Sake no Hana

Sake Class at Sake no Hana

I hardly drink (it’s true). And I certainly don’t drink in the morning. However, accepting that great sacrifices are often made in the name of academic research, I bravely set off to the West End one Saturday to face a long alcoholic morning ahead. “Unwise!” I hear you cry, but no ordinary Alcoholics Anonymous was this. Rather, I had heard tell of a sake class that takes place on a mysteriously irregular selection of Saturdays during the year, at one of my favourite establishments in London. This was the Sake Class at Sake no Hana.

Sake Class at Sake no Hana

The class has been running for some time now. According to Christine Parkinson, Head Wine Buyer for the Hakksan Group, it began with the boom in London’s Japanese dining scene. The Hakkasan Group run several Asian fine dining spots across the city (also, the world), and as interest in the cuisine picked up, so did an interest in pairing the food with alcohol of appropriate provenance – sake. With sake being so unfamiliar to Western sommeliers, it soon became evident that some training was needed to help with the curation of more authentic and well informed food-alcohol parings. This was the genesis of the Sake no Hana sake class.

Although initially developed expressly for the group’s sommeliers, the course was eventually extended to the general public. Now the opportunity to receive all the training of the Hakkasan sommeliers – with none of the exams at the end – is open to all who book onto Sake no Hana’s Saturday Sake Class.

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The class takes place in Sake no Hana’s downstairs bar. I was lucky enough to attend while the Sakura at Sake no Hana display was still on. In my experience, frothy boughs of cherry blossom and occasional wafts of Floris’ Cherry Blossom scent are highly conducive to pleasurable sake experiences.

Sakura at Sake no Hana
Square Meal

The Content:

As the instructors take a “blank page” approach, the course is truly suitable for anyone. The breadth is wide, but Christine and Anthony have taken a thoughtful approach to curriculum design. During the class, we learnt about the production, the history, the culture, the physical taste – and fundamentally, the art of sake appreciation.

Sake Students

 

The information was relayed in a conversational, engaging style and crucially, interspersed with regular tasting. The class ended with a five course flourish, which guests were able to order from the Taste of Sake no Hana menu. Each course came paired with more sake, naturally.

 

Sake Glass

 

All in all, we tasted five different sakes over the course of the morning. Lunch came accompanied by another three, one of which was served at two different temperatures. (They say that there are three drinks in every sake bottle: one cold, one hot and one at room temperature). I am amazed to say that I still made it on time to collect my mother for our afternoon engagements afterwards.

 

Lunch

 

From sparkling to cloudy, traditional to modern, in a couple of hours we leapfrogged centuries of sake innovation. Whether you are a veteran or a novice, tasting eight sakes in close proximity will induce awe at the spectrum of flavour that can be coaxed out of such humble raw materials.

 

Two Sakes

 

 

Cloudy and Ginjo

But no more spoilers! You will want to try the course for yourselves. Just make sure you haven’t planned too much for the rest of the day – the sake deserves your full and undivided attention.

A special mention to James, our very diligent and excellent sommelier, who attentively filled everyone’s glasses throughout the day. Eight sakes and a room full of guests…that’s a lot of patient pouring.

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In a nutshell:

Location:

The bar at Sake no Hana, Green Park

Timing and Dates:

Select Saturdays, 10.15am – 3pm

Course content:

Learn to appreciate sake, its production process, history and culture. Try sake alone and paired with food, hot, chilled and room temperature.

Your sake instructors Christine Parkinson (Wine Buyer for the Hakkasan Group) and Anthony Rose (of The Independent and The Wine Gang) will make sure you leave well-watered, and well fed. Students will walk away with the confidence to choose their own sake and a generous goody bag of sake treats.

Price:

£60 per person, including sake class and 5 course lunch from the Taste of Sake no Hana menu.

Future Dates and Bookings:

Class runs around 3-4 times per year. Check on the website or email [email protected]

Orange of Amalfi

Citrus Season, Yuzushu Season

Eating seasonally can be rather ghastly when it becomes an obligation. Summer 2005 was a prime example. That year, runner beans happened to be “in season” and they took over our garden like the plague. “Eating seasonally”, therefore, became a euphemism for a 2 month long bean-siege. For 61 days, I witnessed Grinch-finger like green beans proliferate on their vines, only to reappear as green Jenga stacks on my dinner plate. Faster than I could vanquish them, the summer turned into an unending game of Tetris where the bricks were all green and morphologically incompatible. Over Summer ’05, it is a well known fact that enough beans were eaten in our household to stock the local Waitrose for a month.

Eventually, the beans were followed by the berries, and the berries were followed by…tooth soothing Sensodyne.

Here in the UK, we are currently emerging from the shivery cold of Winter. Whilst we are thankfully no longer faced with 24hrs of perpetual darkness, the chill is still in the air. One thing that does come mysteriously into its prime at such a time of year is the citrus family. Therefore, to indulge in my reminisces and in the spirit of season-food harmony, I wanted to pay tribute to a citrus flavoured Japanese liquor:  Yuzushu.

What is Yuzushu?

Yuzushu is Limoncello’s Asian cousin. Made from the Yuzu fruit (see bottom for description), it is less cough syrup sweet, more refreshing. With its cloudy milk yellow hue, I think of Yuzushu as the liquid version of Pantone 3935 M Yellow.

Sweet is another descriptor that you would apply to Yuzushu, and liberally. Sweet, but with a level of tartness that just balances it out, to produce a mouth-watering effect.

Although not considered a traditional sake offering, the drive to create more “approachable” and “relevant” products means that today, you can find a decent selection of fruity sake liquers such as Yuzushu, Umeshu on the shelves. Yuzushu tends to be marketed as an accessible drink for those new to sake, as a cocktail mixer and as a digestif.

So far I have only crossed paths with Yuzuby Ume no Yado (梅の宿). Ume no Yado is Japanese for The Lodging with Plum Blossoms, referring to the plum blossom tree that has flourished on the grounds for as long as the brewers can remember.

A recent pre-dinner drink at M Raw allowed me to revisit this drink, and served the second purpose of affording a peep inside this relatively new establishment. Tall, Dark and Handsome the interior proved to be, with service as moody as the lighting.

The Yuzu arrived in tall thin wine glasses, chilled. At a harmless 8%, you’d be alright enjoying a decent glass or two.

What’s special about Yuzu by Ume no Yado? If you study a bottle closely, you may notice a layer of liquid floating in the neck of the bottle. This is the yuzu oil, which has separated from the body of the liquid and evidences just how much yuzu fruit gets squeezed into one of these elegant frosted bottles.

To put it into numbers: whilst the peer group average of yuzu juice volume per bottle is 5 – 15%,  in one bottle of Yuzu you will find up to 35% yuzu juice. Practically substitutable for that glass of orange juice you drink in the mornings.

So in light of the cold weather, in light of the lack of sun, raise a brave toast and shake off the last of the Winter chill with a glass of  sweet, tart yuzushu.

yuzushu

What is Yuzu?

Not quite a lemon, nor quite an orange.

It can be best described as an orange-yellow grapefruit, whose rind is prized in East Asian cuisine for its aromatic flavour. In Chinese, we call it ‘fragrant orange’, 香橙 (although it isn’t actually an orange….), or “Pomelo”, 柚子 (…although it isn’t actually a pomelo).

Aside from Yuzushu, you will also find the fruit peel used in Yuzu vinegar, Ponzu sauce and Yuzu tea.

Confusingly, Ume no Yado have branded their yuzushu as Yuzu. Yuzu isn’t actually used interchangeably with yuzushu, it is just the name for the fruit.

 

Tempted to taste?

Not an exhaustive list, but to my knowledge –

Hedonism Wines

Selfridges: http://www.selfridges.com/en/ume-no-yado-yuzu-sake-720ml_414-3003419-I20070/