Not My Sushi Role

Sushi and Sake Masterclass, at M Restaurant

Towards the end of last year, a new and fancy looking establishment popped up a stone’s throw from the office.

Clever, I thought. The phrase ‘captive audience’ springs to mind.

Yet in the few intervening months between then and now, I had never managed to do anything about my curiosity. Except for that one time I went for a quick drink (sake), nary a foot had I stepped into M Restaurant and not a morsel of M Restaurant food had I tasted.

It was obviously fate then that the second Philip Harper dinner was to take place at M.

Philip Harper is the world’s first and only non-Japanese toji (master sake brewer) in Japan. Read here.

M Restaurant
Square Meal

 

The ‘M’ in ‘M Restaurant’, case you wonder, stands for Martin. Martin Williams in his previous incarnation built up the Gaucho Grill chain into a global brand, but has since stepped away to launch his own eponymous restaurant.

 

M Restaurant Lobby

 

As part of the Philip Harper roadshow organised by Asami of World Sake Imports, we were to spend an evening brushing up on our sushi making skills. Skills that were, in some cases, underdeveloped. After making our own, we would be allowed to relax and enjoy the rest of the carefully planned sake and caviar themed menu. I’d done a lot of eating in the past few days, so I didn’t mind putting in a bit of elbow grease for my supper that night.

We started off in the upstairs Tasting Bar, where fine wines are available to sample on tap.

 

Reserved

 

My attention was immediately drawn to the Japanese wine. Partly because you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but partly because I had never clued into Japan’s wine producing capabilities.

The label read ‘Koshu‘ (甲州) – in a sake context, Koshu refers to ‘aged sake’ and is written differently, whereas in a wine context, it refers to the grape variety. The bottle below was filled with the last drops of ‘Grace Wine’, a white wine christened after the Three Graces. I’ll be back to try this very soon…

 

Wine from Japan

 

Our most fantastic and charming host for the evening was Zach, who serenaded us with humorous comments and plenty of drink. He made overtures with a Japan themed cocktail named ‘Umami’, after the fifth taste discovered by Japanese scientist Dr Ikeda in the 1900s.

Although Umami was originally extracted from kelp, M have concluded that the same effect can be achieved through blending Hibiki 12yo Japanese whisky, Haig Club whisky, plum juice and soya milk. Let’s also not forget to set sail that pansy petal on top.

 

Umami Cocktail

Sake in a teacup

 

Next, Chef Jarrad (ex Chiltern Firehouse) was introduced to us, bearing a slate of swordfish and quinoa sushi and some richly thick soy sauce to pair. Oh quinoa, you trendy super grain.

 

Swordfish Quinoa Sushi

 

In high spirits and high anticipation, we descended a rather grand staircase for the sushi masterclass to begin.

 

Sushi Masterclass

Sushi Counter

 

Chef Jarrad demo-ed the sushi technique…

 

Sushi Rolling Technique

 

…Before letting us loose on the pre-prepared ingredients.

 

Sushi making

 

Upon dipping my hand into the sushi rice, I found that the grains clung desperately to my fingers. No matter how I tried, they refused to adhere to the nori where they belonged.

My resulting roll looked pretty handsome – if you were to apply the standards of a paleo-chef.

 

Sushi Roll by Each Sip Sweet

Not My Sushi Role

 

As many things in life do, the sushi making quickly escalated into a cut throat competition. After some intense rolling and sesame sprinkling (and rice eating), the very deserving winner was selected and walked away with a fine bottle of Philip Harper’s Gold Medal winning “Kinsho“. I reckon there was some side arrangement where the winner had pre-agreed to splitting winnings with the judge.

 

Sake and Caviar

There are many things that you may not immediately think to pair with sake, and not many occasions where you will have the opportunity to do so. For example, how many European restaurants do you know that provide sake pairings as an option?

It is through events like this therefore, that people will have the opportunity to broaden their horizons a little, to access new pairings under the guidance of someone with experience.

Although the menu at M was safe and sushi based, but there were one or two dishes where the sake and caviar were allowed to shine together. In particular, the caviar garnished parmesan tuile, where the little luxury pockets of saltiness presented a buttery foil to Philip’s full bodied and strong tasting sake.

An evening dedicated to the wonderful trifecta of sushi, caviar and sake is a glorious evening indeed…

…and things got even better when I found the golden instamatic photo booth downstairs.

Sushi and Caviar

 

Last Thoughts: It is deeply exciting to see more and more of sake pairing events springing up across the city. Gradually, a new and open minded crowd is being introduced to the national drink of Japan in fun and modern contexts.

And come their next restaurant meal, perhaps they will be asking for a glass of sake instead.

***

The caviar came from Volzhenka, who source their black pearls from the “City of Caviar”, Astrakan. It remains a family owned business, and has done so for its half a century of operation.

Volzhenka Caviar

 

Many thanks to Asami Lewis and World Sake Imports for their efforts to promote sake abroad, and to M Restaurants for their hospitality. Last but not least thank you to Philip, who sacrificed many hours to drinking with us when he could have been spending time at home with his nephew and niece.

Philip’s “Insider’s Guide to Sake” remains the best introduction to sake available. Read more here.

 

M Restaurant

Philip Harper x Flat 3

Sake, by The Man from The End of the World

Today I have some geographic trivia to share. The End of the World, or Lands’ End, is located in Cornwall.

…Cornwall? Head scratching and puzzled looks follow. Who knew that this benign Southern county, best known for retirees and clotted cream, could lay claim to such a weighty title?

In fact, Cornwall is rather prominent in English folklore. It is believed, for example, that the fabled City of Lions from the Legend of King Arthur once bordered it, but eventually sank beneath the waves off the English coast. It is simultaneously believed that these waves conceal the Lost City of Atlantis. A group of Russian scientists set off to verify this in 1998…and the jury are still out.

Something less well-known, equally as wonderful and 100% more true is the fact that this mysterious place also produced the world’s first and only non-Japanese toji (master sake brewer) in Japan – Philip Harper.

6 Philip Harper Facts:

– He studied English and German Language and Literature at Oxford

– His interest in sake began when he was in Japan as part of the JET programme. Being an English teacher by day and a sake bar tender by night saw casual drinking escalate into serious drinking, and ultimately, turned it into a hobby.

– In 2008 he became toji at Kinoshita brewery, after the previous toji passed away. Kinoshita brewery’s most distinctive (and only) sake range is called “Tamagawa“, or “Treasure River”.

– His Wakuwaku sake was drank by David Cameron during a state visit to Japan in 2012.* Wakuwaku apparently translates to “a state of expectant excitement”…

*Allegedly, Cameron came bearing the gift of a Brompton Bicycle

– He won two gold medals at the New Sake Awards in Japan in his first brewing year. After this experience he stopped being conventional and set his sights on more eccentric things.

– …He is unconventional. Philip’s trademark is sake that pushes the boundaries of what people perceive to be desirable – for example, aged sakes and very alcoholic sakes.

Actually the latter is rather technically difficult as the chemistry of the brewing process makes it difficult to achieve high ABV’s. When asked how he has managed ABV’s of 21.5%, he responds, “My yeasts haven’t read the textbook…”

From the collection of random facts above, you begin to see that Philip is quite remarkable – and not just by dint of being foreign. Philip is a force for innovation in the world of sake and his approach has particularly impacted the aged sake industry, which has been out of favour since the 1970’s. The Tamagawa sake range is a great example of his unconventional style, as it features several examples of rule bending: high alcohol style sakes, aged sakes and even a dessert sake made using a recipe retrieved from 1712.

Luckily for us, Philip was visiting from Japan last week to promote his Tamagawa range. What followed was a series of tastings, public seminars and dinner pairings in collaboration with some of London’s most innovative chefs.

First and foremost, our dinner at Flat 3…

Sake and Flat 3 Pairing Dinner

Down a small and unassuming staircase in a lovely part of town, you will find an enchanting basement restaurant known as Flat 3.

Flat 3 Kitchen

Since the restaurant opened this 1st April, Head Chef Pavel has been crafting dish after dish of creative food combinations, like the Willy Wonka of clean cuisine. Ingredients are totally seasonal and recipes draw upon Japanese, Korean and Scandinavian influences.

Flat 3 Appetisers

Selection of Flat 3 Appetisers. Photo by George Moustakas 2015

Square Meal

 

For a ticketed Philip Harper x Flat 3 dinner, World Sake Imports (Philip Harper’s stockist) collaborated with Flat 3 to create an 8 course menu, where each course was paired with one of Philip’s sakes from the Tamagawa range.

One glance at the menu would lead you to conclude that the guest list was mostly composed of kings, queens and unicorns:

Flat 3 Menu

I never did figure out whether the magnolia leaf was there for nutritional or aesthetic value. Was I supposed to eat it?

Anyway I did.

The food disappeared exceedingly fast, but I managed to gather some photos of some of the dishes from some of the guests (special thanks to Mika Muurinen):

Flat 3 Food

Top Row: Century Egg Appetiser; New Season Turnip (Beurre noisette, apple cider and crunchy milk); Hamachi (Iberico lardo + ponzu); Diver Scallop (Dry anchovy veloute + scented with spring pineapple weed);

Bottom Row: Stone bass (Fermented tomato, sea aster + lacto butter); Matcha pao de lo (First of the season raspberries, olive oil + vanilla ice cream); Asparagus (Baked with sake + wild chamomile, sweet corn, pistachio + soured butter); Carrot Sorbet

 

In particular, I marveled at the way sake was incorporated into the menu. It was used for drinking, cooking, mixing into cocktails, served piping 65 C hot and ice bath cold…throughout the 8 courses, Philip’s sake appeared in as many guises as was conceivably possible, limited only by chef Pavel’s creativity:

1)     In a cocktail – to start, we were each given a cocktail smelling of spring and new grass. Mixed in the right proportions, Zubrovka vodka (Bison grass vodka), homemade apple and cucumber juice and Philip Harper’s Red Label Sake can apparently be conjured into something green and amazing. Like how I would describe the taste of the world’s best cucumber to someone who had never tasted cucumber before.

2)     In the food – for our third course, we were served asparagus which had been baked in the sake that we paired it with for drinking purposes. The dish took on the lingering sweetness of heated sake (see photo panel above).

3)     With the food – to pair with the cheese course – or Miso Chevre in Magnolia Leaf if you’re dining at Flat 3, we had the infamous Time Machine sake (slim amber bottles in the back row).

 

Time Machine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the dessert sake I alluded to earlier. Its coloration suggests a sake that has been matured at least 10 years, but Time Machine is not aged. Rather it is a fresh sake made using an aged recipe. I believe that this is what Time Machine means – drinking the sake transports you back, as you are drinking a similar brew to the sake drinkers of 1712.

The smell is soy saucey and not immediately appealing. The taste, however, is like treacly honey. In combination, these two qualities come together to yield a madeira-esque drink of silky viscosity, which is addictive for all the reasons that salted caramel is.

And you can’t not love the fact that Time Machine was originally created to drizzle over ice cream.

The Philip Harper x Flat 3 dinner once again proved the versatility of sake beyond all doubt. Sake’s affinity with Japanese food is so obvious that we don’t often think of alternative uses, so it is truly encouraging when restaurants like Flat 3 are able to take the initiative.

If any of the above appeals to your culinary inclinations, then you should pop down to Holland Park some time. You might not find these exact items on the menu, but the ethos of the food preparation is the same, and you’ll still get art on your plate. And if you wander over for a chat with Pavel, and you might be invited to try some of his homemade Cola and some other extremely curious house brews.

 

Juliana, Philip, Pavel

Juliana (co-owner), Philip Harper, Chef Pavel. Photo: George Moustakas 2015

 

Next up, Sushi Masterclass at M Restaurant

 

Many thanks to Asami Lewis and World Sake Imports and to Flat 3 and M Restaurants for their creativity and hospitality. Last but not least thank you to Philip, who sacrificed many hours to drinking with us when he could have been spending more time at home with his nephew and niece.

Philip’s “Insider’s Guide to Sake” remains the best introduction to sake available. Purchase your copy here.

 

Sake, Fashion and the Four Seasons

Sake is always good, so to serve it for a good cause surely makes it greater.

Last Friday, good drink was united with a good cause at the British Red Cross’ inaugural Good Look Fashion Show, organised by the Young Tiffany Circle. For one night, the grand ballroom at the beautiful Four Seasons Hotel was taken over by 200 special guests, models and racks and racks of gorgeous clothes to raise funds for the charity.

Backstage

Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk. Backstage

Nicky Clarke

Nicky Clarke in action. Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk

Backstage

Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk
Backstage

A fantastic event in itself, made a little bit more special by our sake. On the night, guests had the chance to enter our raffle: for £10 a play, two lucky entrants would be in with the chance to win a box of 12 premium sake each, totaling over £600 in value. As a deal sweetener, every entrant was given a complimentary glass of sake with a free flow top up policy.

Sake for two, for charity too! That’s what you call an offer that you can’t refuse.

What we drank:

Urakasumi Zen, Haku Boten and Urakazumi Umeshu and a whole lot more.

Urakasumi masu

sake

Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk

sake

Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk

 

The Rest

The rest of the evening involved an elegant drinks reception, where guests were served with sparkling pink champagne and floral trays of dainty canapés. Arancini turns into something much more desirable than arancini, when you embed it in a bouquet of flowers.

Arancini canapes

 

With everyone in high spirits, the lights were dimmed and guests were ushered into the grand Ballroom for the evening’s main event. Goodybags for everyone of course, involving the very natural combination of Grazia magazines, popchips, nail polish and fruit bar.

Photo credits: British Red Cross

Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk

One by one, models in luxurious textiles swanned past an enraptured audience, sporting designs generously donated by Amanda Wakeley, PPQ, Erdem and other homegrown London designers. My particular favourite was this confectionery creation, by couture designer Dar Sara:

Dar Sar Couture Dress

Copyrights 2014 , Jef Anog

Excitement in the room reached a whole new level once the live auction began. Runway looks were raffled off to ferocious bidding, along with an 18ct white gold and diamond pendant from Boodles, a private wine tasting with the Chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine and a VIP experience at the Nicky Clarke Mayfair salon, worth £1,000. Nicky claims that he has auctioned these off at £29,000 before.

Nicky Clarke

Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk. Nicky Clarke takes to the auction floor.

Nicky Clarke

Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk
The raffle.

To finish off the evening, the lucky raffle prize winners were drawn and two very satisfied guests taxied home that evening, each 12 bottles of sake the richer.

Kanpai!

Kanpai with sake

Photo credits: British Red Cross

Photo credits: British Red Cross

Special thanks to Rie Yoshitake for her generous sake sponsorship once again.

PS – I hear that sake is really going places. Ollie at Tengu Sake kept guests at the Louis Vuitton party well watered with a generous flow