If you’re looking for something a bit more sophisticated, romantic and memorable, Sakaisuji Club presents a charming option for dinner. Located on Sakaisuji (suji means boulevard), the building sticks out like a sore thumb, in a good way, of course.
Amidst modern office buildings, just a few minutes from Subway Sakaisuji Nagahori Station, the four-story building was originally erected in 1931 (the 6th year of the Showa Emperor) as the Osaka Branch of Kawasaki Chochiku Bank （川崎貯蓄銀行大阪支店）.
One of the few structures still remaining in downtown Osaka from the first half of the 1900’s, the former bank was designed by architect Yabe Matakichi
(矢部 又吉), born in Yokohama in 1888. In 1906, Yabe went to Berlin, Germany where he studied under architect Richard Seel. (Coincidentally, Seel designed the Clarke Memorial Hall
, a red-brick, neo-gothic building which was built on the campus of Doshisha University in Kyoto in 1898.) After Yabe’s return from Berlin, Kawasaki Chochiku Bank commissioned him to design their banks, several of which have been preserved designated as national important cultural properties.
But back to the birth of Sakaisuji Club: after decades of M&As and numerous tenants (all banks, I might add), the bank was put up for sale in 1998 and was scheduled to be demolished to make way for building that would yield more yen. Rather than lose a piece of history, an effort was made by concerned, local citizens to preserve and protect the building as an important historic and cultural asset. After a series of challenges, the current owner successfully saved the building from the wrecking ball.
Sakaisuji Club houses two restaurants: Italian Ambrosia
on the 1st Floor, French L’Histoire on the 2nd and 3rd floors; and a party and banquet room, The Oriental
on the 4th floor.
With a classic, welcoming arch above the doorway, this building is much more classical Europe than modern Osaka. As you step through the entrance of Sakaisuji Club, you seemingly enter a new world. The high, white ceilings, wall fascia, classic draped curtains around wood-framed windows, square wall posts and light fixtures all add to the atmosphere and nostalgia of an affluent, bygone age. The contemporary black marble floors provide a sublime contrast to the white, starched tablecloths and antique period pieces. At the rear of the first floor atrium, the bank vault’s massive steel door now guards assets of another kind; it’s now a wine cellar!
Regardless of the cuisine you choose, take some time to explore and appreciate the building. Ascend the stairs to the upper floors and run your hands along the smooth wood of the balustrade. Feel free to peek into the other dining rooms, but don’t disturb the other patrons! If you want to surprise your guest, try to reserve the former switchboard operating room, the director’s boardroom, or one of the bank’s vaults. The private dining rooms are also decorated with souvenirs from all over the world.
The top-floor banquet room accommodates 20 to 100 people and is often used for concerts, seminars and office parties. With tear-drop chandeliers and a grand piano, this classic space is popular with high-end luxury goods retailers.
Oh, and the food is trés fantastique. We opted for Ambrosia, the Italian restaurant, and started with the day’s antipasto, bagna cauda a garlic-anchovy dip served warm in a terra cotta pot with a colorful array of vegetables and fresh seafoods. The chef’s recommended pasta with snow crab and chrysanthemum in a yuzu/tomato cream sauce impressed us with its citrusy, fresh taste. The entrée of Daisen chicken was grilled to perfection, paired with a Madeira sauce, and served with lotus chips on the side. The tender chicken was a perfect blend of Italian technique and Japanese ingredients. For dessert, the contrast of hot espresso and cold Catalan custard ice cream with mascarpone cheese was the perfect finale, creamy, sweet, and bitter.
Both French and Italian restaurants have nice, compact wine lists with a wide range of bottles to suit every budget.
Sakaisuji Club is open for lunch (11:30 ~14:00) and dinner (18:00~21:30) every day. Make sure to make reservations, as the entire building is sometimes booked for private parties. Many of the servers speak English, and English menus are available. For dinner, budget at least JPY 8,000 per person for Ambrosia and a bit more for L’Histoire. Bon Appétit and enjoy the food and the architecture.
1-15-12 Minami Senba, Chuo-ku, Osaka
By Jeannie Gan
and Barry Louie