Sake No Hana is a world away from the stuffy members’ clubs that neighbour it in St James’s. Part of the Hakkasan group, it’s young, fun and more tasteful than you might think.
The restaurant takes up the first floor of an almost brutalist block stuck incongruously half-way up St James’s. Ni Ju San, the accompanying cocktail bar, is on the ground level with a snazzy black escalator leading up to Sake No Hana itself. Inside, the geometric design and earthy tones are a quite a contrast to the drab exterior. A tangled, puzzle-like sculpture of cypress sprawls across the ceiling, the walls are clad in bamboo and thin reed screens veil the traffic-choked road outside. Bare tables and angular leather armchairs tie in perfectly.
They’ve done a good job of making the harsh design feel warm and welcoming. Moody lighting transforms the restaurant into a softer, more intimate space and a wide array of traditional serving dishes add a bit of personality to the almost clinical straight lines and muted colours. Although it’s smart, with staff in suits and black dresses, they get plenty of twenty-somethings through the door, an achievement in a city where most ‘fine dining’ establishments are the preserve of older generations.
Let’s get one thing straight, though, if you’re going to explore the whole menu – rather than just have a little sushi at the bar – it will be expensive. If that doesn’t appeal, then this probably isn’t the right restaurant, or indeed part of town, for you. The menu is split into sections according to cooking method and all the dishes are designed to share. Sashimi comes first, followed by small eats, clay pots and items from the charcoal grill to name but a few. You’re encouraged to finish with a plate or two of their original maki before hitting dessert.
Like the design, it’s in the detail where the quality shows through. Take the maguro (tuna) sashimi, for example, which is available in three traditional levels of fattiness: lean akami (£7), richer chu toro (£8.50) and extremely rich o toro (£9.50); the latter two both from the belly of the fish. Opt for the middle option, chu toro, which is meaty yet buttery soft. The firmer yellow tail (£4.50) is also fantastic, while the salmon (£4) not such a cut above the norm. All sashimi is priced per two pieces.
Appetite sufficiently whetted, it’s time to move onto the larger plates. Even the simple tako horenso (octopus doused in a sesame dressing and served with baby spinach - £8.50) packs a punch that belies the simple presentation. If you’d rather something more complex, try the oddly named kakiage ichimi sauce (£11), which turns out to be sweet parcels of rock shrimp, scallop and vegetables enveloped within a crisp cocoon of angel-hair pastry (picture shredded wheat, if you must) and served with a spicy ichimi pepper sauce. The uzura kuwayaki (£13) is another unusual idea: dainty portions of quail in sweet, sticky coating on shredded spring onion.
For something more filling, go for the iron pot black cod rice at a rather pricy £18.50. It’s mixed at the table to allow the fresh egg to cook in the residual heat, forming a squidgy, decadent dish that’s ideally shared between two or three. A choice of maki ends this savoury part of the meal, conveniently filling any space left over. The spicy miso scallop rolls (£9.50 for eight pieces) have an interesting umami flavour, but it’s their speciality roll – mango and soft-shell crab (£11 for eight pieces) – that’s really special. Be sure to eat them in the proper way (in just one bite) to get the full combination of luscious mango and crisp, tempura-coated crab.
To finish off, there’s a short and (very) sweet list of desserts with silly names. Try the jasmine honey (£10), a rich milk chocolate mousse with vanilla ice cream, caramelised honey and crunchy chocolate soil.
Opinion varies, but one school of thought says that sake should only be drunk at the start a meal or with sashimi, so it’s a good thing Sake No Hana have paid equal attention to the wine list. Whites suit the food best, and there’s an unusual, aromatic selection including Torrontes, Pinot Gris and a couple of Rieslings. For £28, the Catalunyan Xarel-lo is excellent. Better known as one of the three classic Cava grapes, it’s zingy, crisp and appley. The Ni Ju San cocktail menu and a range of beers are also on offer.
The Last Word
Critics seem to love to hate Sake No Hana, but you’d be wise to ignore them. The attention to detail in the décor, service and food set this restaurant firmly amongst London’s finest.