The best sake-drinking spots in London
Famously food-friendly, and immensely versatile, sake is a valuable addition to most wine lists, both in Japanese venues and beyond. But Japan’s rice wine hasn’t exactly hit the mainstream in the UK – you have to know where to go to properly explore what the category has to offer.
Jean Louis Naveilhan, head of education at the Sake Sommelier Association, has some thoughts about what makes for a good sake selection. “One of the key messages in our courses is that you can have just five sakes, or even three sakes, as long as they're all very different, and offer the right price points.”
It’s about knowing your audience, he says. “Younger consumers are driving sales of sake – they’re really interested. They're the manga generation, moving from manga to drinking sake, so they’re curious, but the price needs to be right, and the selection needs to be right too. Sparkling sake, for example, is very popular nowadays – it’s not to everyone’s taste, but it’s thriving.”
Once you have your sake list sorted, there are some additional considerations.
Temperature of service is very important, because sake is more sensitive to this than wine
“A sake that tastes beautiful at 5 degrees celsius, with everything in perfect harmony, might taste flabby and heavy at 8 degrees, while others work very well at room temperature," says Naveilhan.
It’s also worth taking full advantage of the fact that some sakes can be served warm. “As far as I know, it’s the only drink in the world that has this versatility – not all of them, but there are a few that are happy to adapt, served either cold, room temperature or gently warmed.”
There’s good potential for upselling here, as well as educating your customers about the category. “When you have a good selection, you have options,” explains Naveilhan. “You really need to experiment for yourself, to find the boundaries of the bottle you're buying, and what you can do with it”.
A good starting point for experimenting with warm serves, he explains, is the junmai and honjozo categories, as opposed to styles like ginjo or daiginjo, which are better served cold.
While most sake offerings in the UK are found in Japanese restaurants, this doesn’t have to be the case. “In Paris, for example, we’re seeing a lot of non-Japanese venues embracing sake, with people exploring the boundaries of sake with food,” he says. “There’s still this image that sake is just for Japanese restaurants, or only for Japanese cuisine.”
With that in mind, below are some of the venues in the UK – mostly Japanese – that are making the most of this diverse and fascinating category.
1. Sake Collective, London
Image source: @sakecollectiveuk
Based on London’s Commercial Street, Sake Collective is a retailer that also features a 12-seater bar. Sake is, of course, the focus, with the list arranged by flavour profile. There’s also a selection of Japanese spirits on offer too, including shochu, whisky and gin. The venue also runs a series of sake tasting events for those looking to broaden their knowledge of the category.
2. Chisou, London Mayfair & Knightsbridge
Image source: @chisourestaurant
With its two London restaurants, in Mayfair and Knightsbridge, Chisou is a celebration of authentic Japanese food and drink, and has a sake offering to match. This is an excellent place to expand your sake knowledge, with plenty of info provided on the sake list itself, including a map of the breweries the restaurants work with. Sakes are available in a variety of sizes, from glasses to carafes, and with some recommended for warm serves. Each is listed not only with a concise tasting note, but a food pairing suggestion too.
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3. Lucky Cat, London Mayfair
Image source: @Luckycatbygordonramsay
Gordon Ramsay’s Asian-inspired Mayfair restaurant Lucky Cat has a substantial sake list to accompany its menu of robata dishes, sushi and sashimi. The list is divided by style, with certain styles like honjozu and junmai available both warm and cold, and many available by the glass.
4. Zuma London, Knightsbridge
Image source: @ZumaLondon
Arguably the best-known Japanese Izakaya style restaurant in London, and now grown to 13 venues around the world in its 21 years, Zuma not only has an extensive sake selection, but incorporates these into its cocktails too.
5. Kanpai London Sake Brewery & Taproom
Image source: Kanpai London
Pekham’s very own sake brewery, and the UK’s first, Kanpai isn’t just a great place to learn more about sake production, and about the local sake-brewing scene – although it’s pretty great for that, with both tours and brewing experiences on offer. It’s also an excellent spot for drinking sake.
Located on a mezzanine above the brewery, and with outside tables too, Kanpai’s taproom serves their own products, including fresh sake on tap, as well as guest sakes from Japanese and international brewers. Kanpai Kitchen, meanwhile, offers izakaya-style dining from former Nobu chef Chris Wright.
Kanpai was founded in 2016 by Tom and Lucy Wilson, with everything produced on-site at the Peckham brewery. Inspired by a trip to Japan, the husband-and-wife team set out to learn everything there is to know about sake brewing and bring it back to the UK. Their experimental approach, and the availability of fresh, seasonal offerings at the brewery, are among the best reasons to visit the taproom in person.
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