Name: Sakagura London
Where: 8 Heddon Street, London, W1B 4BS, https://www.sakaguralondon.com/
Cost: The menu is divided into 10 sections including appetisers, sushi, sashimi, robatayaki (grill), kushiyaki (skewers), agemono (deep-fried), rice and soup, kamameshi (flavoured rice), soba noodles and dessert. Prices vary from £3 for a miso soup to £39 for a sashimi moriawase, with an average spend of around £75 per person for 3-4 dishes each to share (drinks and service not included).
About: Sakagura is the first joint venture among various businesses including the Japan Centre Group (the largest Japanese food retailer in the UK), Gekkeikan Sake Brewers (one of the oldest sake brewers in Japan and holders of a Japanese Royal Warrant for sake), and the Japanese plum wine brand Choya.
With such impressive backing and a Washoku (Japanese cooking) menu created by Shoryu Ramen Executive Chef Kanji Furukawa, Sakagura is one of the most exciting new restaurant openings in London recently.
Set in swanky Heddon Street behind Regent Street, no expenses were spared to create a gorgeous restaurant over two floors with an impressive long bar, Sakagura aims to serve authentic Japanese cooking known as Washoku, recently listed by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.
The Washoku cooking philosophy aims to provide a balanced meal, not only in terms of nutritional value but also considering other aspects such as flavour, cooking methods, colour and presentation.
One outcome of this method is that the sheer variety helps achieve satiety without excess while stimulating all the senses. There is an emphasis on seasonality using the freshest ingredients and a minimalist but beautiful presentation.
Sakagura aims to work with some of the best premium and exclusive sake producers in Japan. There are over 200 sake labels available, many only offered in the UK at Sakagura. The tasting menu and sake flights we tried at Sakagura gave us the opportunity to taste a whole range of dishes from the main menu, along with a comprehensive sake pairing. There is no better way to find out what Sakagura is all about!
What We Ate: From the appetiser menu, we chose the sashimi moraiwase (£39) - a chef's selection of assorted sashimi fish with freshly grated wasabi. This included slices of yellowtail, sea bass, sea bream, raw scallop on its shell, salmon and tuna, served on a bed of ice with micro herbs, edible flowers, and a willow 'fence' supporting the construction of the platter. Gorgeously presented, the fish was of good quality and as fresh as one could get, with the addition of fresh wasabi giving a touch of luxe to the platter.
The aburi shime saba bo sushi (£15) is one of Sakagura’s signature dishes from its sushi menu – a sushi roll topped with marinated mackerel fillets seared under flame (aburi). The presentation was again stunning, with silvery, chargrilled mackerel fillets wrapped around aromatic shiso leaf over sushi rice. The mackerel had been marinated in rice vinegar and salt, adding a firmer texture and a layer of welcome acidity to the fatty fish.
From the robata grill, we chose the lobster (£32), blackened and served with ‘Moshio’ brown sea salt and lime. The lobster was perfectly cooked, the flesh light and fragrant and with a delicate charred flavour.
Moshio salt (shio means salt in Japanese) is an artisan Japanese sea salt, made from a mixture of sea salt and seaweed ash. It has a unique beige/brown colour with round and rich flavour due to the presence of minerals and other ingredients including calcium, potassium, magnesium, iodine and umami. Moshio salt is highly regarded in Japan and is the salt of choice for many top restaurants for dishes like tempura, sushi, sashimi or grilled seafood and meat.
The wagyu beef aburi steak (£35), from Kyushu, was served with Welsh arajio sun-dried sea salt (arajio is the Japanese word for coarse sea salt) and fresh wasabi. Very lightly grilled, the wagyu meat was unctuous, richly marbled and wonderful in both creamy mouth-feel and flavour.
From the kamameshi section of the menu (flavoured rices), the hot rice dishes followed, served in traditional stainless steel individual cooking pots: the red seabream and salmon roe rice (£15), and the Goosnargh chicken and fragrant burdock (£14).
I grew up eating gobo, or the Japanese burdock, in a variety of dishes in our Japanese-Nikkei home in Brazil. Gobo is one of my favourite ingredients and I have always loved its taste, it saddens me though that gobo has fallen out of fashion in the West. I loved the combination of earthy burdock and chicken in this rice dish.
Better still though was the seabream and salmon roe rice - salty, savoury, with iodine and mineral aromas, it was a winner of a dish.
For dessert, we had the raindrop cake - a delicate clear agar umeshu (plum) jelly with cherry blossom and gold flake. Light and gorgeously presented, it brought me a smile to my face to be reminded of the Japanese affection for jelly desserts (the style of puddings I grew up eating in the 1970s and 80s).
We also shared a matcha fondant gateau (£8), served warm with cream.
What We Drank: Owned by one of the oldest Japanese sake brewers, it is not surprising to see a wide range of sakes on offer, including aged and late-harvest options.
There are several sake flights available, priced from £9 to £17 per person, including some unusual options like unpasteurized cloudy sake, sparkling sake and yuzu sake.
For aperitifs, we selected a John sparkling sake (£17.10 per glass), a Prosecco-style dry sake with citrus fruit and melon notes. It won the International Wine Challenge sparkling sake category in 2016.
The Tenzan sparkling, Nigori (£9.40 per glass) was an opalescent unpasteurised sake, subject to secondary fermentation in bottle like Champagne. It won the International Wine Challenge for sparkling sake in 2014, and had a creamy texture with green apple and pineapple notes.
With the appetisers, we had a carafe of Gekkeikan Tarusake (£5.60 per glass or £16 for a 300ml carafe), from Kyoto prefecture. Matured in Japanese cedar casks, it had hints of seaweed, spice and wood.
With the lobster, we had a warm sake - Taga 'akinouta', Junmai from Taga, Shiga. This is made using akinouta rice, and served warm had a mellow sweetness and notes of roasted chestnuts.
With the rice dishes, we had a glass of 10 year old sake - the Koshoku Souzen (£13 per glass).
The matcha fondant was served with a glass of Choya Extra Years (£8.60 per glass) plum wine. With notes of marzipan and sour plum, this balanced luscious sweet fruit with bracing acidity.
The raindrop cake with plum wine was served with a glass of Nakata Yuzu Umeshu wine (£7.20) on the rocks. With zippy acidity from the yuzu, this made a stunning combination with the umeshu (sour plum) jelly.
Likes: I loved the flavoured rices, the sashimi platter and wagyu beef. The mackerel sushi was also outstanding. Friendly and well informed service.
Verdict: The Washoku cooking at Sakagura London is second to none - beautifully presented, it uses some of the best ingredients available and it is surprisingly well priced. There are some great sake flights on offer. Highly recommended.