With her bob of auburn hair, Yumi Hasegawa springs up from behind a bar whose sheer variety of sakes and whiskies are evidence of her passion for the libations of her native Japan.
“The Chita Suntory whisky is my favourite,” she says, “because it has a light taste.”
Her partner, Tomohiko Mita, who works “behind the scenes,” prefers the Yamazaki 12-year-old single malt.
“It’s the goodness of Japan, and bars here don’t have it,” he says.
In late September, the dynamic pair opened Anew, which is easily missed among the many drinking spots in Bassac Lane, its unassuming exterior and minimalist interior a counterpoint to the peacocking of the other cocktail bars.
“We were tired of Japan,” Hasegawa says, explaining their move to Phnom Penh 18 months ago.
“We were seeking a new impetus,” Mita adds.
With the restoration of a 30-year-old Cambodian home at the back of the alley, the couple has started Anew.
To accompany the hard stuff, Hasegawa offers up a plate of bacon bits that she’s smoked with sakura cherrywood, a detail which – for the better – gives you a new idea of how a snack works with a drink.
Knowing which of the vast array of Japanese spirits to pick is a daunting task to someone unversed in Japan’s alcohols.
“That is our challenge,” Mita says.
A glass of sake – a rice wine – comes in at $4 for the house selection, but it can reach $10 for a Junmaidaiginjou, which is made from the highest quality of polished rice. (The more polished the rice, they say, the better the sake.)
But it’s not just about choosing the sake; the vessel that you drink from varies how you experience it: a wide, delicate glass emphasizes the aroma; a shot-glass tightens the taste; and a traditional ceramic cup called an ochoko, which Post Weekend was offered for a glass of shouzan sake, brought out a sweet, floral flavour.
Whisky is a different ballgame. While the history of Japanese whisky production dates back to the 1920s, it gained international renown only in the past decade, when it surpassed Scottish whiskies in international competitions on several occasions.
For an introduction, Mita and Hasegawa propose a Kaku highball ($4), served with ice and unsweetened soda. (On the rocks or neat are your other options.)
What sets Anew apart is that it offers limited-edition whiskies as well as others that are typically available only in Japan. Exploring this unique selection is part and parcel of the experience, no matter how you take yours. And, in case you were wondering, Mita enjoys his Yamazaki on the rocks; Hasegawa prefers her Suntory with soda.
“It’s more gentle,” she says.
Anew is located at #M113B Street 308 (down Bassac Lane, just opposite Jack Saloon), and is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 8pm to 1am. Tel: 085 889 111.