Japanese restaurants have been a staple of London’s culinary scene for a while now, however, these often come in the form of slightly clichéd Western takes on the concept. In fact, growing up I was certain that my dislike of fish meant that I didn’t like Japanese food as I had been taught to believe that the Japanese lived off of sushi alone.
But over the last few years, the ‘traditional’ sushi bars are being replaced by more authentic Japanese restaurants, particularly in the form of Izakayas. An Izakaya, which means ‘a roof with alcohol’, is often described as the Japanese version of a British gastropub, a casual place where people get together after work for a few drinks and tapas-style food.
Many of this new breed of restaurant came to London originally as pop-ups, including Kurobuta in Chelsea and Beer & Buns in the City, but became such a big hit that they decided to stick around permanently. As well as your standard sushi, these Izakayas serve dishes such as soft Hirata buns filled with pork and beef, vegetable tempura, chicken karaage and duck gyoza (just to name a few of my favourites).
Hidden away in Heddon Street Courtyard, just off of better known Regent Street, sits the swanky Japanese restaurant Sakagura. This week I popped along to check it out.
Sakagura has taken the izakaya concept and turned it up a few notches to create a luxurious and stylish restaurant and sake bar, but with the laid-back and friendly atmosphere of your local pub.
There are several different types of seating, including standard central tables, bar stalls surrounding the well-stocked sake bar, and the partially enclosed booths. The booths are definitely the coolest seats in the house so make sure to request them if available!
Sakagura’s has an extremely impressive sake offering, which includes hot sake and Gekkeikan sake which has a Japanese royal warrant. You can either pick and choose individual glasses with help from their resident sake sommelier or opt for a flight to sample 3 complimentary varieties. We were advised to pair the Gekkeikan flight with our meal of steak.
The (Other) Drinks
As well as the sake, Sakagura has an extensive drinks list, including Japanese spirits such as Choya plum wine and plenty of sake cocktails.
Below is the impressive ‘hibiki moyasu’; a mix of hibiki harmony whiskey, mandarin napoleon liquor, pimento dram-allspice liqueur, byrrh grand quinine and yuzu bitters. Don’t know what any of those ingredients are? Nope, neither did I. But I can tell you that it tastes great and looks awesome served over an ice-ball from a smoking carafe.
At £17 a pop it is a little on the pricey side, however, visit between 5-7pm Monday to Thursday and all drinks are 50%, making it a bargain (for London) price of just £8.50.
For something a little lighter and fruitier, the ‘Okinawan dragon’ is a great choice, with Gekkeikan namazake, cor cor red rum, avua cachaca, almond syrup, lime juice and dragon fruit.
When it comes to the food, there are a few different styles of dining at Sakagura.
- Firstly, izakaya style sharing plates (see the menu here) designed for accompanying a few drinks with friends after work.
- Secondly is the yakiniku barbeque, where strips of meat can be cooked yourself over a central charcoal barbeque (think Korean bbq style).
- And lastly, the option we went for, the ishiyaki stone steak.
The steak comes with a hot lava stone heated to 400° so that you can grill the steak yourself. You can choose from three different cuts; sirloin, rib-eye and wagyu. Accompanied by wasabi, salt, pepper and mustard, you can cook your selected meat exactly to your own liking.
On the side, definitely, go for the steamed buns so you can pop a little meat and mustard inside and create a whole new delicious dish. The hakata fries are also a great choice.
Us Londoners love something a bit quirky and different, especially when that something looks good on the ‘gram. Well, several months ago I saw plenty of photos of the somewhat bizarre raindrop cake floating around the feeds of London foodies. What I didn’t realise was that Sakagura is home to this famous dish.
The beautiful raindrop cake is made using translucent agar umeshu jelly with cherry blossom and gold flakes. Not the most distinctive flavour in the world, but the idea is great and it’s definitely worth trying (even if just for the photo – just kidding!).
It’s rare to walk into somewhere so swanky and yet feel so relaxed. Sakagura has managed to give izakaya’s a luxury touch without losing the laid-back atmosphere of a place you want to hang out in after work with friends.
The food is unbelievably delicious, the cocktails are great, the concept of being able to cook your own meat is fun and unique, and the staff are extremely helpful and friendly. I would definitely go back again in a heartbeat!
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