Sakaya in Belgravia: “It’s hard not to fall in love with this little spot”
A sakaya, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is a Japanese sake shop. Izakaya are their evolutionary successors: the “i” prefix originates from “iru”, meaning “to stay”, alluding to the fact that rather than just purchasing a bottle, customers can enjoy drinks and dishes on the premises. The Pantechnicon’s new bar blends both concepts, selling premium sake and whisky labels but also shaking up contemporary cocktails with a dash of Nordic inspiration. The wood-panelled space, gently lifted by the diffuse light shining through traditional paper partitions, couldn’t be much smaller. It’s a four-cover venue so come prepared to have a chat with the sommelier – but don’t worry, there won’t be any awkwardness as the team are as disarming enough to break through the thaw of any Brit. As we delve into the details of each drink under the low-hanging lights, it’s hard not to fall in love with this little Belgravia spot.
We begin with three Western classics given an Eastern spin. The first is the Marimo, a pleasant take on the negroni in which the gin is substituted with snap pea awamori, stirred elegantly in a beaker before us with vermouth and amaro. The Sakura, on the other hand, riffs on the Manhattan, combining Roku gin, Sakura vermouth and peach bitters into a crystal-clear glass that lingers beautifully, both fruity and botanical. The third of the trio, Ginko, is an old-fashioned made slicker with Nikka from the barrel, infused in house with brown butter, and bitters which are also made on the premises. We try a sip of the bitters on their own and they are warm and spicy, but they slip down deliciously in this indulgent blend.
The last cocktail is a special-edition concoction taken from an old recipe that dates back to the Japanese capital’s first Olympics. Tokyo 1964 is comprised of Hibiki Harmony whisky, orange liqueur and lime, finished with a sugar rim and a sunken maraschino cherry (to replicate the county’s flag when viewed from above). It’s an obvious ode to the recent games, and it’s as fresh now as the day it was thought up. Rather unconventionally, it’s the cherry on the bottom that makes for a delightful finishing touch.
Given that this is a sake and whisky shop, we also sample a recommended glass of each. The former, Gozenshu “Misty Mountain”, is a nigorizake – an unfiltered, or in this case, partially filtered wine – from Okayama, and it’s easy to see what inspired its poetic name. The remaining rice lees gives the liquid a cloudy colour and a thicker texture, leaving you with succulent sweet and sour notes. We enjoy a change, but there are also more refined options for those who like a clear sake. The whisky is served in a highball, a recommended style for those who don’t like the strength of a straight shot. The Nikka Single Malt Miyagikyo is actually brought out nicely by the soda, revealing notes of exotic fruits and spices.
Alongside the drinks we try a couple of snacks. The nori tempura is strangely moreish, but it’s the Sansyo Pepper Almonds that we can’t resist – their coating armed with just the right amount of heat.
Whether it’s for an after-work aperitive or a post-meal tipple (we recommend the neighbouring Sachi), Sakaya is just the ticket. The size perhaps makes it a little intense for a first date, but if you like trying new tipples in the hands of someone approachable and knowledgeable, it’s worth a trip to Pantechnicon.
Photos: Azhul Mohamed
To book a table at Sakaya, 19 Motcomb Street London SW1X 8LB, call 020 7034 5402 or visit their website here.