On a warm summer’s evening, Heddon Street’s heaving. Pavement tables, al fresco drinkers and the spillover from Regent Street, looking for somewhere marginally quieter. But inside Sakagura it’s quiet and shaded, light filtering in dimly through pale paper hangings across the windows.
Big enough to accommodate a good portion of Heddon Street’s punters between the restaurant and the sake bar downstairs, Sakagura’s a surprising counterpoint to the warmth and busyness outside, with a feel that seems more well-heeled than well-trodden, more Belgravia than Oxford Circus.
Sakagura menus range from lunch and dinner a la carte to Yakiniku barbeque food, cooked yourself on a tabletop fire, and bottomless brunches. But we’re here this evening for a tour of the Japanese dining, via their tasting menu and sake matching.
Both of us could make a decent fist at choosing a beer to pair our food with, and both of us know some basic – extremely basic – principles of wine pairing. But when it comes to sake we’re entirely in stab-in-the-dark territory: don’t know how to tell which region the sake’s from, wouldn’t be able to appreciate its significance if we could.
Luckily Sakagura pride themselves not just on the sake collection – enormous, lining the walls of the stairs and the cool, dark designated sake bar downstairs – but also their ability to steer you through the sake offering. Their expertise would be available to you when ordering a la carte, but it’s formalised with their tasting menu, which offers two sake matching menus.
Our sommelier’s on hand throughout a dining experience that’d be startlingly elaborate, even without the sake matching. The tasting menu covers six courses, along with an array of tiny plates of tsukemono pickles as a warm-up. A sashimi dish comes in an ornate carved pot, on a bed of ice, decked with flowers and a sort of woven wooden fan. Entire houses have probably been decorated with less thought and ceremony than there’s been in the presentation of this handful of sashimi slivers. But that’s the Sakagura way: careful precision and balance runs through the menu – the presentation might be ornate, but the service, the quantities and the pace are restrained and light of touch.
The menu changes seasonally, but ours includes dishes from most corners of the Sakagura menus – from a meaty, salty broth with a single shinjo shrimp dumpling each floating in it, to wagyu carpaccio, cold and drizzled with truffle and citrusy yuzu – rich and springlike at the same time. The drink matching starts with a golden, lightly fizzy sake, so crowd-pleasing and smooth it might convince a sake sceptic. And it continues with as sweepingly broad a tour of sake from different corners of Japan as the food menu’s whirlwind tour of Japanese dining – from lighter, peppery sake served with a lobster and burdock rice dish, through to sweeter, thicker sake matched with a matcha and green tea cheesecake for dessert.
This isn’t the place for people who want a tasting menu to feel like an excessive luxury, who want to eat and drink like one of the goutier Tudor kings and leave feeling like they should be rolled out. The Sakagura tasting menu serves up an evening as elegant and measured as the restaurant’s design. They’re good at the food – and really, really good at sake and ceremony.
The tasting menu is £80 a head, and needs to be booked 24 hours ahead, with sake pairing for £35, or £50 for the Prestige sake pairing.
Sakagura, 8 Heddon Street, W1B 4BU. 0203 4057320. Website.