Because I’m a fan of Alan Yau’s restaurants, particularly Hakkasan (yes, I know he sold off control of Hakkasan and Yauatcha recently, but to me, they’ll always be his restos), I’ve been meaning to get to Sake No Hana since it opened a few months ago. Part of the reason I held off, though, is because professional reviews have shared an underlying message of “I am going to say nice-ish things about the food without having to say I really didn’t enjoy the place.” Or maybe that’s just me, projecting. [It seems I've just given away the ending to the otherwise-high-suspense, gripping medium known as the restaurant review.]
Jon and I didn’t get to sit at one of the fab-looking tatami-mat tables because there aren’t any that seat two. We ended up way in the back of the dining room, by the kitchen and the escalator that takes you out of the resto. In case it wasn’t bad enough that we were in Siberia missing out on tatami mat fun, I overheard both the couple to my left and the one to my right ask their servers why the restaurant didn’t serve house fried rice. Weird. I wonder: do people go to Japanese restaurants looking for fried rice? [Jon, ever the cultural translator, explained that "house fried rice" is what non-Chinese people call fried rice without soy sauce. Fascinating.]
Anyhow, it seems the menu has been updated since all the first reviews of Sake No Hana came out. It’s still organized by cooking technique (grilled, fried, braised, etc.), but in English, not Japanese. So in that way, I thought the menu was pretty easy to navigate. Slightly frustrating, though, was how unpredictable portion sizes were and how one of our servers’ guidance was so off:
Jon and I had thought the braised pork ribs sounded delish, but our server told us it was intended to serve four people and suggested we try the grilled blue king crab with ponzu sauce (photo above), instead. We hesitated – because we sure love braised pork – but she won us over by adding “the crab is really delicious.”
Well, the enormous crab claws were still smoking when they arrived, and the ponzu sauce was poured on at the table, causing much sizzle, steam and general drama. It’s just too bad the crab meat was kind of tough and the ponzu brought about only a slightly sour taste on the crab. £28 badly spent.
And how extra disappointing that it seemed the servers were pushing the king crab all night! (We bumped into acquaintances on our way out who mentioned their server’s very strong rec of the dish).
Our prawn tempura and courgette blossom tempura were super oily and a tad soggy, which surprised me because I’d expected the virtuoso grease-free frying at Hakkasan to just find its way to Sake No Hana.
The fatty tuna nigiri we ordered was OK (disappointingly not melt-in-your-mouth); our braised aubergine was interesting, but threw me off because it was served cold and whole. I didn’t enjoy the cold, slimy feel of it, much as I liked the aubergine’s smoky, salty-sweet flavor. Miso sea bass was good, but ever since the rise of Nobu miso cod, when have you ever seen that dish go wrong? At £18 for a smaller-than-appetizer portion, I don’t think I’d get it again at SNH.
So what did I like about Sake No Hana?
I liked the high ceilings, the sleek, black escalators. The carafes of tap water in ergonomic and stylish crystal pitchers. Servers were all polite and generally helpful. Sakes by the carafe were fun to try and pair with food. A lot of the carafes cost £15-£20 and yielded three or four sake glasses. Plain old sesame udon noodles and agedashi tofu were simple but delicious and beautiful. (I’m glad we threw these last two dishes in, and we ordered them only after we’d eaten everything else and realized we were still hungry).
Our tab for two carafes of sake and all the food I just described (the grilled crab, tempuras, nigiri, braised aubergine, miso sea bass, agedashi tofu and udon noodles) came to £125.
I might go back with a party of four or six to sit in the resto’s snazzy room on a tatami mat, but otherwise, there are a lot of other places I’d go (especially for Japanese food and at these prices) before I revisit Sake No Hana.
Sake No Hana, 23 St James’s St, SW1A 1HA, 020 7925 8988. Closest tube: Green Park
Photo at top courtesy of Jan Moir Are You Ready to Order.