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.


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.


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.



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)


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.



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.




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.


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.


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



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.


Mushroom rice


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.


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.


Warmed sake in a tokkuri


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



Choose your cup


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.


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.


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.”


Address: Sakagura | 8 Heddon Street, W1B 4BS

Reservations: [email protected] | 020 3405 7230


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.