sakagura

From Palate to Palette: Sakagura

London is a global kitchen, serving up everything from Italian to Indian, English to Ethiopian, Peruvian to Persian and all imaginable inter-mixings of the above.

Incredibly exciting, but sometimes overwhelming.

When I am down with a bout of Tastebud Overload, the thing I crave the most is Japanese food. Clean and simple flavours, and a cooking technique that transforms ordinary ingredients into something halfway between dinner and art.

Nowhere is this more evident than Sakagura, which sits tucked away in the calm oasis of Heddon Street. Sakagura specialises in Washoku cuisine, or traditional Japanese cooking, which has been registered on Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list. Washoku is fundamentally about showing respect for nature, taking seasonal ingredients and preparing them in a way that showcases their natural appearance and taste.

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The name “Sakagura” means “sake cellar”, and it’s a fairly comprehensive one that you’ll find here. Sake from all over Japan, and of all different styles.

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Downstairs at Sakagura

Food and Drink:

As a devout member of the school of “Treat yourself”, we fairly went for it. Three starters, two mains, two desserts, two cocktails and a fully fledged sake flight. In any case, ordering as much as possible from a menu only helps you make up your mind about the return visit.

Cocktails:

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Left: Kakubin at Torys (choya aged umeshu, kakubin whisky, tobacco liqueur, toffee syrup, soda water) Right: Better know your shochu (potato shochu, coffee liqueur, freshly squeezed lime juice, calpis, shiso leaf)

Starters

The tuna tartare was a work of art. Finely minced tuna came suspended on a wooden board, shot through with a gleaming black seam of caviar. Spring onions, sesame, wasabi and extra caviar were served alongside. These we mixed into our tartar to taste, using a dainty little paddle shaped spoon.

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The sashimi floated in on what can only be described as an iceberg, draped with juicy slices of sashimi and garlanded with a meadow of edible flowers. Ornaments of blood purple ginko leaves carved from beetroot, baby cucumber flowers and bamboo turned this dish into a Japanese landscape painting, and made it rather heartbreaking to eat.

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Wasabi, freshly grated

We did things by the book and moved from delicate to rich: starting with scallop, moving through to sea bream, kite fish, hamachi, tuna and salmon.

Mackerel sushi rounded out the starters, with beautifully seared skin and carefully vinegared sushi rice.

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The sake pairing for our starters was spot on: daiginjo to pair with the limpid tasting sashimi, and herbaceous taruzake (cedar wood aged sake) to cut through the mackerel’s oiliness.

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Sake pairing: Gekkeikan Daiginjo sake (left) and Taruzake (right)

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Mains

The mains did not lower the tone – Kinoko mushroom rice pot was stirred in situ, spooned into our bowls with a helmet of crispy rice crust. The robata grilled lobster was a fiery shade of red and came garnished with a whole candied chestnut and ginger root.

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Mushroom rice

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From the lobster emanated a glorious smell, incredibly smoky, mouthwateringly savoury. We were surprised to learn that nothing but olive oil, salt and lime juice went into the making. My dining companion performed a thorough chopstick dissection, extracting every morsel of meat.

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Our mains came with a warmed autumn sake, presented in a gorgeous tokkuri, and amber coloured koshu (aged sake).

Warming the sake made it taste sweeter and brought out its gentle rice fragrance. For me, the koshu was the killer pairing – paired with mushroom rice, it creates a chocolatey, nutty, shiitake party in your mouth.

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Warmed sake in a tokkuri

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Koshu: notes of chocolate, coffee, mushroom and roast nuts

 

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Choose your cup

Dessert

One word of advice: don’t leave without ordering the raindrop cake. Just exactly like eating a real dew drop, but far better. We were presented with two, one garnished with gold leaf and the other with cherry blossom petals delicately suspended within.

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We couldn’t not order the Sake Kasu Ice Cream, sake kasu being the lees that are filtered out of sake during production. While I sadly couldn’t detect the flavour of the sake lees my companion happily polished off the lot. The chocolate wasabi flavour is still on my mind…

Our desserts came paired with a rich, juicy aged umeshu by Choya and a zesty yuzushu, both of which are almost desserts in and of themselves.

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Left: Yuzushu | Right: Choya aged umeshu

We stayed long into the afternoon, over-running our initial time budget by quite a long shot. London life can be one long rush from A to B, which makes moments of pause so worth treasuring. In any case, food that is so beautiful and well prepared is worth taking time to appreciate.

As we walked down the street, my partner in crime turned to me with a smile.

“I’m full,” he announced. “And so are my eyes.”

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Address: Sakagura | 8 Heddon Street, W1B 4BS

Reservations: [email protected] | 020 3405 7230