The best thing about getting older is having the money – and wisdom – to buy decent booze. Wine, for instance, was my tipple of choice as a cash-strapped student only because it offered the most bang for one’s buck, i.e. you could get absolutely shit-faced on it with change from a tenner. A decade later and I won’t pretend to be a connoisseur, but I’ve come a long way since the days of Iceland’s three bottles for £10 deal (though I never touched the white Zinfandel. There is a line.)
Whisk(e)y is a more recent revelation, when I bothered to find out that the stuff doesn’t all taste of fiery brown piss. (Or Jack Daniels. Tomayto, tomahto.) And sake, too. It’s taken until the very twilight of my twenties to discover that sake, or Japanese rice wine, only tastes of arse when it’s cheap novelty stuff. In fact, a lot of it is absolutely gorgeous, and I’m faintly ashamed that it’s taken me such a long time to realise.
I owe this new-found knowledge to Japanese restaurant Sakagura, which does a very reasonable sake pairing (£30) alongside its eleven course tasting menu. I say eleven courses, but some of them actually have courses within courses. The tempura, for instance, comes out in bits as soon as it’s out of the fryer – apparently this is how it’s done in Japanese tempura bars – with everything served with little piles of matcha powder and seaweed salt. We had king prawns and assorted veggies, all encrusted in lumpy, bumpy tempura that managed to be both rugged and delicate, the edible equivalent of a shirtless hunk holding a baby. The sweet potato and lotus root were essentially giant chips, but the shishito peppers were my favourite, their bounce and piquancy holding up well beneath the batter.
The tempura followed courses of sashimi – traditionally eaten at the beginning of a meal before the palate is sullied by whatever other flavours – and probably the best Nasu Dengaku (miso aubergine) I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve had bloody loads, nothing tickles my pickle like a great big hulking aubergine dripping in umami. We do Meatless Mondays at home and it’s one of my favourite things to make, so I was absolutely delighted when Head Chef Delroy Simpson told us, with an air of great secrecy, that the magic ingredient is an egg yolk. It’s like a millionaire’s aubergine. Try it.
I could go on for ages – about the raw wagyu beef, which was like sushi made of meat, pure and clean; the three different kinds of yakitori; and juicy pork-stuffed gyoza.
By the eleventh course, the Insta-famous ‘Raindrop Cake’, I was stuffed, which is just as well because Raindrop Cakes are objectively nasty. First off, it is not a cake. It’s a globule of gelatinous goo that more closely resembles an artificial bollock than anything of any nutritional value. Sure, it’s beautiful, in a weird, toadspawny way, and the ones served to us at Sakagura were flawless to look at, crystal clear (apparently that’s the tricky bit) and threaded with edible flowers and bits of gold leaf, but the experience of actually putting the damn thing in your mouth is…underwhelming. It’s like Haribo, but worse, if you can imagine such a thing.
All this food was served alongside four different generous glasses of sake chosen to complement the flavours of each set of dishes. The first one, for instance, from Kaiun, was dry like an aperitif, and further brought out the umami flavours of that fabulous aubergine. My favourite was one by Urakasumi, one of Japan’s most popular sake brands, that was especially pure and well-rounded. I liked it so much that the following week I popped into Japan Centre, which owns Sakagura, to buy a bottle as a gift (albeit quite a posh one: a 720ml bottle is £60! It’s this one if you’re interested.)
The Chef’s Table tasting menu is also £60 (link here), which I consider good value for 11+ courses of Japanese food in Central London, though it’s a bit of a bummer that it’s only available at 7pm on a Tuesday. If you try it, I’d seriously recommend making a special occasion of it though and ponying up the extra £30 for the paired sakes – it’s such an experience, and sake sommelier-cum-hostess Mimi Tokumine really knows her stuff. You might even wind up swinging by Japan Centre for a souvenir on the way home.
Sakagura, 8 Heddon Street, Mayfair, London, W1B 4BU
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 East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.