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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In a nutshell:
The bar at Sake no Hana, Green Park
Timing and Dates:
Select Saturdays, 10.15am – 3pm
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.
£60 per person, including sake class and 5 course lunch from the Taste of Sake no Hana menu.