Where were you this International Sake Day? Don’t know when it was? Didn’t know it existed? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
While it has been an event in Japan for centuries, it has only recently started to break the banks of its homeland and bring this unique drink cascading down the streets of London. This International Sake Day, I found myself in a basement in Soho (an all-too-common occurrence recently), hiding out beneath Shoryu Soho. Hannah, who welcomed me into my delightfully darkened home for the next few hours, turned out to be the daughter of Tak Tokumine, the owner of Shoryu and the well-renowned Japan Centre just across the road. Shoryu was founded on two of the basic tenets of Japanese cuisine: sake, rice wine to the uninitiated and ramen, a warm savoury sucker punch in a bowl.
Unfortunately our evening began on a low. With a video. While the video was an informative account of the origins and production methods behind sake, I could neither eat nor drink it. Feed me or free me I say. Luckily, what I did have in hand was a red lantern: an overwhelmingly sweet sake cocktail that was charmingly served out of a Japanese tea pot.
Mimi (one of only a handful of sake sommeliers in London) skilfully led our tasting, starting with a fizzy version, fermented in the bottle. Our sweet and bubbly Zipang (aptly named I felt) went perfectly with our seaweed salad; a miniature bowl with a powerfully salty taste.
Sake is graded very simply: the lower percentage on the bottle, the more polished the grain of rice, thus, the more fancy your sake. So if you want to act wealthier than you really are, order a bottle below 50 per cent (this is 50 per cent of the husk of the rice left, not 50 per cent alcohol. Don’t get too excited!).
Our first true sake is Gekkeikan Horu. At 50 per cent or below it had a surprisingly pungent, but not unpleasant, fruity fragrance. Its aroma immediately reminded me of umami rich miso, and sent a message to my brain begging me to engulf it. This was served with a revelatory sea bass sashimi, raw fish sliced so perfectly that its very fibres have yet to awaken to the realisation that they have been cut. I cannot begin to describe how delicate and melt-in-the-mouth good sashimi can be. So remember, touch the soy sauce and I’ll blind you with the wasabi.
A miniature bowl of Ganso Tonkotsu ramen came next. This is Shoryu’s signature dish, pork bones cooked for 12 hours creating a milky white unctuous broth, topped with char siu pork, fried shallots, broth swollen kikurage mushrooms and a soft boiled egg. Everything about this dish screamed perfection, belying the skill of its creator, Kanji Furukawa, the so-called ‘Ramen Boss’ and executive chef of Shoryu. This was coupled with a 60 per cent sake (Jouzen Mizunogotoshi), much lighter and fresher, it never threatened to overpower the ramen.
The dessert, a mochi, sounded like a Pokémon and looked a little like a cartoon jellyfish. In reality it was a sweet, sticky, gelatinous rice cake that fought valiantly in its attempt to stop me reaching its chocolate truffle centre. The sake was Gekkeikan Nigori, milky in colour, sweet and sour in equal measures and reminiscent of something you’d feed an unhappy baby. A perfect end to the evening.
All hail International Sake Day- an unexpected new holiday I will celebrate each year with a bottle from Shoryu’s impressively stocked cellar, and a warm bowl of tonkotsu ramen.
3 Denman St