The following article was originally published in Issue 5 of inCiderJapan magazine.
Yokohama, the capital city of Kanagawa Prefecture, owns the distinction of being home to a notable list of “Japan firsts” ever since its opening as the entrance to Japan on June 2, 1859, as the nation’s first harbor city. This accolade includes ice cream, soap, and Japan’s first brewery, but could Japanese cider cuisine be next on the list?
Noge West End opened in spring of 2016 and was started by Masayoshi Kaji of Una casa de Gubi Gubi El Nubichinom fame, who wanted a larger sister shop that could offer food in addition to craft beer. In doing so, Kaji sought the help of long-time friend and former El Nubichinom employee, Kazuhiko Azuma, who comes from a culinary background, having years of experience with Chinese and French cooking. Serving craft beer was a given, but Azuma wanted to add cider to the menu, and thus the concept of a pub/restaurant specializing in craft beer and cider was born, and Azuma took on the duties of Manager-Chef.
Located on the outskirts of Noge-cho, an entertainment district very well-known for its plethora hole-in-the-wall cheap eats and drinks, Noge West End is a small yet comfortable establishment slightly more refined than its neighbours and cleverly hidden behind the sliding doors and awning that still bears the name of its former sake bar tenant.
The completely non-smoking restaurant is open every day except Thursdays and has an L-shaped counter that seats nine and also a table for two. Their regular menu is a chalk-scrawled greenboard that ranges from a sampler platter, an assortment of appetizers and grilled items, roasted seasonal vegetables, mussels steamed in cider, and several other fusion-inspired dishes – everything is chosen to match the season and drinks on hand.
When we visited, we were treated to an amazing deep-fried uni (sea urchin) and aonori (green laver) tenpura (¥700), a fresh strawberry Caprese salad (¥900), and an onigiri (rice ball), miso soup, and vegetable set (¥500). Each hand-made dish was simple, delicious, and just enough to leave us hungry for more.
If you do enjoy eating onigiri, then absolutely go on a Tuesday, the only day that Noge West End makes them a special menu item – an idea that came about after taking them off the menu altogether. Why? Because Azuma grew tired of having to eat the leftovers every night. But when enough customers begged to have the onigiri back, Azuma created “Onigiri Tuesday” and it’s been a hit from that moment on. Be warned though, only a limited number (between 10-15) are made each week; for only ¥500 with miso soup and a mini side dish, they don’t last long!
And mind you, these aren’t your typical onigiri – ours was filled with anago (conger eel) and shungiku (garland chrysanthemum) accented with yuzukoshō (a seasoning paste made from chili peppers, yuzu peel and salt). We’ve also been mesmerised by their smoked duck with scallions onigiri – these are not to be missed!
What makes dining at Noge West End a particularly pleasant experience is the ability to partake of their food with equally tasteful ciders. They continually rotate 5-7 ciders with prices starting from ¥900 a glass (bottles aren’t listed but they can be ordered). Azuma serves primarily Japanese ciders, although foreign ciders do occasionally make an appearance. The evening we were there saw exceptional picks from Obinata Cidre, Cidre and Poire de Mashiqué, Tamura Cidre, and Rita Farm Winery.
Azuma goes to great lengths to consider three qualities when choosing what ciders to stock. First, How much Japanese apple sweetness the cider contains; second, how much tartness can be tasted; and finally, the cider’s character. His food menu decisions are based on his perception of the ciders, and he is more than happy to talk about and recommend what ciders pair best with his gastronomic gems.
We strongly recommend you check out their Facebook Page before planning a visit to know exactly what to expect, because Noge West End also holds special cider fairs, usually once a month, when the price of a glass of cider drops to ¥500 with around 20 different ciders available!
Keep in mind, too, that Noge West End also serves a commendable selection (5-6 taps) of mostly Japanese craft beer in three sizes: small (200cc), medium (330cc), and large (450cc) for ¥700, ¥900, and ¥1200.
inCiderJapan has been a fan of Noge West End since their beginning and they’ve long been a favourite for locals and Yokohama-regulars alike. Such is the charm of their sushi bar-like intimacy, where you can speak with the chef as you relish eating dish after dish, drinking cider after cider. And even if you don’t speak Japanese (foreign customers are a rare sight, according to Azuma), Noge West End is more than happy to welcome you and willing to do whatever’s necessary to make your time with them an unforgettable one.
NOGE WEST END
〒231-0065 Kanagawa-ken, Yokohama-shi, Naka-ku
Miyagawa-cho 2-16 1-A Fujii Building