Asian Soul Food from a Japanese Chef’s Table
August 2, 2018
SAKAGURA Steak Kitchen & Sake Bar
An interpretation of the social tradition of Izakaya bars, Sakagura is tucked away behind the west side of Regent Street. Opened in 2016, it’s owned by the Japan Centre.
The Chef’s Table at Sakagura takes you on a culinary journey to Japan, with 11 small courses tasted with 4 sakes (chosen from a list of 85), all explained by Head Chef Delroy Simpson and Sake Sommelier Mimi Tokumine.
Delroy Augustus Simpson, the “Fearless leader of the Sakagura kitchen” is originally from Jamaica, where he started cooking 24 years ago, before becoming a passionate ambassador for Japanese food. He explained the eleven dishes as they were prepared in front of us, describing it as “Japanese soul food”.
General Manager and “Sake Sommelier” Mimi Tokumine chose 4 sakes for the tasting from the extensive list.
Sashimi came first, salmon and yellowfin tuna with an edible garnish: shiso leaf, aromatic purple flowers, and crystal seaweed for texture and crunch.
Nasu Dengaku (aubergine & white miso) was a highlight, served with a very savoury sauce of white miso and egg yolk. Japanese aubergines are slender, pale, subtle and sweet, the tender skins are not bitter like European varieties.
Tempura next. The Japanese like their food very hot; the batter was hot, crisp and dry, and were served one piece at a time to “respect the batter”. Sweet potato, lotus root and “stretched” king prawns, each with its own dipping sauce.
Seaweed was served as a refreshing salad, dressed with toasted sesame oil.
Grilled skewers are served one at a time to fully appreciate the intensely savoury taste of each meat: Goosenargh chicken and Blackbelly pork were plain grilled over charcoal, then seasoned with Welsh sea salt. American shortrib beef was cooked medium-rare, very juicy and sweet.
Wagyu beef Carpaccio
Delroy: “There are three things you will have heard about Wagyu cattle: that they are given massage; that they are fed beer; and that classical music is played to them. Are they true, or are they myth?”
He went on to confirm that the cows are massaged, although only their throats, to aid digestion. Beer is part of their diet. “Only the classical music is myth”.
He cut the marbled raw beef into small, thin slices. It’s rich, super tender, but tasted by itself it is one-dimensional. It was lifted to another dimension by the sauce (Fiji apples, olive oil and mirin) and the garnish of red amaranth, red shiso and white mooli.
A mysterious alchemy
The whole experience reminded me of a dish I ordered at Alastair Little’s eponymous restaurant in 1990s Soho, Tournedos with Polenta and Salsa Verde. I remember as I tried each component that it tasted beautifully of itself, and had its own texture: tender beef fillet, a crisp polenta crouton that soaked up the meat juices, and a sharp, green sauce. Putting them together in my mouth transformed them by a mysterious alchemy into something that transcended the individual flavours. (My well-used copy of Little’s book Keep it Simple is still a favourite).
The succession of dishes is unexpected to a western palate. We finished the savoury courses with Raindrop Nigiri (sushi of salmon, tuna and grilled eel) which Delroy advised us to pick up with our fingers, turning each piece to dip the fish in the soy sauce and wasabi without the rice disintegrating. Chutoro “medium fatty” tuna melted in the mouth, with an intense taste of the sea.
Miso soup was served after the delicate flavours of the savoury courses; it is considered too salty and filling to be served at the beginning of a meal. Lastly, “Raindrop Cake” with Plum Wine to pour over, before we emerged into Regent Street in the afternoon sunshine.
Favourite of the four sakes tasted were Denshou Junmai Ginjo (refined, melon), and Kid Junmai Daiginjo (floral, refreshing).
Sakagura Steak Kitchen & Sake Bar, 8 Heddon Street, Mayfair, London W1B 4BU
A postscript: Sushi, raw fish, and me
I’ve never really “got” sushi. Those little supermarket packs, the thimbles of soy sauce, the sachets of wasabi. I know it’s an integral part of Andy Murray’s training regime, but it isn’t part of mine…..
Sashimi, yes. I remember a place in Midtown Manhattan where you sit at the counter and your chef prepares each piece in front of you. It was recommended by the much missed Anthony Bourdain. (I remember the experience, but unfortunately can’t find its name).
And Pesce Crudo, sliced raw fish, in Venice, dressed with olive oil. I was sitting outside a restaurant, and the waiter brought my plate to the table, with a lemon garnish. He picked up the wedge of lemon and tossed it into the canal, pronouncing
“with fish this fresh, you don’t need lemon!”