Celebrating Sakura at Sake no Hana

The cherry blossom or sakura is much revered in Japan. Each spring, as the pretty pink flowers engulf cherry trees throughout the Japanese islands, the evening news includes a blossom report, tagging the towns and cities where the blossoms have appeared, until the entire map of Japan, from Okinawa in the south to Hokkaido in the far north, is blushed entirely in pink. It’s traditional to hold blossom parties beneath flowering cherry trees, snacking on sushi and swilling sake in celebration of nature’s beauty. This year, the sakura party reached London.

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Sake no Hana, Hakkasan Group’s Japanese restaurant in St James’, threw a sakura bash this year in its downstairs bar. Walking up St James’ Street there was a waft of cherry blossom, leading us by the nose to the venue which was filled with branches of soft, pink blooms, courtesy of florist, Veevers Carter. The scent was that of Floris‘s Cherry Blossom fragrance, developed for the Japanese market but readily available here, an eau de parfum with a heart note of cherry blossom.

Inside, a pair of kimono-wrapped musicians twanged their instruments in one corner, creating an authentic, Japanese atmosphere. In rhythm with the music, the bartenders barely had time to stop shaking between pours, such was the demand of thirsty guests.

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Sake no Hana has developed various limited edition offerings for sakura, including the Violet Risshun, their signature cocktail for the season. It’s made by blending two parts: the first, presented in a carafe, contains Jinzu gin, chartreuse, grapefruit and lemon juices, shiso syrup and Burlesque bitters; the second component arrives in a jug, containing maraschino cherry liqueur (but, of course), Belsazar rose vermouth, cranberry and lemon juices. The carafe’s contents are green, representing the onset of spring, whilst the pink of the jug’s contents signifies the season’s peak. One starts by drinking from the carafe, then one might sip a little of the jug’s liquid, later stirring both together to create an altogether new, third drink.

Other sakura specials at Sake no Hana include: the Sakura Gozen, a Bento Box accompanied by white miso soup and sesame spinach, containing sashimi, nigiri and maki, together with the Sakura cocktail; the sweet Cotton Cheesecake, served with cherries, cream cheese and cherry sorbet; Sakura tea, made with the leaves of cherry trees, and the Sakura Macaron, with cherry blossom tea ganache, pictured below.

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In the crush of cherry blossom-chasers I didn’t have much room to photograph the nibbles circulating about the bar, but I can say that the sushi was so good that it spawned the idea of popping upstairs to the restaurant for dinner.

Before succumbing to that temptation, my husband and I spent time with three gentlemen who’d earlier performed a sake barrel-opening ceremony. They were a delight to meet, offering to photograph us, hammer in hand, pretending to open the barrel ourselves. Here is a picture of Mr Hiroyuki Ito, the General Manager for the Takara Shuzo Co., behind the barrel, from where he and his colleagues served small tumblers of a cool, smooth Junmai sake called Sho Chiku Bai Gokai Chokara. It was so refreshing that we went back for more. Twice over. Meanwhile, Mr Ito, along with his colleague, Mr Motoki Nagaoka, and the Sales Manager for Tazaki Foods, Mr Masa Ando, explained the significance of sake barrel-openings. They’re reserved for special occasions such as weddings, naming ceremonies and company openings, not to mention sakura celebrations, such as this.

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Hunger beckoned, so off we set, stopping to thank Alix Pickard, the ever-smiling PR Manager for Hakkasan Group, for her kind invitation. We’d enjoyed our little taster of Japan and so set off up the escalator for more.

*Note 1: Sakura at Sake no Hana is being celebrated from 20 April to 20 June, Monday to Saturday. During this time, the limited edition menu offerings are available in the bar and at the sushi counter.

**Note 2: to be in to win some sakura goodies, upload your photos of springtime blossoms and flowers to Instagram, using the hashtag #sakura2015 Photos will be displayed on the Sake no Hana website. Some of mine are already there!

Sake no Hana

23 St James’ Street, London, SW1 1HA         reservations@sakenohana.com          Tel +44 207 925 8988

instagram.com/sakenohanalondon               facebook.com/sakenohana                  @sakenohana

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