Like wine, sake and other Japanese drinks vary hugely in quality. Luckily for us Londoners, the last few years has seen the London sake scene explode, with devoted sommeliers eager to introduce the finest on offer.
Natsuki Kikuya of The Museum of Sake comes from a family that has produced sake for generations. I recently caught up with her at the Akita Prefecture Sake tasting held at the Japanese Embassy in London, where she talked about what it takes to make the best sake.
After sampling 17 different types of sakes and armed with Natsuki's advice, I set out to find the best places in London to indulge in sake, and the other popular Japanese drinks, shochu and whisky. Get out there and enjoy the Japanese tipple. Kampai!
Serious sake fans should head to Chisou Japanese restaurant in Knightsbridge (there are also branches in Mayfair and Chiswick). Go past the restaurant and straight upstairs to the first floor bar for top quality sake, umeshu and shochu. This is a grown-up sake place - no cocktails or fusion nonsense here! The sommeliers are passionate and have plenty of tips for sake newbies. They're also starting a sake club, with regular tastings and visits from brewers.
"For God's sake, can we have more choice in our sake!", is what no one will be saying at Shoryu Ramen Japanese restaurant in Soho which has over 80 varieties of Sake on offer, from reasonably priced to a connoisseurs bottle at around £200 a pop, as well as interesting sake based cocktails. If you head starts swimming from too much sake choice (or in face choosing sake too many times) a nourishing bowl of Ramen will sort you out, in particular try the Ramen with pork cooked for 12 hours, delicious.
Trying to impress someone on a hot date in London? Then the sake bar and lounge at Zuma Japanese restaurant in Knightsbridge is the place for you. Quite apart from the massive swank factor, this restaurant takes its sake extremely seriously, with over 40 different types on sale, as well as some great cocktails. Work towards your five-a-day with a Rubabu “rhubarb infused daiginjo sake shaken with cape north vodka and fresh passion fruit."
Shochu Lounge specialises in yes, you guessed it, Shochu. This trendy Japanese spirit can be made from all sorts of ingredients - from barley to sesame seeds - and there's even a variety made from carrots. Based under Roka restaurant in Fitzrovia, this intimate den is perfect for a date thanks to the low-lighting, deep red décor and low-level seating. There's a huge array of shochu on offer as well as cocktails, some of which are shochu-based. Try the ‘Plum Plum' – ume shochu, plum vodka and plum tzu.
As London's only dedicated Japanese whisky bar, Mizuwari is THE place to go for this particular evening tipple. Skewers of yakitori from the Bincho restaurant kitchen upstairs make great bar snacks to go with the massive variety of whiskies and cocktails on offer. The signature Mizuwari – Yamazaki 12 whisky mixed with binchotan filtered water – is a classic recipe.
Have you uncovered a secret Japanese hideaway in London that sells sake, shochu or whisky? Share the love people; use the comments box below.
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