Umai Saturdays at Sake No Hana

A few days ago, I gave you my tips for getting tables at London’s most in-demand eateries, and one way was to enjoy a commensal afternoon, rather than the traditional evening feed. This was something Dan and I tried out not too long ago in my favourite Japanese restaurant, Sake No Hana.

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After a walk through St. James’ Park and snooping the gallery windows of Mayfair, we arrived as the pre-Spring sunshine lit up what was already a beautiful, ambient space. For a large restaurant, it retains a level of intimacy with the layout, and is GREAT for people watching. Particularly when you and your other half are lechy perverts who find no shame in conspicuously photographing the restaurant’s most stylish woman from across the room. Sorrynotsorry

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It’s a Japanese tradition to serve many different dishes during a meal, which is what you get with the Umai Saturdays menu. Umai often translates to ‘delicious,’ and God knows I bloody love deliciousness. We preluded Hideki Hiwatashi’s five-course lunch menu with some cocktails, of course. I tried the Nippon Riviera (the name amused me; it’s oh-so-formal to call Japan ‘Nippon’ instead of ‘Nihon’, as I do) because it was Tanqueray + wasabi = lush.

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We mistakenly thought we were starting with the white miso soup, but first came the Horenso Gomaae, a cool, dense spinach dish with sesame seeds and cassava chips. Really beautiful, and it went far better with the sake they provided than the sweet cocktails we chose (by this point I was on the Geisha’s Secret, a mixture of 3 year El Dorado rum with vanilla syrup, peach, mint and lemon).

Despite having grown up by the sea and having a long-serving penchant for all things Asian, I only started eating fish at the ripe old age of 19 and over the past six years I have honed this slowly. I’m still squeamish when it comes to the hardcore stuff, but my favourite foods are sea bass and scallops. I dithered at the choice of sea bass sashimi on the menu; as much as I love cooked sea bass, the thought of having it raw still scared me a little. Dan is a bit less of a pansy than yours truly and convinced me to try it. I’m so pleased I did. The slices came so thin they were completely transparent and we gave it a light drizzle of chilli ponzu dressing that made it exquisite. *drool* More pls.

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While all of these delights were being served, we tasted the first of our two bottles of sake that day (not counting the third, undrinkable, bottle we picked up in the Japan Centre on the way home), the Shirakabegura. A low-alcohol sake at 5% volume, it went down very quickly. It’s like a light, sparkling elderflower-ish drink that really made me feel summery.

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Seeing Dan explain this tattoo to people is legit hilarious. It means ‘bubi,’ pronounced ‘booby’ and is essentially the Korean word for grinding on someone in a club. And he decided to get it tattooed to his wrist. Babo (idiot). 

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Next up was the sushi roll platter, with Spicy Tuna Maki, Salmon Avocado Maki and Crunchy Yasai Maki, ordered in my ascending preference. The last was umai-as-hell; the texture of crunchiness on the outside was lovely and reminded me a little of the dim sum at Sake No Hana’s sister restaurant, Yauatcha (which you can read about here). At this point we were starting to feel a little replete (and pissed, to be honest); but hadn’t even had the main course yet!

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This is a problem I keep having at the moment; filling up waaaay before the meal has ended. I never usually do, partially because my Presbyterian Northern Irish roots subconsciously tell me there will probably be another potato famine if I don’t eat everything in front of me.

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The Umai Saturdays menu gave us a couple of choices for the main, but decided to go for the sharing one because we are just THAT adorable. Cooked at your table, the Sukiyaki is a bit of a destination dish. Sliced chicken on vegetables, tofu and mushrooms may not sound all that special but the contorting ‘candy floss’ on top (and I have no idea what it actually is) makes for a beautiful sight. I wish I’d filmed it.

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We finished off our Umai Saturday with my now-staple commensal conclusion, an Espresso Martini. After I proposed to myself with Dan’s ring and was suitably oiled, we went shopping on Jermyn Street. There, we decided we’d one day take a trip to Paris to visit a particular exquisite cigar box-maker (though by the time we’d sobered up – days later, as we headed straight to my birthday party – we realized just how preposterous this is. Which actually makes it more likely to happen), which is how any date-with-the-bf should end, IMHO.

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Thanks to Sake No Hana for inviting us along to review their menu. You can have your own Umai Saturday for £37, which is unbelievably affordable for five Michelin-starred courses and two bottles of sake in Mayfair. 


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