If you're looking for a truly hidden spot, this izakaya overlooking the river certainly fits the bill.

After all, the laid-back compound it is situated in - Punggol Settlement - sits all the way in the north-eastern end of Singapore.

Nibble on a comprehensive selection of skewers, from the moreish tsukune ($4) to the luscious Kagoshima buta pork belly ($5). Quench your thirst with premium Suntory beers on tap, a respectable array of Japanese whiskies and an impressive selection of sake.

5. Inaho's Kitchen Bar

To get to this intimate bar on the second level of a heritage shophouse in Duxton Road, you have to first locate its signboard that will point you up a narrow flight of stairs. Run by a Japanese lady, the establishment's simple interior is anchored by a dark wood bar counter in front of a well-curated selection of Japanese sake. You'll notice that this place is packed with Japanese expats savouring tasty dishes like the beef tongue ($17) and the squid with ponzu dressing ($13).

This article was first published in Singapore Airlines’ travel magazine, SilverKris. Go to silverkris.com for more travel stories.

5 awesome izakayas in Singapore

  • This tiny hole-in-the-wall is tucked away in the back corner of Concorde hotel, sandwiched in between some shady lounge bars, and is well worth a trip to sample their mouth watering barbecued chicken skewers ranging from $5 to $8.50. Other popular favourites include squid & mayonnaise, skewered pork belly and anything wrapped in bacon, which all pairs perfectly with sake!
  • This place is tiny, so make sure you get there early during the weekends. If not, be prepared to wait. Aside from the counter seats, which have room for about 8, there are only 2 high tables you could squeeze four people each into. Perfect for your tummy-fillers before a big night out or after!
  • Raku Raku is a little but not-so-little izakaya in Duxton Hill with tastefully minimalistic interior that feels authentically Japan. Raku can roughly be translated into "comfort." Despite the desolate tranquility of the area on weekdays, you'll often find a surprising number of Japanese patrons at lunchtime here.
  • You can also find reasonably priced set meals starting from $13++ that come with a main dish, pickles, Japanese salad, miso soup and high-quality Japanese rice. Even though it's branded as an izakaya, the menu has expanded a bit to suit a variety of tastes; they have popular dishes such as Japanese curry rice, udon, soba and much more to go with your Sapporo beer. Also expect dishes that izakaya in Japan might not serve like unagi and pomfret fish.
  • The original outlet of this casual Japanese dining is in Clarke Quay but they have also expanded to Esplanade. The food they offer such as karaage (deep fried chicken) or okura bacon (okra wrapped in bacon) goes really well with the choice of warm, cold or even sparkling sake.
  • Surprise yourself with their uni shot, sea urchin sashimi submerged in sake with wasabi and soy sauce. Seafood at Tomo Izakaya is flown in from Tokyo's famed Tsukiji Market twice a week, so you know they get the good stuff. Sashimi starts from $18 onwards. It is a good place to go after work for casual drinks and a simple dinner.
  • En is a Japanese Dining Bar with a branch at Alocassia Apartment in Bukit Timah, and is a dining experience that fuses both traditional and modern elements. The earth tones in the restaurant's decor tell the story of how En came to be and create a soothing atmosphere for your meal. There is also a patio for those who prefer to dine alfresco.
  • En specialises in Okinawan dishes like goya champuru (bitter gourd and spam), so be sure to give it a try to go with your Orion beer or Okinawan sake called Awamori. Here, you can expect to enjoy service that is friendly and efficient! (Photo: TripAdvisor)
  • If you're looking for happy hour, look no further! Five Izakaya Bar is Singapore's first tachinomi izakaya. Tachinomi literally means "standing drinking," and these cheap alternatives to pricier sit-down joints are popular among Tokyoites who have spent the whole day sitting around their offices and don't mind using their legs for a bit at the end of the day. Five wants to bring this affordable dining experience to Singapore, where cheap and tasty Japanese options are few and far between.
  • They offer tons of $5 specials all day every day as there is no specific timing for happy hour! There are however, a lot of affordable alcoholic drinks like sake, shochu, Asahi and Choya as well as Japanese food so the place is constantly packed with people for after-work shenanigans. Because of its location in the financial district, it brings in troops of execs wanting to kickback in their suits. Tasty items on the menu include $5 karaage, gyoza, donburi and pizza.