Introducing Sakagura, Heddon Street:
Way back in November I went to a launch party for Sakagura. Generally, I will pop into launch events, have a drink and then leave quickly – but this party was compelling. There was Japanese drumming, a Sake ceremony, delicious canapes and traditional Japanese artists making silhouette portraits and calligraphy bookmarks using your name. I loved every minute and wanted to see if the restaurant lived up to the promise.
Sakagura is a joint venture between the Japan Centre Group, Gekkeikan – holders of a Japanese Royal Warrant for sake, a two Michelin-starred restaurant and the Toridoll Corporation. The menu has been created by Shoryu Ramen Executive Chef Kanji Furukawa and the restaurant has an on-site sake sommelier curating specialist sake cocktails. And, a recent lunch there lived up to all expectations and more. This is somewhere to learn about Japanese culture and hospitality. About Omotenashi.
The first authentic Japanese restaurant owned by sake brewery companies in the UK, Sakagura aims to work with some of the best premium and exclusive sake producers in Japan. There are over 200 available, many only offered in the UK at Sakagura. The food at Sakagura is described as washoku – the traditional food of Japan – which has its own UNESCO listing. Our special preview menu gave us the opportunity to taste a whole range of dishes from the main menu, along with a comprehensive sake pairing. A great way to learn more about Sakagura
Starting with a sparkling sake. I was hesitant – I’ve tried sparkling sakes that were just a little too sweet for me as an aperitif. But, my glass of John sake, which is based on a Kochi sake that has a secondary fermentation (like champagne) to produce the fizz, was light and pleasantly dry.
My companion enjoyed a glass of Tenzan 2014, an IWC medal-winning sparkling sake, which was unpasteurised and slightly cloudy. It had a very delicate fizz and, although sweeter than my ‘John’ , was so pure that it didn’t taste sugary, more fragrant with a creamy pineapple taste.
Four appetisers followed.
My own personal favourite was the maguro tartare, tuna tartare served in a traditional fisherman’s tray, with caviar, salmon roe and fresh wasabi. I particularly liked the contrast in texture between the ultra-fresh soft tartare and the caviar.
The aburi shime saba bo sushi is a signature Sakagura dish, a flame grilled mackerel ceviche wrapped around sticky rice. Perfectly and delicately cooked, the flame grilling just enhanced the texture of the topside of the mackerel and brought out the flavour of the fish.
Sashimi moriawase included scallop, tuna, seabass, salmon and yellowfin, all beautifully presented with fresh wasabi and ginger. I couldn’t have picked a favourite, though the most unusual was the finely sliced scallop sashimi interlaced with slices of lemon.
The vegetable tempura included a courgette flower, sweet potato and daikon, served with grated daikon and a konbu dashi (seaweed stock) dip. I particularly enjoyed the courgette flower and was impressed by the quality and delicacy of the tempura batter.
We were served a flight of three cold sake to try with our appetisers. Gekkeikan Tarusake, Gekkeikan Denshou and Kaze no Mori. Our favourite was the Geikkekan Denshou, an award winning sake with a clean, crisp taste which worked particularly well with the sashimi and Maguro tartare
Next, the Robatayaki (charcoal grill) dishes. Our waiter had been at pains to explain that the lobster was Japanese – as he described ‘more like a large prawn’. Given the amount of food on the menu, I wasn’t in the least bit concerned that I might not be served a half pound of Maine lobster. In fact, the idea of a lighter option really appealed.
I wasn’t at all disappointed – the lobster was fresh, not at all overcooked and with just enough char to add a little depth of flavour. The presentation was also picture perfect.
My companion picked the wagyu beef, which is served aburi style (flame grilled). Wagyu is a particular type of beef with rich fat marbling. It makes for a buttery, soft dish which if I am honest is not my personal favourite. But, for those who love this style of beef, the Sakagura dish looked immaculate.
Our robata dishes were served with Taga Akinouta, served warm. It’s made using ‘akinouta’ rice harvested locally to the brewery. We loved that we were offered our own choice of sake bowls too.
Kamameshi dishes are rice dishes prepared in a special Kama – a metal cooking pot. A bit like Chinese claypot cooking, the rice is layered with meat fish or vegetables at the top of the dish. When the dish is sealed, the toppings are steamed and juices run into the rice to add flavour.
Like a paella, the rice at the bottom of the dish caramelises slightly. For me, this is pure comfort food. I loved my Chicken and Gobo (Burdock Root) Kamameshi and my companion enjoyed a more delicate Madai and Ikura (red seabream and salmon roe). I can imagine that the third alternative, Knoko Medley, with mixed Japanese mushrooms, is also delicious.
Our sake pairing here was Koshoku souzen, a ten-year aged sake with a higher ABV of 18.5%. I loved the warming taste, a kind of mild whisky flavour, while my companion really didn’t appreciate it at all.
For dessert, I picked the Matcha fondant gateau served with cream while my companion opted for sake-kusa vanilla and dark chocolate wasabi ice-cream. The fondant gateau was pleasant, though a little dense and lacking in fondant and for once I had ice-cream envy – the ultra dark chocolate wasabi ice-cream looked delicious.
Pairings of Choya Extra Year and Nakata Yuzu Umeshu, two Japanese fruit liqueurs, made for a perfect ending to the meal.
We both loved our lunch at Sakagura. We were impressed both by the food and by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic sake sommelier. I particularly enjoyed the Kamameshi, the Maguro tartar and the aburi shime saba bo sushi. I can make no comment on authenticity as I’ve never visited Japan, but the level of hospitality was fabulous and the food delicious.
8 Heddon St, Mayfair, London W1B 4BU