Experience: Sake Tasting at Hake No Sana (plus lunch)

James on the first of the morning at 10.30am

Sake, a drink I love and have ordered on numerous occasions. But one that is quite impenetrable to learn about. I would never order a bottle of “wine”, yet when picking from a Sake menu, I do exactly that, maybe using price as a guide and nothing else. Sake No Hana recognised this as a common problem and have created a short tasting course for consumers, based roughly on a shorter version of the training they give their staff. I went with the able-palated James since our wives had colluded and bought us each a voucher for Xmas.

It all started bright and early at 10.15am, we wandered into the posh Sake No Hana restaurant and were greeted with green tea whilst waiting for everyone. Christine Parkinson (wine buyer at the Hakkasan restaurant group) and Anthony Rose (wine journalist) introduced themselves and explained they were going to give the course together.

Glasses at the ready Anthony admiring the sake

Some very nicely designed printed guides were handed out and Anthony started with a technical guide to the brewing process and overview of the different grades of Sake. At the same time we had 3 different tastes of increasing “quality” (mainly based on the level of polishing the rice has undergone, i.e. how much of the outside has been ground away). They were all excellent, it was surprising how much more “rustic” (pungent perhaps) the earlier Sakes seemed again after trying the more elegant bottles. Side-by-side comparison is absolutely the best tool for judging, especially with a drink you’re not that familiar with. The more highly polished rice Sake was notably more elegant with a crisp clean finish and purer flavour.

A short break later and Christine talked about the history and tradition of Sake, and some surprising facts about early brewing processes that make you thankful for the industrial age. We sampled several more Sakes during this, particularly more modern styles like the milky white very coarsely filtered bottle and a low-alcohol sparkling version (more like a sweet cider / wine to me than a traditional Sake).

Lunch next, upstairs at the restaurant. A nice bonus since I haven’t eaten at Sake No Hana before and we got to try Sake in its natural environment. To add to the learning, we tried 2 different Sakes, both of which where served hot and cold. One was a high end Daiginjo, the most refined grade of sake. The other was a Kimoto sake, where the yeast is produced using a laborious physical process. Personally I preferred them both cold (maybe I’m more used to cold sake) but could see the benefits of warming, particularly to bring out more complexity (but found the alcohol much more pronounced and overpowering in that case).

Red miso with yam croquettes Careful prep Chicken, mushroom and tofu Sushi rolls

Lunch, I’ll give a brief review. We were seated at the sushi bar, watching the intricate knife work of the preparation is always a treat. I started with the red miso and yam croquette. A good flavoursome large bowl of miso with yam croquettes, I found the croquettes a touch bland and dense to be honest but it was an interesting change from the usual tofu, some spring onion would have boosted the soup. Next was a chicken pot with tender juicy thigh meat, a great variety of mushrooms and a sweet rich sauce. Excellent use of the mushrooms. A sushi course followed with various salmon rolls. No complaints there with fresh fish and fillings, plus some had a crunchy exterior I really liked. They were quite large though, a tad more than a mouthful. The ginger was really excellent, a surprising thing to note but beautifully balanced salty sweet pickle.

Matcha dessert with kumquat A surprise last drink, plum sakeA final treat, a beautifully plated dessert was brought over, matcha cake with kumquat and kumquat sorbet. Very delicious, but even better it was paired with an Umeshu (plum flavoured sake). This was sharper than expected, a refreshing end to a great meal. Overall the course was pitched perfectly, with a generous selection of tastings, good amount of learning and some delicious food. Highly recommended.

 

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Nova Scotia lobster rolls

I’ve been away for the past week relaxing by a lake in Ottawa, Canada. It was for a friend’s wedding, very chilled with lots of BBQing (some satay chicken thigh skewers went down very well) and dipping in the lake. There were a couple of other food highlights though, the first being a fresh lobster roll from the Nova Scotia food company.

The Nova Scotia Eatery

Picture the scene, it’s Canada day and seemingly all of Ottawa has descended on the city to watch the celebrations. We’ve seen the snowbirds fly past Parliament and then escaped the crowds at an outdoor table of a local bar. Copious quantities of beer has been consumed and we see this hallowed sign on a truck on your way back. A simple exchange of $8 gave me this little beauty:

Fresh!Fresh, sweet, salty lobster meat combined with a light mayonnaise and a scattering of chives, atop a light brioche split bun. Not hugely loaded I’ll admit but an amazing snack all the same, I could have had 2 or 3 more if everyone wasn’t waiting for me. It’s a shame we don’t see more of our own native shellfish in this country bar high end places (or exceedingly close to the coast), I suppose the cost would be prohibitive. Burger&Lobster is obviously attempting something similar, albeit with Maine lobsters still. I have seen mackerel burgers at quite a few food stands recently, perhaps those are our closest UK equivalent to a fish based roll?

 

Dr.ink of Fulham

The fantastic Su-Lin (@sloLondon), who I met by chance at a whiskey tasting, invited us very kindly to try the new Supper Club at Dr.ink of Fulham. D.o.F. is a fantastic beer shop, located unsurprisingly in leafy Fulham, and I’d encourage you to check out their shop andtheir website. I only had a brief time to spend in the shop and saw lots of bottles I would love to buy (as well as a few I did!).

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The supper club is a very exciting concept (and novel to me), matching a total of 12 beers against Gujarati food cooked by the owner Shrila’s sisters. As if that wasn’t enough, each beer is introduced by Alex Barlow, renowned beer and flavours expert. Possibly the only time I allow myself a fizzy lager is with a curry, so seeing how an expert paired beers with it was going to be something special.

We arrived at the shop (after an arduous journey across London but I won’t bore you with that) and were led upstairs to Shrila’s house. There were about 12 people sitting around a large coffee table in the lounge, all looking anxious to start and pleased when we arrived. There was a menu describing the five courses and 12 beers we were going to sample, very exciting! I’ll run through each beer interspersed with some food descriptions.

Aperitif: Mort Subite Gueze

A nice start with a (wild yeast) Gueze. Very cider like with a strong sweet and sour taste. Aged hops reduce the bitterness to a subtle undernote with citrus and sweet coming through.

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Course 1: Dahi Puri served with Freedom Pilsner and Fruh Kolsch

Wow, what a course to start with. Imagine the most perfect rounded popadum filled with chick peas, spices and chutneys. Amazing!

Curry and lager, there would be no excuse not to pair the two at least once tonight. Freedom is more traditional in that the beer is stored for longer to develop flavours (lager is German for store). It has a touch of bitterness but is pretty light overall, acceptable at least.

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The Fruh Kolsch is lovely, sweet and light with a slight vegetal taste. Technically an ale because of the yeast used.

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Course 2: Paneer Samosas with Celis White and Saison

Paneer cheese stuffed into delicate spiced samosas with a tomato chutney. Brilliant, more please!

Celis is supposed to more accurately the original Hoegarden beer. For me at least, an overwhelming taste of Juicy Fruit bubblegum that I struggle to get past. Not unpleasant, lots of tropical and sweet flavours with a heavy texture. Wheat beers have lots of protein meaning a good match with cheese.

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The Saison is pretty herby and meaty, a tasty beer.

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Course 3: Ragdo Pattis with Kernel Citra IPA and William Brothers Ginger

The Ragdo Pattis was a delicious green pea patti topped with chick peas and a tomato salsa. Superb although the raita had a very unusual mustard flavour I had never tasted.

Kernel, certainly my brewer of the moment. Based near Borough market in South East London, they are producing fantastic flavour packed beers. The Citra is unsurprisingly heavily hopped with Citra hops. Loads of tropical fruit, mango, passionfruit and pineapple on the nose. Then a heavy lasting bitterness in taste, delicious.

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A “proper” ginger beer, quite light and sweet but with a nice balanced ginger kick.

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Course 4: Idli Sambal with Hopback Summer Lightning and Copper Dragon Challenger

A rice and flour dumpling served with lentil dal. Beautifully smooth dal contrasted with the unusual dumpling.

The Hopback has a light sweet smell, quite bitter and with a slightly “damp” finish. Quite a traditional English beer.

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Another great classically styled beers. Quite malty and heavy on Challenger hops. Not really an IPA in the usual sense though.

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Course 5: Coconut and Fennel Curry with Thornbridge Kipling and Schneider Aventinus

Delicious butternut squash and green bean curry with an initially mild but quickly growing spice. Served with cumin rice.

Kipling are producing some fantastic pale ales at the moment. This one had a smooth balanced taste but didn’t quite have the punch of some of their other offerings.

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The one beer I really can’t remember much about, clearly I’d had one too many by that point.

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Digestif: Harviestoun Ola Dubh Porter

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String whiskey and coffee in this long-aged (in whiskey barrels) beer. Perfect for the end of the night.

Conclusion

A fantastic night was definitely had by all, amazing food complemented by well matched and interesting beers. Even the supposed non-beer fans (including my wife, thanks for the photos by the way) seemed turned by the end.

Why not attend the next one, check out the dates here.