Although their cultures are sometimes total antitheses of each other, I think that Japan and Great Britain have a lot in common.
They’re both small, well-developed islands densely populated with prolific tea-drinkers, and they both have their own idiosyncrasies that, to each other, must seem quite mad. For instance, the Japanese have fluffy seal robots for combating loneliness and the kind of unfussy appetites that comes from living on an island where only a fifth of the land is suitable for growing anything on. Meanwhile, we’re sat in Blighty eating black pudding and watching Monty Python (a source of much bewilderment amongst non-Brits, I’m told).
One of the most curious and lovely cultural differences between us and the Japanese is hanami, literally ‘flower-viewing’, which takes place all over Japan in spring and early summer when the cherry blossom comes out. (Exactly when depends on where you are, as they are fleeting and bloom across the country like a great pink Mexican wave.) Of course, we have cherry blossoms here too, but the displays of sakura are nothing like what they get in Japan, which inspire nationwide partying, feasting and sake-drinking.
The Hakkasan Group’s Japanese-style outpost, Sake no Hana, brings a little of the cherry blossom’s magic to Mayfair every year with a special menu. It also decks itself out in thousands of the flowers, including little fans overhead that periodically puff out little flurries of pretty pink petals. I went in to try it with Hannah, fellow Hakka-fan,
The menu begins with a gin cocktail, which comes with a trio of old-fashioned perfume atomisers for custom flavouring. The base cocktail is strong and citrusy with yuzu-infused sake, grapefruit juice and cherry liqueur, but you can tone it down or pump it up with the spritzes (or, indeed, mix all three!)
Cups of warm miso soup arrived shortly afterwards, both light and comforting, laced with the umami flavours that make Asian food so satisfying. We got to choose a main course from three options for our bento boxes, which also came filled with sushi. I wasn’t sure about the ‘crystal’ bento box, which looked suspiciously like the clear acrylic boxes I buy from Muji to store shoe polish and suchlike, but it’s what’s inside that counts and the freshness of the food compensated for its weird delivery.
Personally, I’d rather have had the sushi as a separate course and then followed it with my warm Chicken Sumiyaki with Spicy Shichimi Sauce, but if the worst thing you can say about a menu is its timing then you’re probably on to a winner.
Chicken was fleshy and tender and only lightly spiced, allowing the rich chicken-y taste of properly-cooked thighs shine through. Hannah’s Salmon Misoyaki was meaty and flaky, accompanied by a spunky egg mustard sauce.
Pudding is optional and costs extra, but in a Hakkasan joint I’d always recommend saving a bit of room for at least something little. (The patisserie counters in Yauatcha Soho and Yauatcha City are the stuff of dreams.) We shared a Cherry Chocolate Sake Mousse (£8.50) and a couple of macarons (£1.80 each/five for £8). Hakkasan’s macarons are typically larger, lighter and slightly less sweet than others, and the Sakura ones are flavoured with vanilla and cherry blossom tea.
The mousse was one of the prettiest plates I’ve seen this year – two gelatinous domes in a seductive cherry red. The colour was so intense I have plans to take this photo to Urban Decay and get a colour-matched lipstick, and the flavours smacked me – pow! – right in the kisser. One was cherry sake, the other cherry chocolate, and both were intensely tart. The latter was our favourite – the comforting taste of chocolate tempering the strong sake flavours.
The Sakura menu is £34pp, including a cocktail, soup, sushi and a main course. It’s only around until 18th June, but it’s very similar to the Take of Sake no Hana menu, which runs all year round. (Basically, more food but no cocktail – £31pp. And although the bar is splendid it its cherry blossom blooms, the atmosphere in the main restaurant upstairs isn’t worth missing out on!) Either way, it’s worth keeping an eye on Sake no Hana’s special menus – the a la carte menus for most people are an indulgence best saved for special occasions, but £34 for some of the best sushi you’ll ever have, a cocktail to wash it down with and more? You can’t go wrong.
23 St James’s St, London SW1A 1HA
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.