Sakagura is an upscale Japanese restaurant snugly hidden behind Burberry’s flagship store right off Piccadilly. The street-side entrance does in no way betray its interior: a glitzy post-modern izakaya with strategically positioned lighting and judiciously chosen Japanese memorabilia. The management team are from Kyoto, the original Japanese seat of the imperial court, where a high culture of luxury and sophistication has matured over one thousand years. Those influences of high culture were apparent throughout our dinner at Sakagura.
We started with maguro tartare with yuzu dip (£16) which was served on a tiny wooden tray lying on a bed of ice and decorated with multi-coloured edible flowers. There was also a layer of black capelin roe which added an exquisite visual touch as it created a contrast with the tuna’s pink. The tuna was delicious, as was the yuzu dip. The array of accompanying Japanese condiments that came along with it – wasabi, pickled ginger, toasted sesame seeds – also worked really well with the tuna.
The second starter was Sakagura’s signature dish, aburi shime saba bo-sushi (£15), a cleanly presented line-up of “flame charred” mackerel sushi. Flambéed mackerel gains its taste by firstly being marinated in vinegar as the vinegar both cuts the excess oiliness of the fish and complements its strong original taste. This was an excellent appetite teaser.
The starters finished off with a bang with sashimi moriawase (£39) proving to be an exuberant cornucopia of surgically precise cuts of super fresh fish decorated with the panache known in Japan as iki, ie, flamboyant elegance. There were six different types of fish including salmon, tuna, yellowtail, etc, all of which were delicious.
The wagyu beef aburi steak (£27) failed to live up to the wagyu hype. It was very decent and well prepared, tender and tasty, but not especially memorable either. The Welsh arajio (sundried sea salt), while a great salt as it is, was in no position to make the steak a culinary experience we normally would count on from wagyu. Nor did the strength of the wasabi necessarily make sense as an accompaniment to this beef.
The kamameshi (individually cooked rice pots), madai and ikura (red sea bream and salmon roe, £15) and chicken and gobo (Japanese burdock , £14) were made with the excellent koshihikari rice, easily recognisable by its delightfully chewy and slightly sticky texture. Both were full of flavour and had been powerfully scented with dashi stock.
Japanese desserts are always a special treat, and here the matcha fondant gateau (£8) worked very well as a delightful combo of green tea and chocolate flavours. However it was perhaps a bit drier than one might usually expect from this type of cake. But because the rest of the desserts were amazing we decided to let the pastry chef off.
The umeshu (plum liqueur) flavoured raindrop cake (£7) looked like a semi-precious stone, decorated with cherry blossoms and gold leaf. And not only did it look unique, it offered a wonderfully delicate texture as well as balance of flavours. It showed great creativity and was a joy to eat.
Even the ice-creams and sorbets, usually the most boring dessert choice, came out a trippy experience of unexpected tastes and flavours, all of which worked extremely well. The sake kasu and vanilla ice cream combined sake’s faintly yeasty alcoholic flavour as the supporting backdrop to show off vanilla at its best. This was unexpectedly excellent. With the soya sauce and caramel ice cream, the former provided a lovely saltiness to the richness of the caramel. Finally, the sweet and sour yuzushu liqueur sorbet was very refreshing with its strong citrusy notes and acted as a perfect palate-cleanser.
Huge kudos to Sakagura’s mixologist for the mind-blowing cocktails. Omomuki (yuzu umeshu, shiso leaves, shochu, passion fruit and lavender; £15) and Lychee Tini (Brecon Botanicals gin, Gekkeikan Josen sake, violet liqueur, lychee, and maraschino cherry liqueur; £15). All were perfectly balanced in terms of taste, nose and flavour.
Sakagura truly lives up to its name, which means “sake warehouse”. Sake here was dispensed by an expert and impeccably polite sommelier, who apart from advising on perfect alcohol pairings for food also offered a choice of variously shaped and coloured sakazuke (sake shots) to choose from. Our ice-chilled Gekkeikan Odenshou softly rolled on the tongue to release mellow melon notes into the palate.
Overall, the food ranged from the very decent (the steak and the salmon) to expertly crafted and exquisitely presented trips into the realms of imperial sophistication (the sashimi, the lobster, and the ice-creams). However, where Sakagura excelled the most, was omotenashi – the Japanese attitude to hospitality and service where the guest is treated as a (paying) friend and not a mere customer.
Note: This blog post written by Arturo from Nifty Noshing and myself.
1) The service.
2) The Cocktails.
3) The tuna tartare.
4) The sushi
1) All the food was good, but the salmon teriyaki was the weakest dish.
Food rating: 4/5
Service rating: 4.5/5
Price: About £50 to £70 a head, excludes drinks and service.