Sakura at Sake No Hana review by Chris Zacharia
I’m sitting beneath a canopy of baby-pink cherry blossoms, the tips of my shoes gently brushing against the astroturf underfoot. Walls of bamboo bracket the adjacent bar, lit up by a meandering row of glowing vase-esque glass cylinders, hanging from the ceiling like stalactites. Three perfume bottles, proudly holding their aromatizers aloft, surround my cocktail glass.
A shower of cherry blossom petals rains down upon us. “We usually turn this on when customers walk into the restaurant” our waitress explains, showcasing the machine above the door. “It’s like they’re entering a garden in springtime”.
Sakura, the seasonal menu at the ever-popular Sake No Hana, is inspired by hanami, the peculiarly Japanese custom of enjoying the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossom. Transplanting the delicate prettiness of the garden into the ground floor of a Mayfair restaurant is a daunting task, but Sake No Hana have pulled it off. More importantly, the menu is brought to life with spectacle and theatre, from the cocktail’s orchestra of flavours to the playfulness of the bento box.
Concept cocktails often come across as a bit flat and worthy – it’s not easy to capture the feeling of autumn or the spirit of interwar Paris in a cocktail, no matter what menus might tell you – but the Sakura menu’s signature drink, the Kaori Arpège, is a total success.
As with any good cocktail, the ingredients are important, and here we have Beefeater 24 Gin invigorated by yuzu sake, cherry liqueur, and peach bitters, finished with fresh grapefruit juice and agave. It’s delicious: uplifting, rejuvenating, slaloming dexterously between sweet and bitter.
But there’s more. Inspired by Arpège, the classic 1927 fragrance by French fashion house Lanvin, the Kaori Arpège comes with three aromatizers. Spray some violet liqueur and taste the musky vanilla notes it brings to the cocktail. Replace it with a dash of the second bottle, a vodka-based elderflower with jasmine number, and the cocktail becomes something else entirely. The third bottle, black and red cherry with cinnamon, finishes the Kaori with a sweet woodiness.
For all the fuss, the Kaori is an excellent cocktail. Gin is an excellent vehicle to carry these flavours, as it’s lighter and and less aggressive than most spirits. You’d choose the Sakura menu for the elaborate ritual, for the sheer fun of it, and by delighting in the pleasures of fragrance the Kaori brings the pleasure of flowers to the tabletop.
Arriving in a partitioned wooden labyrinth, the bento box keeps up the aura of spectacle, disguise and display. The highlight of the bunch is sea bass nigiri, which appears wrapped tightly in a banana leaf; tug at the golden thread to release the delicate slice of fish within.
A more straightforward assembly of salmon and tuna sushi is excellent, with proper sushi rice and genuine, breathtaking wasabi. The sashimi is as good as you’d hope, too, with succulent slices of hamachi (yellowtail amberjack), akami (a tender, fatty slice of tuna belly) and salmon are worth savouring, mouthfuls which you take your time over, prolonging the pleasure as far as possible.
There’s a choice of two mains. Chicken sumiyaki – a kind of grilled chicken supreme, with both the silky fattiness of thigh and the tenderness of the breast – is a hearty, satisfying dish, all the more pleasing after the refined and subtle tastes which preceding it in the bento box.
But the Salmon Miso Yaki is the best thing on the table. Marinated in a miso sauce, which lightly cures the fish before cooking, the salmon manages both miraculous softness and a sinewy robustness. Partnered with a silky, viscous egg mustard which clings to the lips like caramel and adds depth to the salmon, it’s a joyful, comforting dish. Now that I’ve had it I want it for breakfast, daily.
A suave cherry blossom chocolate mousse, an intelligent and intricate dessert, showcases the menu’s refinement but not its heart. A watercolour of a tree patterns the plate, with domes of chocolate sake mousse, cherry sorbet, and cherry jelly laid out to look like as its flowering buds and fruits.
You can’t help but admire the attention to detail – it’s the kind of dessert that you could legitimately photograph without seeming like an over-enthusiastic Instagrammer – but the flavours don’t merge as wholly as they should. It’s prettier than it tastes, but as an articulation of the menu’s sense of elaborate display it’s spot on.
As we reluctantly get up and prepare to return to the real world, we’re left feeling sated. Sakura at Sake No Hana with its cherry-blossom menu gets the basics right, as well as an indulgent pageantry which extends unbroken from the decor to the menu and the crockery. I haven’t mentioned the service because, as with all restaurants in the Hakkasan group, it’s without fault.
The overall effect is elaborate without being convoluted, thanks to a menu that offers delicate treats without being faint-hearted. This is a full-on Japanese feast for the senses.
Sakura at Sake No Hana is available until 18th June