When Sake no Hana first opened in the swanky St James’s in 2007, it was the talk of the town and in retrospect for all the wrong reasons. Subject to controversial reviews, the restaurant served pretentious food to an even more pretentious crowd, winning the hearts of lavish spenders rather than food critics. The stone faced serving staff (a very authentic feature in itself) made the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse look like the Three Stooges and regardless of having Alan Yau on the consulting board, the restaurant received a cool welcome from the foodies of London. Having never had the opportunity to visit the restaurant ‘back in the day’, but being familiar enough with the story and good Japanese, I went with an open mind and empty stomach.
Me and crew sat down for some much needed cocktails in the Ni Ju San bar downstairs on a slow Wednesday evening. The cocktail menu was impressive and everything the waiters (with smiles on their faces!) brought to the table, was pretty close to flawless; thoroughly enjoyable at the very least. I tried the sake based Kiki Sakura, whilst my friends indulged with the Coupette No3. Both were a fine treat and a perfect start for the evening.
The restaurant on top of the famous escalators features intricate woodwork ceilings, not dissimilar to my own personal favourite London-Tokyo co-op, the LN-CC concept store in Dalston. So top score there! The mood was relaxed and laid back, much unlike of what I have heard of the place and therefore expected. Lucky enough to be treated to a full blown taster menu, I had the pleasure of indulging with chef Hideki Hiwatash’s latest creations. Being cursed once upon a time for not having much else but sake and beers on the menu, Sake no Hana now offers an impressive selection of vines from all over the world. Our meal was matched perfectly by the sommelier with a beautifully crisp chardonnay from Down Under. And a pot of hot green tea.
Having had a nibble of the best bits in the menu, I can say without crossing fingers behind my back, there was very little left to wish for. Serving in a traditional Japanese manner, the meal kicked off with sashimi, followed by heartier meat dishes and finished with a plate of sushi rolls. And dessert, naturally.
Appetiser at the beginning consisted of succulent quail with spring onions (Uzura Kuwayaki), which was followed by grilled salmon (Salmon Horenso), and a full platter of various sashimi options. The butter-soft tuna was to die for and the salmon sashimi did not stay far behind, while the best for me to describe the prawn is “interesting”. Now, I’m a real nazi when it comes to Japanese – I can probably count the times I have ordered anything else other than fish or other seafood in a Japanese restaurant on the fingers of my both hands. And I am ‘normal’ – I have just the 10. An occasional wagyu on the side, I rarely order anything that lived on dry land. However, since this was a taster, I had the opportunity to try more meat than I would have otherwise. And may I just say, thank God I did! It was the succulent lamp teriyaki cutlets (Kohitsuji Tareyaki) that impressed the most being cooked to a perfect combination of crisp and juicy; the seared for 30 days beef (Sumiyaki Sirloin) was a close-runner up for the Highlight of the Meal Award. The sushi, especially the California maki, became the perfect dot on the ‘i’, after which I was more or less ready to roll myself home, if it weren’t for the 3 scoops of ice cream that landed in front of me.
I’d advice you naturally not to try all of the above, not in one evening at least, as it was quite a lot to take in. But having tried something of everything, I can safely say, getting your order wrong is highly unlikely at Sake no Hana. The price range is high, but not as high as it used to be and if you’re still not up for a full meal in the restaurant, go and check out the mini-menu in the cocktail bar – a perfect start for a night out in the area!
I have no idea, what I would have thought, had you sent me there 4 years ago, but today in 2012 not long after the Hakkasan Group set up camp, Sake no Hana did not fail to impress me. Perhaps they have finally come to their own and have found their rightful place in London’s restaurant landscape, landing somewhere between the glamorama of Nobu and laid back elegance of Roka. With new restaurants opening across the pond, Sake no Hana is looking to become a household name in global Japanese dining. Well, outside Japan, at least.
Sake no Hana
23 St James’s Street, London SW1A 1HA
Make a reservation here.
(Images by Katlin Siil)