DB Drinks: Sakagura

While Regent Street goes into Christmas shopping gridlock, around the corner, Sakagura is an oasis of oriental calm, writes Edith Hancock.

Sakagura’s sake selection is something else.

Struggling for a Tinder date spot in December that doesn’t load the pressure on with twee winter decor? Sakagura, tucked away from the panicked swarm of Christmas shoppers on hip Heddon Street, is a smart bet.

While the craft beer boom is starting to slow down in the UK, sake is having its own moment in the sun. Sakagura, which opened its doors last year to capitalise on the rice wine craze, is backed by the Japan Centre Group, which also owns successful noodle chain Shoryu Ramen. There’s a new Autumn menu, and a string of sake-laden cocktails waiting to be sunk.

non-curatain-shielded tables were also available.

The decor: Opening the grand doors to Sakagura was not unlike entering the Room of Requirement after dreaming up an authentic izakaya.

One minute, you’re being knocked down by tourists left, right and centre. The next, you’re in the low-lit, ultra-chic bar, furnished with light, bare wood and a trellised ceiling. It’s a little bigger, the ceilings are higher and the execution is slicker than what you might find at an “authentic” place in Japan, but all the elements are there.

Our server sat us in a booth away from the bustle of the bar. The noren — a kind of traditional curtain which the Japanese use as a room divider and Sakagura drape over their booths to give guests some privacy — was a nice touch.

The drinks: With just 11 cocktails on the menu (eight alcoholic, three boring), Sakarura’s drinks list is small but perfectly formed. The tipples are oriental takes on classics with flashy names (the “Hedonist Mojito” was a personal favourite) that would make any mixologist in Mayfair proud.

If you’re looking for a true taste of Japan, cast your eyes right to the sake list. Sakagura has a partnership with Gekkeikan — which has been brewing award-winning rice wine since the first half of the 17th Century. The bar offers no less than 27 varieties of sake listed by their flavour profiles and drinkability, from light sparkling Gekkeikan with tropical notes to full-bodied, oak-aged varieties loaded with umami and vanilla.

The Furano Fields and Hedonist Mojito.

Signature cocktails: A cedar-infused Negroni made with Gekkeikan taru sake, campari and a “secret ingredient” slipped down like a treat, as did a Jinzu gin-based Nihon Sling packed with florals and a dash of pineapple jam.

The Hibiki Moyasu — a rousing concoction of Hibiki harmony whiskey, mandarin liqueur, pimento dram-allspice liqueur and yuzu bitters — overstated itself on the menu with promises of a “smoking carafe” and “hand-carved ice.” The carafe smoked a bit, and the ice came pre-carved.

It was the best cocktail of the night, don’t get me wrong, but if you’re going to charge £15 for a drink and throw around words like “smoking carafe” I expect fireworks. Literal fireworks. The delivery was somewhat of a climbdown, but the heady mix of Suntory whisky and yuzu bitters was potent enough to make us forget.

Sake cynics will find the cocktail menu accessible enough, with floral, gin-based drinks like a Hedonist Mojito (Japanese and Cuban rums blended with mint, tea syrup and umeshu — a traditional plum-based liqueur). We skipped the Tokyo Banana — comprising of Geikkan sake, dark chocolate liqueur, Cointreau and the “texture of banana”, served with a toasted marshmallow — because we’re adults.

The food: Before bar-bites took the London nightlife scene by storm, Japanese cuisine had long focused on easy-to-handle portions. Chef Kanja Furukawa has created a diverse new menu for the Winter period split into bite-sized sections; appetisers, sushi, sashimi and yakitori stand alongside heartier robata grills, rice dishes and noodles. Desserts include fashionable treats like the eponymous Raindrop Cake, a matcha cheesecake and a sake-soaked Tiramisu.

The pork gyoza were quite bland, and could have done with some kind of sweetness to balance out the overriding taste of soy sauce, but after three cocktails they were quite necessary. They did the job.

Who to know: General manager and sake sommelier Mini Tokumine goes above and beyond to make guests feel like regulars. Her vast knowledge of rice wine makes her a wonderful ally for large groups and newcomers to the Japanese drinks scene.

Don’t leave without: Taking your drinks outside. Heaters and blankets made for a cosy, not cute, spot for people-watching.

Last word: The food may not quite match up to some of the other Japanese venues scattered around Mayfair, but I don’t think that’s what Sakagura is about. We sat in a booth, but watching the mixologists work their magic at the bar would have been more fun.

Grand but low-lit, fun but thoughtful, and traditional without becoming an uncomfortable caricature, it’s a great place to hang out if you want to expand your knowledge of some of 2017’s trendiest food and drinks.

Sakagura, 8 Heddon Street, London W1B 4BU; Tel: +44 (0)20 3405 7230

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