Taste: Sake no Hana Review

Disguised as an office building - Sake no Hana blends only too well into the Economist's Plaza on St James' street. A plaque by the menacing automatic door is the only giveaway before it slides open. A couple of bemused doormen look out - who I'm sure will get used to welcoming lost diners.

Inside is an office building's foyer. They've either painfully replicated the entrance to a Wall St bank in black marble or just left the old building as it was. This being Alan Yau and architect Kengo Koma the latter is a dead cert but it really just feels like the bank. Nothing like the decadence of L'Atelier. Alright, I know, hanging out here isn't scheduled, so up a dark, thin escalator to the 1st floor restaurant.

Somehow cater-cornered and not in a great way the restaurant is a mix of standard tables and sunken no-shoes Izakaya seating. Attractive bleached-wood skeletal pyramids echo the simplicity of the room which has a dab of sober beige, a splash of Dojo and the smell of money. Wait staff tiptoe around sinking awkwardly to their knees when serving, a feat not easily achieved by the burly sake sommelier balancing a £200 bottle with a grimace (they do serve 180ml taster carafes from £12).

The menu, traditional Japanese in summary; salad, tempura, marinated then fried dishes, rice and desert. Sushi and sashimi are not available, the sushi-bar downstairs is not yet complete although the glamorous table of soap stars behind are braying over a round of nigiri.

Over the next 90 minutes the courses roll (or rather loll - first week teething is passable) A minute jar or King Crab salad in a Japanese plum jelly is a silky mouthful of sweet flavors - shame there's only two spoon's and a tinkles-worth. Mixed tempura, with a good but not Tokugawa standard batter. Leaf wrapped oblongs of Chilean sea bass with giant soy beans and button mushrooms in an superbly overwhelming satay-notes sauce and korokke a painfully rendered yet too fussy beef, potato croquette. For staples we went for sticky rice and Udon noodles, both pedigree versions of their mainstream counterparts.

Almost all flavours were choreographed delights, fantastic, orchestraic but over far too soon. The better dishes were the more elaborate but they could fit on a 50 pence piece (whilst costing a fistful of golden coins). After 8 dishes and an onslaught of intriguing tastes we were left not quite satisfied - with a feeling more like eating a selection of Belgian chocolates.

Sake no Hana is the latest restaurant from Alan Yau of Hakkasan and Yauatcha fame. Sure it will get a third Michelin Star but in comparison I'm not so convinced. Maybe that will change when the new-wood smell calms down and the wait staff understand the dishes (and their sizes) better. I've a feeling though that for me there won't be a second time - fine Japanese cuisine exists in just one country.

Sake no Hana
23 St James's Street
SW1A 1HA (map)
020 7925 8988


a.rien said...

i have to disagree drew
fine japanese dining also exists in NYC and in Vancouver...
though not available in abundance as it is in the home country of course.

speaking of which, have you eaten at morimoto's in NYC? i had to check it out if only to witness tadao ando's first architectural feat in NYC and it did not disappoint...

triplefivedrew said...

Perhaps you're right, most of the finer Japanese restaurants I've attended cross the borders - I'm thinking of Bond St in NYC which is fantastic but doesn't come close to Japan. Perhaps that's my bad planning.

I've not eating in Morimoto's will be in New York next week and shall head straight over!