When you think of sake, you often think of a hibachi chef flipping hot bites onto your plate while you pour yourself a drink from a traditional ceramic bottle. A similar connection occurs with cheeses when thinking of a lovely glass of wine. Yet both sakes and wines are as versatile, personal and complex as one another. Sake does not just pair with sushi and wine can marry thousands of dishes from around the world.
This is the premise behind Sanpatong’s exciting new eatery, Saiun Bistro Sake & Wine, which any respectable sake and wine lover must visit.
There is a two rai organic farm which surrounds Saiun Bistro Sake & Wine in Chiang Mai’s suburbs, with old fruit trees standing tall as long term residents of the land, as well as a multitude of herbs, fruits, vegetables and grains being grown on every spare space of land to supply the kitchen.
A massive bar featuring dozens of bottles of sakes, single malts, cognacs and spirits line one entire wall of the restaurant, with its wine fridges lining another while a deli showcase displays some of the tasty dishes on the menu.
The concept here is drinks-forward dining. With around twenty premium wines and a dozen premium sakes sold by the glass, lovers of sakes and wine will be spoilt for choice. The Japanese owner, farmer, sommelier and chef, Osamu Wakayama, loves nothing more than to recommend a good sip, explaining the origins of the drinks and what foods would best match them.
The food is no afterthought, but instead designed to complement the sakes and wines. Most dishes arrive tapas style, the size and taste a perfect accompaniment to a fine glass.
Start off with a martini glass filled with jasmine tea syrup infused pineapple. This lite starter is recommended with Australian sparkling wine or delightful sparkling sake, currently a big hit with the young and trendy in Japan.
Next, try a duo of tapas; house organic fresh tofu cream with a hint of olives and dried shrimps and a hummus with carrots, both of which go well with a banana-aroma sake or a chilled Pinot Grigio. The classical French rilette and pate, all homemade, is served with mustard and pickles and washes down well with a lovely fresh sake or a full bodied Chardonnay.
We next head to Spain where a big bold Primitivo is served with a tasty Spanish omelette. Another favourite pairing is the fried home made tofu filled with miso and topped with cheese. This burst of umami pairs seamlessly with a good Cote de Rhône.
End the meal with a sinfully rich chocolate tart, which is served with yet another exotic sake or some cheese from local producers which a good Syrah should be able to hold its own with.
Dish after dish has been thoughtfully paired with a sake or a wine and you can simply pop in for an evening drink or two with some nibbles or take your time and indulge in a very unique dining experience.
It is evident that this is a passion project. Osamu and his small staff planted every tree, feed every chicken each day, cook every dish, select every drink and have designed the restaurant and surrounding farm to allow him to serve up some of the best pairings of food and drinks you will find in Chiang Mai.
Osamu moved to Chiang Mai at the beginning of the pandemic, to start his, ‘second life’. Originally from Tokyo, Osamu has spent the past quarter of a century or so in Bangkok where he owned a marketing research agency with his Thai business partner, Sudarat Vacharanopvipa. In 2020 he settled into his land here in Chiang Mai as the need for change took over and began his passion project – Saiun Bistro Sake & Wine.
“He has always loved to study,” said Sudarat of the quieter and more reticent Osamu. “He is sake certificated, similar to a wine sommelier. He has also studied classical French cooking and over the past few years has been studiously learning about pesticide free and responsible farming.”
As we walk around the two rai farm which surrounds Saiun, Osamu slowly emerges from his shell as he proudly points to his 50 chicken (whose eggs are sent to one of Bangkok’s finest Japanese restaurant where they even have their own section of the menu!), his Japanese rice paddy, his orchard of mature fruit trees and his vegetable and herb patches.
“We want people to be able to mix and match and try different dishes with different drinks,” explained Osamu. “This is why we don’t want to serve big dishes, European style. So while many of the dishes are classical European dishes, we serve it in small portions as we do in Japan. This way you can have a new dish with every drink.”
Saiun is very affordable with cold dishes ranging between around 70-120 baht each, warm dishes between 90-160 baht, a pasta at 250 baht, wines by the glass ranging between 150-270 baht a glass and sakes around the 250-350 baht price range.
Saiun is a bit of a drive from town. Those of you living in the Sanpatong/HangDong way will be able to pop in easily, but for those of us living a bit further away, Osamu said not to worry. Grabs can be ordered, with some notice, from the restaurant, the staff can also drive people back to the city and there is even a room for you to sleep in if you simply can’t face the drive home!
Saiun Bistro Sake & Wine
276 Moo1, Nam Bo Luang, San Pa Tong District, Chiang Mai
Open: 4 pm. – 10 pm. (closed on Monday)