Hedonism Wines

A Summer of Hedonism

This summer, like many British summers, fizzled out with all the ceremony of a wet party popper.

It left me with a bereft sort of feeling…akin to that when you perform an iOS update for your iPhone and all you get is a free U2 album. Bereft and perplexed.

Weather aside, the summer months were actually incredibly fun. There was that visit from Philip Harper and the various dinners, the International Wine Challenge Public Sake Tasting with an unbelievable amount of trophy winning sake…and then there was that evening where I learnt all about Hedonism.

Behold, London’s Temple to the humble Grape.

Hedonism Wines

I should confess upfront that my understanding of wine is unapologetically linear. Linear to the degree that I can merrily divide the wine world into four kingdoms: Good Red, Bad Red; Good White, Bad White. A fair number of you are falling over in horror at this stage, spilling your glasses of Chateau Lafite across the floor like a murder scene. But I assure you that wine is on my list of things to get to know. (Although if I’m being honest, primarily for the purpose of being better able to benchmark sake).

Fortunately, Hedonism is the kind of place that even non-oenophiles can appreciate, with its tasteful and cavernous interior de luxe. True oenophiles however, will be brought to their knees with euphoria.

Hedonism Wines

A sweeping staircase is the first thing you see as you enter, and the downwards descent is taken directly from the ball scene in Disney’s Cinderella. The temperature has dropped a few degrees cooler. Amber, ruby, deep sapphire and rose…jewel coloured bottles stretch into the horizon, each resting snugly in its designated shelf space. It’s quiet. The silence is only broken by the deliberate footsteps of suited customers, intently searching for the one.

Hedonism Wines

Hedonism Wines

In short, Hedonism is the home of fine wine in London. But it also purveys plenty of the other fine and wicked things in life, including spirits, glassware thin as soap bubbles, and of course, sake.

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Sake Shelf at Hedonism

Pairing events often take place here, usually in the downstairs ‘cellar’. Tonight, we have gathered for six Mediterranean style mini-bites, paired with six special types of sake. The theme: Seasonal Sake, chosen to showcase the best of summer’s ingredients.

Each pairing was carefully curated by Honami Matsumoto, who in her previous incarnations worked as Head Sommelier at Nopi (with a wine list that was shortlisted for Imbibe’s Wine List of the Year), as a Wine and Sake Specialist at Hedonism and is a Certified Sake Level III Sake Educator by the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET). (She continues to offer event organising services under House of Sake). By putting Japanese sake to work in unfamiliar contexts, such as non-Japanese cuisines, this masterclass demonstrated sake’s underrated versatility and  turned old conventions on their head with grace and finesse.

Summer Sake at Hedonism

Five of the six Sake we tried, from left: Masumi Arabashiri; Shirakabegura Muroka Daiginjo Genshu; Katsuyama Lei Sapphire Label; Ikekame Turtle Black; Ume no Yado Yuzu. Missing: Mio Sparkling

First came the palate opener of prosciutto wrapped melon and mint, paired with sparkling sake by Mio (see Hedonism). This was a unanimous hit, a mix of sweet bubbles from the sake, wafer thin saltiness and yielding melon flesh. The champagne like fizz of the poured sake heralded the start of a fine evening ahead.

Mio sake

Second came bruschetta two ways: Cherry tomato on the one, and caramelised red onion and Gorgonzola Dolce on the other. Both tomato and cheese are sake friends, being rich in “savoury deliciousness”, or umami. I rather enjoyed Honami’s description of the sake and cheese friendship also stemming from their shared “moldiness”. This course was paired with a Nama Genshu (meaning raw and undiluted), named Masumi Arabashiri Junmai Ginjo. This particular sake was chosen for its higher levels of sweetness and acidity, with the aim of bringing out the flavours of caramelised onion.

Hedonism Wines Sake Class

Tomato was to play a dominant role in this evening’s theatre of food and drink, featuring twice more in close succession. First, a petit bowl of gazpacho was paired with a genshu (meaning undiluted) named Shirakabegura Muroka Daiginjo Genshu. The Sake’s smell was highly distinctive, akin to that of exotic white flowers. I took this as an opportunity to test whether I could indeed detect the difference between Nama Genshu and Genshu. An experiment which left me feeling slightly despondent, but which can only be interpreted as a call for more Sake drinking.

Gazpacho at Hedonism Wines

Next the Burrata, peach, tomato and basil salad with aged balsamic vinegar, which came paired with Katsuyama Lei Junmai Ginjo Sake. Let us just pause here and give both elements the appreciation that they both individually warrant.

Burrata at Hedonism

First the burrata. There are many grades of burrata, ranging from that which resembles a white rubber puck, to that which is gorgeously white and soft, and bleeds when you cut it. Tonight’s burrata were decidedly of the bleeding sort, requiring consumption with a spoon. Each majestically pale celestial body came enshrined on its own little constellation – meaty chunks of tomato, delicate peach and vividly fragrant basil.  Because the body is a temple, n’est-ce que pas?

As I sat back and observed, I felt rather moved by the way the delicate cheeses disgorged their inner creaminess, and the greedy slurping this invoked. All things considered, this course was a hit.

Fun fact: burrata is apparently a mozzarella pouch that has been stuffed with cream and other leftover scraps of mozzarella. A pure dose of heart attack, delivered straight from a water buffalo’s milk pail straight to you.

And then the Sake. Katsuyama Lei is in fact one of my favourite Sake to drink, both for the story behind its production, and its flavour and aroma. Just imagine the taste of the best peach in the world, and what it would smell like…and this brings you something close to Katsuyama Lei. Supposedly, this is achieved through the assiduous polishing of the sake rice into diamond shapes, which also explains the premium price tag (c. £56 at Hedonism).

Katsuyama Lei

The fifth course demontrated the ability of certain sakes to hold up well with meatier fare, with its extremely welcome ability to cut through grease without astrigency. The chosen sake, Ikekame Turtle Red Junmai Daiginjo (see sake lineup photo above), also possessed a red berry kind of smell, playing upon the sherry and vinegar dressing in course five’s “Oven-roasted chicken wings with garlic”.

And finally we were in the home stretch.

If our final pairing had a name it would be

Amalfi.

Hedonism

Waxy lemons and a pastel hued sake liqueur, richly evocative of Mediterranean summer nights. Another familiar Sake friend too – Yuzu by Ume no Yado brewery – which you can read more about here.

Not much more for me to say here, save that Sicillian lemon cheesecake paired with a sweet liqueur tends to speak for itself. (Cheesecake courtesy of the English Cheesecake Company).

Sicillian lemon cheesecake

The rest of the evening is spent in a warm haze of satisfaction, strolling through the different chambers of luxury. Each alcove his its own little delight, not least the famous room of many hands, each cradling a bottle of something priceless:

Hedonism

Hedonism

 

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Hedonism

Outside it’s raining. I navigate towards the tube station, side stepping puddles filled with the sheen of gasoline rainbows. I’m smiling though, as I remember the line written at the bottom of my tasting sheet:

“I can resist everything except temptation.”

Oscar Wilde

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Honami holds frequent tasting classes at Hedonism. Her next class is already sold out, but you can read more about it in my next post, and be notified of future tastings here.

All Sakes mentioned in this article are available to purchase at Hedonism Wines:

Mio, by Shochikubai

Arabashiri, by Masumi

Shirakabegura Muroka, by Shochikubai

Lei Sapphire, by Katsuyama

Turtle Red, by Ikekame

Yuzu, by Ume no Yado

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]