Since I moved to Matsuyama, the Nikitatsu brand of sake has been a firm favorite of mine, especially the rich, strong genshu or ‘raw sake’. Besides tasting very good, the sake comes in very attractive bottles, with sophisticated minimalist labels and decorative folded paper caps. The beautifully presented kura (brewery) shop is also a joy to visit, and since I always ask for a written receipt for my purchases, they’re kind enough to remember my name.
Next door to the kura is a one-story villa set in a little garden of well-tended bamboo. This is the Nikitatsu-An restaurant, a place for fine food to accompany the offerings of the brewery. The interior is distinctly Japanese with dark wood and rooms at varied levels, with views onto little gardens and courtyards. The staff wear traditional clothing and are often on their knees.
There’s a limited choice of set meals, so ordering is easy. We had the Hiruzen at 1,300 yen. This is a selection of beautifully prepared amuse-bouches, served in a wooden basin. If you’ve just come from nearby Dogo Onsen baths, the basins may look familiar, being very similar to the basins used for personal ablution. These little servings of fish, vegetables and meat involve a lot of care in preparation and presentation, and because each serving is small, they focus the attention of the diner wonderfully on the flavor and texture. Delicacies such as these are the perfect accompaniment to a glass of chilled sake, or one of the high quality beers served here. The set also includes takikomi gohan – rice seasoned with fish broth and soy sauce, with mushrooms, vegetables, and fish. You can have as many refills as you like, and the staff graciously brought my hungry teenage son a goodly succession of fresh bowlfuls. Nikitatsu-An is popular with couples of all ages, but there are also families with children in their teens. The sophisticated, grown-up ambience is something that teenagers seem to find stimulating.
The kura shop opposite Nikitatsu-An is also well worth a visit. It sells the three varieties of prizewinning Dogo Beer made at the brewery, and a wide selection of sake that you can try. Shochu (spirits distilled from rice and other starches) is also available. For those looking for souvenirs, the shop has a range of attractive glasses, coasters, and knick-knacks.
There’s another Nikitatsu restaurant in the square facing Dogo Onsen Honkan, the Dogo Biiru Kan Brewery Restaurant, which focuses on beer and light dishes.