Tuesday, 12 April 2011

No Blossoms at Sake No Hana

Bang in the middle of Mayfair, amidst the most extravagant restaurants, lavishing hotels and intimidating yacht sellers, Sake No Hana totally looks the part. The entrance features black lacquered walls with a pair of escalators leading to the restaurant with a golden glow. Wow. The swathes of interweaving wood suspended in the high ceilings, together with angled wooden shutters across the huge windows created a sense of surrealism in the large room. Stunning décor. 

We were seated next to the sushi bar. After seeing one of the sushi chefs clumsily fidgeting with minced maguro into a mould, and another chef half-heartedly swapping the fish on the nigiri, I decided to skip sashimi. With the artisan sushi at Shiori still fresh in mind, I wasn’t craving for raw fish anyway. The rest of the menu is quite varied with the usual tempura and teriyaki, though some options are more exotic. I’m no environment campaigner but I am environment conscious. Just like I don’t eat sharks fin, I didn’t order the Chilean seabass. It is not officially endangered, but it has been reported to be severely overfished given its slow maturity.
Agedashi Tofu in Three StylesThe silken tofu cubes were encased in seaweed, sesame and bonito. The seaweed crust was the best of the three, as the flakes of seaweed clung onto the tofu and added more flavours. The sturdy sesame case was too harsh on the mild beancurd while bonito was bland.
King Crab and Rice Cracker CroquettesThese were nothing like what I had imagined. I thought shredded/chunks of crab meat stuffed in a bed of soft mash enveloped by a brittle case. Instead these under-seasoned little balls had a glutinous, chewy filling with a miniscule dice of crab meat (I assume), rolling around on a side plate. I felt a bit ripped off at £9.50.
Kumamoto oysters with a selection of dipping sauceToo posh for shaved ice? And these came after our hot appetisers.
I had wild Kumamoto oysters before. I remember the tiny but deeply cupped shell held a plump creamy morsel that was firm and fruity. These had the looks but that was the only resemblance. The sacs were flimsy and timid, further destroyed by the selection of ginger, wasabi and citrus dressing; ginger being the worst offender. It was actually a lump of grated ginger (what was I thinking?), which leapt onto my taste buds and defended them from anything that meagre oyster had to offer.
The pungent wasabi wasn’t much friendlier, and frankly the pair was downright odd. Mister opted for citrus, and somewhere in the process of deciding whether it was mandarin or grapefruit dressing, the supposedly briny oyster slipped down his throat unnoticed.
Hamachi Collar with Shichimi Spices from the Charcoal GrillMister is a fan of yellowtail; it’s so rich in fishy oils. And we love grilled salmon collars to go with our beers in Japanese izakaya. These arrived in a dog bowl. The fish collar wasn’t as rich in oil as I had anticipated, and some bits were even parched by excessive grilling. It was okay, but with such a simple recipe it should be better than an okay.
A server tried to take the plate with the third piece of collar untouched. Look, if the food you are serving looks eaten, then perhaps you should do something about it.
Iron Pot Black Cod RiceThe pot arrived and the server immediately started mixing up the rice the moment he removed the lid. I have no idea what it looked like. Hear me out, I am not being overly critical. The point of using a sizzling pot is to lightly sear the bottom layer of rice with its remaining heat, like Korean stone pots, so it leaves a crispy rice cracker-like sheet. And his over-enthusiasm dispersed the heat of the pot.
The rice was soggy, and had he left it untouched for a bit to evaporate the excess vapour, I wouldn’t have to eat mushy rice. Without the grilling, the aroma from black cod was somewhat less obvious but nonetheless still the unmistakable buttery fish. The dish could have worked, but feeble execution killed it.
Aubergine Roasted in Red and White MisoThis looks quite different to the usual Nasu Dengaku. The aubergine was poached to the point pre-collapse, topped with warm white and red miso. This was the best dish of the evening; faultless because very little could go wrong for something that simple. I couldn’t work out the purpose of the red miso, which lacked earthiness and umami.
Most Japanese restos charge £4 for a whole aubergine, halved and crisscrossed with a glazing of caramelised sweet miso. This costs £6 for a third of the veg.
I am not a fan of Alan Yau’s establishments; from a Chinese origin myself I could smell the money sucking formulae the moment I stepped in; 13% discretionary service charge, excessive mark-ups for cheap sake, Japanese Tsunami Appeal as one of the billed items without notice. I have made my contribution and I’m happy to donate more, but not finding it sneakily on my tab please.
Sake No Hana serves mediocre food at extortionate prices; some call it fine-dining, others with a healthy dose of pragmatism would say it’s pretentious; I refer to it as robbery. Those from HK would find it akin to Watami (和民) and the closer UK comparison is Sakura, without the attitude. Nothing tasted bad, while nothing was impressive. Mister was surprised that I’d even give it a 5/10. There is a distinct difference between good food and good value food; I base my judgment on its quality, a cheaper price tag doesn’t make the food taste any better. On the other hand, I am simply unlikely to splash another £100 on a 5/10.

Sake No Hana
23 St James’s Street
Tel: 0207 925 8988

You may also like: Atari-ya (Hendon), Sushi of Shiori
Sake No Hana on Urbanspoon


  1. Love the way you write and review food & restaurants! can't say i am a fan of alan yau's restaurants either, very overpriced for mediocre food.

  2. I only wish Mr Yau would enjoy reading me slating his restaurants as much as you do:P