23 St James’s St, St. James’s, London SW1A 1HA sakenohana.com
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. It’s also time for Sake No Hana’s autumn leaf installation and special menu, so we went in
Inside, up the now almost iconic escalator, and in the main room you find the Autumnal theme gently continues. Lunchtime light drifts down through delicate window shading, the cooks all shout out the traditional welcome greeting, and the outside world fades away.
Beautiful people eat at Sake No Hana, literally as far as can tell. So many good-looking men and women that F and I feel rather like gargoyles by comparison as we take our seats. I worry that we should apologise to the room.
Not that the staff make us feel unwelcome, quite the opposite, this branch of the Hakkasan empires has always struck me as the friendliest one of them all.
A special limited-edition Autumn Leaves menu using warming autumnal flavours and ingredients has been created by Executive Head Chef Hideki Hiwatashi and we’re keen to try. Not least because only one choice is required from the menu, that of main dish, the rest come automatically.
So that’s one less decision to trouble us, although my old school-friend F’s mobile keeps going off as he negotiates some financial deal that involves large numbers apparently. My own career has never involved large numbers.
A cocktail is delivered, a beautiful Maple toddy made with Hennessy Fine de Cognac, Akashi-Tai Umeshu sake, ginger, maple, chocolate and topped with edible rice paper art. Slightly warm, it’s a designer hot toddy and for someone who doesn’t go a bundle on cocktails it’s delicious.
The Kinoko misojitate, wild mushroom and chilli yuzu miso soup that comes first is drunk from the cup, no spoon. Salty umami goodness from the miso with a tickle of chili and a slight zing from the yuzu, all balanced with the earthiness of the mushrooms.
All I need is a thermos of this, a bonfire and some fireworks and I’d be totally happy.
Beautiful to look at, a slate of tuna tartare with egg yolk sauce, fried truffle rice with seasonal mushroom, shiitake mushrooms filled with homemade tofu and wasabi sauce and sweet potato and beetroot crisps with soba noodles was superb.
The tuna was the best I’ve had for a good while, the rice delicate and the stuffed mushrooms magical, the wasabi kick subtle and delayed. The soba noodles, fried and tied together with seaweed (probably not the most sought-after job in the kitchen) very elegant.
Mains, or Shiizakana in Japanese, is where you make your choice, for me it was pan fried Loch Duart salmon with walnuts and Kyoto miso.
This was a good choice, the skin crispy and the white miso puddled around it the perfect foil for the buttery fish that was cooked just as I like it, with only the centre still slightly rare.
The occasional soft crunch of a walnut piece was a bonus texturally – creamy miso, crispy skin, tender salmon and that nutty bite. It could not have been better.
F had the tempura, married to a Japanese woman he knows his Japanese food and so far, had been very impressed. He approved of his prawns and vegetable, commenting on the delicate, oil-free, crispiness of the batter.
The sushi selection was faultless too: Gunma Wagyu A5 Beef Maki with asparagus, caramelised onion and kizami wasabi; Spicy Chirashi Maki – tuna and white fish with avocado and cucumber; and Kyoto Inari Sushi V pickled mooli, shiso and kanpyo.
The sommelier kept us entertained with interesting sake choices, some warm some cold, all prettily presented and we finished them off in time for dessert.
Hazelnut feuilletine and hazelnut chocolate parfait with chocolate and maple syrup soup and a mascarpone mousse. Again, charming to look at and even nicer to eat. Visually perfect and texturally the right balance with sweet and nutty flavours not competing but complementing.
The menu is £40 without drinks, which is an absolute bargain for a good 90 minutes of happiness and food delivered faultlessly.
The Autumn Leaves menu is available until the end of November.