“Nobody thinks about bubbles when they shake, but they greatly affect the flavour.”
“Think about smartphones,” says Hisashi Kishi. “They’re very simple on the surface, but there’s a lot of technology underneath that the consumer doesn’t need to know about. The same is true of cocktails.”
Or rather, it’s true of his cocktails. Kishi, a former world – and five-time national – cocktail champion, has little interest in newfangled recipes and avant-garde ingredients. You won’t find homemade bitters or chunks of dry ice at his Star Bar. He probably won’t even tell you about the original cocktails that won him his silverware. He’s likely to suggest something classic – martinis, manhattans, moscow mules and the like. But it’s his execution of those classics that sets him apart.
“The recipes are the same from bar to bar, but the results are not,” he says. “Think about red wine. The basic process is the same, yet there’s so much variation in flavour. You can produce sensational wines like Château Lafite and Romanée-Conti. And it’s like that with gimlets. I’m trying to make the Romanée-Conti of gimlets.”
Probably, you won’t notice how he does it; that he juices his lemons and limes lengthways, massaging each segment over coarse ceramic to avoid squeezing bitter oils from the skin. Or that his shake pattern changes from drink to drink, adjusting the level of chilling, dilution and size of the bubbles. The figure-of-eight motion of his ‘infinity shake’ is designed to create what he calls ‘micro bubbles’. “Nobody thinks about bubbles when they shake, but they greatly affect the flavour,” he says.
In truth, Kishi doesn’t care if you notice his techniques. He says showboating won’t make his drinks any better; that his tricks are behind the scenes and below the surface. And that the proof is in the drinking.
Kishi first picked up a cocktail shaker as a 20-year-old student. He quickly found his passion, quit college and enrolled in a bartending school. But it wasn’t until he began training in an elite Ginza bar that he became obsessed.
“The first time I ate sushi in Ginza I could tell it was far superior to anything I’d tried before. Then I went to drink whisky and realised I didn’t know how to gauge its quality,” he says. So he studied. Within nine years he was a world champion, and four years after that he turned a Ginza basement into Star Bar.
His ‘Romanée-Conti of gimlets’ is more aromatic and less astringent than others. Likewise his sidecar, which has become something of a signature drink. He uses an electric creamer to froth the cognac and triple sec, before shaking with juice and ice. To an untrained eye it looks like cheating; for Kishi, it’s the only way to do it. “You can shake bubbles into a drink, but they disappear fast,” he says. “I wanted to make them last and found the creamer adds air that stays in when you shake, while reducing the alcohol’s piercing bite. It’s like the sushi chef’s nikiri process of bringing his vinegar recipe almost to the boil to strip away the sourness and let the best aromas come through.”
Not everyone will appreciate what Kishi does – he knows that – but he’s happy to leave performance bartending and flamboyant drinks to other places. He makes classics. Better.
TIPS & RESERVATION INFO
English is spoken at Star Bar, and reservations are a good idea, but be warned that last-minute cancellations are definitely frowned upon. If you prefer to keep things loose and easy, better to walk in and ask about free tables.
ACCESS DETAILSB1, 1-5-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku