In January 2023, “Shozan” restaurant opened inside a renovated portion of the original Katsuyama brewery in central Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture. Serving French cuisine with a Japanese flare, the luxury dining experience brings together not only culinary delights with a sophisticated interior, but a perfect pairing of high-quality Katsuyama sake or sommelier-recommended wines. However, before I introduce the restaurant, you’ll need to first know about Katsuyama.
Katsuyama (勝山) is a famous sake brand born in Sendai in 1688 that now exports to over 20 countries around the globe. Only one tank of Sendai’s signature sake each week, using both technology for precision and traditional techniques for soul. The result is Katsuyama is one of, if not the most expensive, brand of sake among the 24 breweries in the prefecture. However, with just one taste you’ll agree it is justified. For this reason, it does mean many cost-conscious izakaya pubs in the city prefer to carry other brands with higher cost margins.
Since the beginning, the Isawa family has owned and operated Katsuyama brewery. This local family can trace its lineage to samurai roots and has deep ties with the community, being selected as the official brewing purveyors of the ruling Date Clan and having several of its members involved in both business and charity, such as donating land to make a public park. Katsuyama has its sake-making business and other ventures separated. For nearly 100 years, a major non-brewing business of the family was “Shozan-kan” (Shozan Hall), a large event hall specializing in weddings, grand receptions, and various ceremonies. Unfortunately, due to the drop in demand during COVID, the building was sold under the agreement the building would remain intact. However, a powerful March 2022 earthquake broke water pipes which flooded the interior which lead to its demolition.
To carry on the legacy of “Shozankan” and the Isawa family, “Shozan” restaurant would be opened adjacent to the where Shozankan stood inside a renovated portion of the original Katsuyama sake brewery. About 20 years ago the brewery relocated to a new facility in the western hills in the outskirts of the city. Both Katsuyama and Shozan are spelled using the same Japanese characters, they just have different readings. The characters (勝山) can be translated to “Mt. Victoria”, an auspicious name conjuring up images of victory and immovable greatness. Some of Shozankan's artwork, furniture, and extensive wine collection found their new home in the cozy and stylish Shozan restaurant. The architecture exterior features tiled roofs and white plaster walls, reminiscent of buildings from the Edo period (1603-1868). Parts of the building are that old. Original wooden beams from the brewing days hint at the buildings history, though upgrades such as Italian marble flooring, large viewing windows behind the bar counter and even the latest in Japanese toilet technology mean customers will feel both welcome and comfortable.
The concept of Shozan is similar to that of Katsuyama brewery: a unification of drink and food. Surprisingly, there is not Japanese fare but French. 12th generation brewer and Chairman of the Board of Katsuyama brewery Heizo Isawa has long promoted sake can be paired with a variety of cuisines, being particularly suitable for French and Italian. For Shozan’s menu, the head chef, which previously worked at Shozankan, adds in Japanese elements to the dishes and always incorporates both local and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. Ordering is more or less “omakase” (“as the chef wishes”) style since there are only three options for your course menu: a main meat dish, a main fish dish, or both. However, with advance notice they can accommodate other needs such as vegetarian. Along with the food, there are several options expertly selected drink pairing menus, featuring 3-6 tastings of Katsuyama sake, wine, or both! Since Katsuyama brewery does not offer tours nor accept visitors, and a wide range of the brewery’s sake is difficult to find at any one place, Shozan is the definitive place to experience Katsuyama history, philosophy and flavor.
The dining experience itself is superb. Professional staff, some of which speak English, carefully explain the dishes and drinks so you can truly appreciate what you are about to tuck into. Dishes will be served one-by-one, so do expect your dining experience to be leisurely. Even the sake is served in wine glasses to allow maximum aroma and full flavor. Allow at least 1 hour to 1.5 hours for the full experience. Do note that a 10% service charge is added to the bill (it is clearly noted in advance), but there's no other cost to worry about. There is no “otoshi” seating charge, tax is included, and there is no tipping required—this is Japan after all. Cash or credit cards are accepted.
Do note that reservations are required in advance, and the restaurant is booked well in advance during popular times. Luckily, walk-ins are welcome at the bar counter. This is how I snuck-in, and another reason I can’t comment much on the full menu in detail. At the counter, you can order sample sets of a variety of Katsuyama sake or international wines and one or two small a la carte dishes, but these won’t fill you up. If you can’t do the full course, come here after a light meal and go for the Katsuyama sake pairing. Each one of the 5 types of Katsuyama sake is perfectly matched to foods it is best suited. For example, the sweet and rich “Gen” is paired with dried grapes, cheese, and small dessert. A well-paired alcohol and food pairing compliment each other, enhancing the flavors of both, and creating new harmonious flavor sensations of their own.
Shozan is currently open for dinner only, but there are plans to offer lunch in the future. There is even talk of opening up a garden to offer outdoor seating in the future. It is to be expected that there is much fine-tuning in the restaurant’s first year, along with a changing menu as ingredients change each season. Stay up-to-date with the latest on the restaurant’s Instagram (@shozan_sendai).