Sake no hana
23 St James’s St
I love Japanese cuisine; everything about it is just nice. The pride put into the presentation of dishes, the labour that goes into compiling it but mostly the freshness that is inherent is most of the dishes. Good dishes though rely on the fact that you use the freshest ingredients. I know what you are thinking, “Wow KS, profound. Why do I keep reading your rubbish?” but seriously Japanese cuisine is one that is pretty unforgiving when you use bad produce. Imagine eating sushi or sashimi where the fish isn’t up to scratch. Not only will it taste gross but what you’ll go through afterwards will undoubtedly be pretty gross too. Not as gross though as what is on offer at the high street chains. Itsu isn’t great but at least it’s edible. Anything is better than the bastardisation known as Wasabi though. I die a little on the inside every time I think of what they are offering. I really hope it isn’t what people think real Japanese food is and that a chicken katsu curry is no more than just some dry pieces of over-fried chicken, fatty thick curry sauce and overcooked rice.
On this particular post-work night, my search for a decent Japanese meal brought me a stone’s throw away from Buckingham Palace to Green Park and the establishment known as Sake no hana (Google Translate tells me this means “Flower of liquor”, a promising start to the evening indeed). Now generally when I leave work for the day, I like to stay away from it for as long as possible before I have to haul my ass back there. I’m sure I share this feeling with the majority of the population. If you find yourself with a job which springs you to your feet in the morning, let me be the first to congratulate you and also apologise for bad mouthing you behind your back. Be comforted though that it’s purely out of sheer jealousy. I love you really. You can understand I was suitably disappointed then when I showed up at the address given and realised I was standing outside what honestly looked like some 80’s futuristic office building which was designed to stand the test of time (it failed…badly). I was apprehensive to say the least but figured I had already paid my £2.80 for a tube ticket to get this far and I ain’t letting TfL off the hook that easy. Plus, having come from work, at least I was dressed appropriately should I find that it was indeed an office. I was surprised to find though that the unassuming exterior gave way to quite a fancy upmarket interior complete with a bit of drum and bass to get your taste buds dancing.
I had come here with T for the “Taste of Sake no hana” menu. This was a 4 course meal which consisted of a miso soup, a main, sushi and dessert. All courses gave you options from which to choose from except the dessert. After mulling over the menu over a bowl of excellently seasoned spicy edamame, we ordered the koimo akadashi (red miso) and the koimo shiro misoshiru (white miso) soups, the kaisen tempura and beef hobayaki for mains and both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian spicy chirashi maki sushi. The dessert for the night was ice cream mochi. Should mention we also came through Top Table which meant that we also got some drinks on the house with the meal, something which T was particularly pleased with (more on that later…).
Comparing the two soups, the white miso was sweeter and had a distinctive mushroom aroma but it was actually the red that had a greater variety of flavour. Both soups were served a with yam croquette which was delightful. It was perfectly fried and it retained a good crunch when bitten into even though it sat in the soup. A nice way to start the meal.
The mains were both fantastic and for once, my night wasn’t tainted by food envy. The kaisen tempura was a generous portion of tempura aubergine, onion, mushroom, butternut squash, spring onion and prawns served with a side of wasabi mayo. I judge a good tempura largely on the quality of the coating and this was definitely a batter win. It was light and crunchy but also held firm when dipped in the accompanying sauce. While we are on the topic of the sauce, it was so so good. Tempura with soy sauce now is so yesterday. Give me wasabi mayo 24/7.
The beef hobayaki was a cut of teriyaki sirloin perfectly cooked medium served with toasted yam placed on a bamboo leaf which in turn was placed on top of a miniature coal barbecue. If this sounds all a bit too gimmicky, well then I completely bought into it because I loved it. This style of cooking gave you the flexibility to cook the beef to your liking above what they served which I found useful as my fellow diner liked well done beef (I know, I shook my head in disapproval too). In hindsight though, I do like my beef rare so they should have asked about this beforehand. That’s just a small point though as once I got into the beef and realised how incredibly tender and succulent it was, all else was quickly forgotten. Add to this the toasted yam (which makes potato crisps seem stupid now) and you’ve got a very very good dish.
At this point, I was feeling pretty happy with myself; the meal had been great, I was starting to feel content and was looking forward to the prospect of dessert. But then…the sushi arrived. YES! As noted previously, we order both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian options on the menu. Both came with crunchy yasai maki (cucumber and avocado) but the vegetarian sushi was filled with carrots, pickled cucumber and avocado among other things whereas the non-vegetarian option was filled with 4 types of fish (salmon, yellow tail tuna, sea bream and sea bass). Doesn’t really matter what you order though because it is all fantastic and bursting with flavour. It’s actually a shame to dip them in soy sauce because they genuinely don’t need it. This is what sushi should be like.
To finish, we were served an assortment of ice cream mochi. For those not familiar to this, mochi is a Japanese rice cake made of mochigome, a short-grain japonica glutinous rice. The rice is pounded into paste and molded into the desired shape, in this case, a ball forming a casing for the ice cream. The flavours on offer were yuzu (strong citrus flavour), salted caramel (really just caramel), vanilla (pretty vanilla), green tea (polarising but I found it refreshing) and mango (which by itself was delicious but with the raspberry sauce drizzled on the plate was a match made in heaven). It was a wonderful end to the meal with the mochi being spot on; coating was not too thick and it was chewy but not rubbery.
This is a big call but I’d have to say this is one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had in London to date. The food was first and foremost delicious and came promptly but it was everything else surrounding it that really makes it a meal; the atmosphere was relaxed and enjoyable, the service was faultless with near on 10 wait staff looking after the floor working together seamlessly. They were also engaging, attentive and friendly but at the same time not intrusive and showed a deep knowledge of the menu. Overall, this was a really top meal and at a starting price of only £29 per person (you have to pay a £5 supplement if you order the hobayaki) represents pretty good value for the quality of food you are getting and the surroundings you are eating in (lets not forget you are in Mayfair afterall). If you like Nobu, give this place a go. Who knows, maybe like me, this will become your place of choice for Japanese food going forward.
Addendum from the Booze Hag:
Continuing on the tone from the sophisticated night at Joe’s Southern, let it be known that I LOVE a free drink. You hear me people? At the risk of sounding like a younger, femaler Ebenezer Scrooge, there is nothing better than receiving a drink without having to part with my hard-earned coin (apart from maybe peeling off the plastic when you buy new electronics – that’s pretty hard to beat). Luckily on this occasion at the exquisite Sake no hana I received not one but two free drinks. I would love to stay it was due to my wily charms winning over the cold heart of our Iberian waiter, but alas, it was simply part of the “Taste of Sake No Hana” menu when you book through Top Table.
Now, you don’t get a choice of drink, you simply drink the drink that they damn well put in front of you. Pardon my French. But hell, how good is that drink! On this occasion the drink was an apricot bellini. I’ve clearly had a very sheltered upbringing because this was the first time I think I’d ever had a drink with apricot flavouring – but it won’t be the last. It was delicious. A perfect blend of apricot mixed with bubbly wine. The sweetness of the apricot was perfectly offset by the smoothness of the bubbles. And I love bubbles. Luckily KS wasn’t drinking so I got both of them! Hooray! A winning night for the Booze Hag.
xx T xx