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.
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).
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.
A 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.