Japanese Feasting in Mayfair at Sake no Hana:
Visiting Sake No Hana on the second day of January meant that I was in need of clean flavours. After 10 days of feasting the thought of another heavy meal was just too much. Which is why Japanese cuisine was just the ticket. Light and visually appealing, it was worth the effort of heading into Mayfair in Central London and swapping slippers for shoes for the first time in a week.
The restaurant is reached via a narrow, black lacquered escalator from the ground to the first floor. Waiting at the top was the Maitre d’ who walked us past the open prep kitchen where chefs were busy chopping and slicing. He called out in Japanese and everyone on the floor responded with a greeting. Talk about a welcome!
We were shown to a comfortable window table where I settled onto a green leather banquette. The striking interior was designed by Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma. The windows are all covered with bamboo blinds which cleverly allows in the light while blocking out the buildings across the street. The restaurant is strikingly elegant with thin, Cyprus wooden beams creating a forest-like effect.
Hot hand towels arrived to refresh us before menus were distributed. I say menus because one was for cocktails, another for the extensive sake and wine list and a third for food. Each of these menus is long and complex and we were rather relieved to have the excellent guidance of staff member, Sergio Jorge, to assist. I mention him by name because his service was really wonderful throughout a lengthy lunch – thoughtful, informative and highly professional.
Sergio talked us through the cocktail list which is divided into Classics, Exquisite and Omakase. He suggested two from each of the Classics and Exquisite sections and then suggested that we leave the ordering of the food to the chef. There is something quite relaxing about control being taken by the chef. Sergio checked for any allergies and left us to enjoy the ambience.
The restaurant which seats about 110 diners was not very busy – no surprise there as most Londoners were either on their first day back at work or still on holiday. I would imagine it is popular during the working week, being in such a central location.
Before long our first cocktails arrived. These were from the Classic section. I had a Wasabi Lychee Margarita described as Tapatio reposado, tequila, wasabi, lychee, lime, soy, vanilla chilli rim. It was served in a coupette glass and was aromatic, cool and refreshing. The floral taste of lychee shone through. The vanilla chilli rim left a hint of spice on the tongue which had me licking the glass.
My companion had the Smokey Plum Negroni – Suntory Hakushu Distiller’s reserve whisky, Campari, Cocchi di Torino vermouth, Akashi-Tai plum sake. It had a beautiful orange coloured hue and was served with an enormous ice ball which rose above the liquid in the glass like a round iceberg. This was a hefty cocktail as the ingredients suggest. Delicious though it was, I found it a bit heavy before lunch, but my companion had no problem with his aperitif.
While we savoured our cocktails, I had a peek at what the women on the next table were eating. Their sushi selection was served in Perspex boxes in which wooden trays were placed. Utterly gorgeous. Quite unlike the black lacquered boxes at my local Japanese restaurant.
The rest of the tableware was equally pleasing. White china with a flower imprint sat on the wooden tables. Each serving dish was different, all Japanese ceramics.
Our first courses were listed both in the Signature and Small Eats sections of the menu. Hamachi Nama Wasabi was a sashimi of kagoshima yellowtail with truffle black pepper ponzu. Yellowtail is one of my favourite oily fish and the sashimi was served in wafer thin with a dab of wasabi atop each. The eight, delicate slices were laid out on a contrastingly chunky ceramic dish. The ponzu dipping sauce was perfectly balanced with truffle and black pepper which added many layers of flavour to the light and fresh fish. No one flavour dominated and each note had its moment on the tongue with the truffle and black pepper lingering pleasantly. As I had been looking forward to fresh flavours for my jaded palate, this dish was a great start.
Alongside was served Nasu Goma Arari – aubergine with fresh fig and roasted sesame miso sauce. This was a round of warm, meltingly roasted aubergine topped with slivers of fresh fig, tiny fronds of crispy seaweed, and some sort of seed that was like a crunchy cracker. A great combination of flavours with the sweet fig, the salty seaweed and the umami from the miso sauce. Layers of texture and flavour made this a well-crafted dish.
We moved on next to a dish from the Tempura section of the menu. Ebi Tempura with tempura sauce comprised six large prawns accompanied by ginger and radish to mix with the tempura sauce. The prawns wore their light and crispy batter elegantly. Overall, this was the least memorable of the dishes we ate as the prawns were a bit on the bland side and I found the batter left a slightly oily coating in my mouth.
Far more exciting was the beautiful platter of sashimi that arrived next. Ten slices of sashimi were arranged beautifully, adorend with slices of lime, edible flowers, a little heap of grated mooli and shizo – a Japanese mint flavoured leaf. There was scallop, fatty tuna, sea bass, salmon and yellowtail. All were excellent although the salmon took the first prize.
At this stage, our second round of cocktails arrived. These were from the Exquisite section, an aptly named category. Roku 75 was a champagne coup filled with Roku gin, Shiroku yuzu sake, kaffir lime and Louis Roederer champagne. It was a citrusy palate cleanser and so well paired with the fish that we were enjoying. My companion’s cocktail was quite the loveliest I have had in years. Geisha Star Martini was a mix of Absolute Elyx vodka, vanilla, passion fruit, Essential sakura foam and egg white. It was served with a tiny artwork on edible rice paper clipped to the glass with a miniature wooden peg. As if that was not enough, a shot glass of Louis Roederer champagne was served alongside to cleanse the palate after every sip of the cocktail. What an indulgent way to start the new year!
The cocktails are of such a high quality and so creative that I could recommend regular visits to Sake No Hana Mayfair if for no other reason than to drink your way through the cocktail list. Then you may want to get started on the six pages of sakes – a few produced in such small quantities that they are rarely available outside of Japan. There is also a very long list of Japanese whiskies. Honestly, anyone with any hopes of a dry January had better reserve a table for February onwards because the list of offerings is so enticing.
Our next course was a platter from the Sushi Roll section. Two types of maki looked delicate and colourful. The first was a half dozen Spicy Maguro Maki – spicy chu toro with tobiko and cucumber. The tuna and cucumber were topped with a spicy tomato topping which I have not encountered before. The second was a half dozen of Aburi salmon crab maki – seared salmon with king crab, tobiko and nashi pear. This was one of my favourite dishes of the whole lunch. The salmon slices were seared with a blowtorch, giving them a hint of charring and adding to the overall visual impact of the dish. The sweet crab, fresh crunch of pear and seared fish was an exciting combination on both eye and palate. I adore salmon but have never eaten it paired with pear. Inspiring.
By this stage in proceedings, my companion and I were feeling totally spoilt. What with the cocktails and dish after lovely dish arriving at the table, our appetite and senses were replete. Yet there was still the main course to come. And what a treat that turned out to be.
When we had initially looked at the menu at Sake no Hana, I had mentioned an interest in trying one of the iron pot rice dishes. These apparently take 40 minutes to prepare and the chef had been doing just that. A small iron pot was brought to the table. This was Gindara Kamameshi. The lid was lifted to reveal a fillet of black cod on the top of a pot full of rice. The aroma was intoxicating. I assumed we were to help ourselves to a piece of fish and then some rice, but Sergio expertly flaked the fish and mixed it into the rice, serving up portions into small bowls. It had the deepest, richest flavours, flakes of fish combined with an umami bomb of rice. Sergio explained that the rice cooks slowly in the pot and as it does so the bottom and sides caramelise adding the depth of flavour we were experiencing.
Alongside the rice, two further dishes appeared. The first, Sirloin Sumiyaki came from the Charcoal Grill and Toban section of the menu. An Angus beef sirloin had been prepared medium rare and was served in slices with a heap of silky shiitake mushrooms. A dipping sauce – garlic and ponzu – added further flavours.
My favourite dish out of this array of splendid offerings was the last: Chilean Sea Bass Champagne Yuzu Miso. A sea bass, cut into slices, was served with an outstanding champagne yuzu miso sauce. The tart citrus and umami of the miso added to the luxuriousness of the champagne created a heavenly combination. Add to the mix a perfectly cooked piece of sea bass – compliments to the chef. Sergio informed us that this is one of the most popular dishes on the menu. No surprises there.
It felt gluttonous to have a dessert but for research purposes only we asked Sergio to choose one for us to share. He brought a Winter Leaf – hazelnut feuilletine and hazelnut chocolate parfait with chocolate and maple syrup soup and a mascarpone mousse. I managed to find a small space for my half of this good-looking dessert which, despite all that chocolate and maple syrup, was not overly sweet. The crunch of the feuilletine contrasted well with the silkiness of the parfait into which mixed the maple syrup. A fitting end to an excellent meal.
Espresso was served along with a fresh mint tea in a lovely teapot.
As one of the first meals I ate in 2019, it is going to be hard to top this one. Naturally, if I was out for lunch with friends, I would never order this quantity of food. Yet almost every dish we savoured was excellent. Some were outstanding and literally stood out. When I return to Sake No Hana I hope to venture further into the menu. There are many enticing meat dishes including several with Wagyu beef. Being more of a pescatarian than a carnivore of late, I was delighted by the variety of fish dishes we tasted. For a sophisticated yet relaxing ambience with outstanding service, a widely varied and well-executed menu plus the best cocktails you could wish to drink – put Sake No Hana on your wish list for 2019.
Sake No Hana Mayfair is part of the Hakkasan group of restaurants which, in London includes four Chinese restaurants Yauatcha in the City and in Soho and Hakkasan Mayfair together with Hakkasan Hanway Place which we have previously reviewed.
Sake No Hana
23 St James Street,
London SW1A 1HA
T: 0207 9258988
For an alternative Japanese restaurant, we recommend Sakagura, Picadilly