As the UK continues its first five-day heatwave since 1995, I’m reminiscing about a meal I enjoyed a few Tuesdays ago on the first true day of summer (Sunday had been pretty hot but I was hungover and slept through it, so it doesn’t count). Sakagura is situated on Heddon Street, a cool little enclave just off Regent Street, and was populated by al fresco diners with jackets off at 20:00, surely an indication of peak British weather. God knows what punters will (or won’t) be wearing outside the restaurant today – after sampling their deft take on Japanese cuisine, I’m half tempted to pop on a singlet and head down to find out.
We step into the cool, air-conditioned dining room that has several tall wooden slatted dividers that offer tables intimacy while allowing them to spy on other guests’ plates as they arrive from the bustling open kitchen. Sake casks are suspended over the bar, each daubed with an individual Japanese hieroglyph. The gentle pulse of soft electro fills the room, mixing with the excited chatter of customers clearly enjoying their meals.
Our friendly serving team suggest a cocktail to start, so I butch up by going for a Lychee Tini, a light and refreshing concoction of gin, sake, violet liqueur, lychee and maraschino liqueur and an egg foam that tastes like a not-too-sweet Parma Violet with a boozy twist. After we’ve ordered our tasting menus (one specially-tailored vegan menu for her, a fish-loaded one for me), the charming sake sommelier arrives to ply us with her drink of choice. We agree to a sake flight (who wouldn’t?) and she talks us through the history of each bottle, as well as recommending which dishes go with which dinky cup.
The meal kicks off with a flame-seared mackerel ceviche that’s served on slightly warm rice (a good sign, as it means that the rice is freshly made), giving it a Peruvian-fusion feel. A pot of edamame beans are covered in yuzu shio salt, adding to the protein punch of the mackerel, while a plate of aubergine soaked in a sweet miso glaze is the perfect sweet treat to round out the first wave of dishes.
The shaki shaki salada (try saying that three times fast after a few sakes) looks like a bird went overboard when decorating its nest, the bling of the crisp shaved daikon tempered by the slathering of sweet, rich and creamy sesame goma dressing. Even more flamboyant is the blackened lobster, which is served with a Wicker Man-esque straw construction on the plate alongside a stick of raw ginger and a cooked chestnut. The mollusc’s meat is everything at once: tough and tender, the barbequed aroma cut through by the addition of moshio brown sea salt and lime. This one was worth the journey alone.
Stems of charcoal-infused tender broccoli adds an earthy substance to the vegetable dishes, while a cucumber sushi serves as a pleasant palate cleanser between the richer plates. Two plump cubes of atsuage tofu are soaked in a sweet soy reduction and topped with furls of spring onion and minced ginger, the crispy exterior giving way to an almost scrambled egg-like texture inside. Even better are the sweet eryngii mushrooms which are thick, juicy and, in the words of the vegan sitting opposite me, “Taste like ligaments – in the best way possible.”
A steaming mini-cauldron is then placed in front of me and the waitress mixes the chunks of red sea bream and salmon roe into a mound of brown rice with two wooden spoons while smiling at me, “This is usually for two or three people.” Challenge accepted. It’s incredibly simple and incredibly delicious, the seared rice offering a pleasant crunch while the roe stays warm, exploding on the palate with a gentle pop. It’s an autumnal warmer of a dish but I’m more than happy to fill my stomach with the hearty dry broth on this hot summer night.
After a curious but addictive dessert that consists of semi-transparent plum wine globes and a bowl of snowball-like yuzu sorbet (absolute heaven), we bid sayōnara to the staff and stroll out into the twilight, enveloped in the warm, somnambulant buzz that sake reliably delivers. I’m already itching to go back, but if the capital gets any hotter, I’ll have no choice but to run to Sakagura stark naked and demand another meal of epic proportions. I imagine they’ll seat me somewhere near the back. See you there?
Sakagura, 8 Heddon Street, London, W1B 4BS, UK
Tel: +44 (0)203 405 7230
The restaurant is situated on Heddon Street, a five-minute walk from Piccadilly Circus Tube Station on the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines. The restaurant is open Monday to Sunday from midday to 3:00pm for lunch and from 5:00pm to 11:00pm for dinner Monday to Wednesday; 5:00pm to midnight Thursday to Saturday and from 5:00pm to 10:30pm on Sunday.
Type of Restaurant: Washoku Dining and Sake Cellar
“For fans of Japanese food, Sakagura should be next on their list. For fans of sake, Sakagura should be their second home.”
Price Band: Expensive
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10
David Harfield is the director of PepperStorm Media and writes about his three passions: food, booze and travel.
Photographs courtesy of Sakagura