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London's Hottest New Drink Hails From The East

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Photo: Via @sakenohanalondon
Saké is the world's oldest known alcoholic beverage, boasting over six millennia of culture and tradition. Given its long history and reputation as "the drink of the gods", it's no wonder that so many of us find it an intimidating tipple. But times are changing: exports of saké are at an all-time high and London, in particular, is finding new ways to enjoy Japan's national drink.

But first of all, what exactly is saké? Despite packing quite a punch in terms of alcohol content – undiluted saké is around 20% ABV – and being brewed like a beer, it should be treated as a wine rather than a spirit. Most sakés are better sipped chilled from a wine glass as opposed to hot or in a shot glass, and pairing saké with food is an excellent idea. Unlike wine, however, saké does not benefit from being left to mature; world-famous wine critic Jancis Robinson suggests a one-year age limit. Additionally, saké is made from only four ingredients – rice, water, yeast and koji (malted rice) – and therefore contains no tannins, no acidity and no sulfites, which could be the cause of your hangover after drinking regular wine.

Science part over; now, where should you go to try it?
To drink saké like they do in Tokyo

Sosharu / Kisetsu / 7 Tales
Tucked away in Clerkenwell is the triple threat of bar and restaurants, Sosharu, Kisetsu and 7 Tales. Offering traditional izakaya dining (izakaya is Tokyo's version of a gastropub), a 10-seater chef's table and an underground saké bar respectively, head here to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. Pair a few of their signature small plates with a glass from the extensive saké list or, if you're a newcomer, drop in at lunchtime to try one of their bento boxes, which staff will match for you. For something a little more informal, head downstairs where you can knock back saké with a side of wagyu salami, squid tempura or a Japanese beer chaser. Either way, you'll leave feeling like a saké expert – and possibly a little tipsy.

Sosharu
64 Turnmill St, London EC1M 5RR
020 3805 2304
To become a saké expert

Saké no Hana

If you've been bitten by the saké bug (and, really, who could blame you?), then you might fancy a more immersive experience. If so, head to St James to check out Hakkasan's little sister, Sake no Hana. As the name suggests, saké forms the ethos of this restaurant, which shares its expertise every few months with a saké class. For £60 per half-day session, Christine Parkinson, Group Head of Wine for Hakkasan Group and Anthony Rose, co-chair of the Tokyo International Saké Challenge, will guide you through the history of the drink. Students will also have the chance to try seven sakés and one umeshu (Japanese plum wine), to truly refine the palate. You won't leave empty-handed, either; each participant takes home a gift bag containing a bottle of saké and a traditional saké cup.

Sake no Hana

23 St James's St, London SW1A 1HA
020 7925 8988
To pair saké with sushi

Sticks'n'Sushi
Saké and sushi go together like fish and chips, strawberries and cream, Victoria and David... While this is an unexpectedly versatile drink and can be matched to a multitude of dishes, there's nothing wrong with going classic. Sticks'n'Sushi's extensive menu makes it the perfect spot to try saké with a variety of sushi rolls, nigiri and yakitori. Start out with an aperitif of their sparkling saké (a great alternative to champagne or prosecco), then let your server guide you onwards. Sticks'n'Sushi's staff know their saké, so don't be afraid to ask.

Sticks'n'Sushi

Locations in Covent Garden, Wimbledon, Greenwich & Canary Wharf

To try saké shaken and stirred

Shoryu
If sushi isn't your bag then consider pairing saké with Japan's other famous export – ramen. Founded by the team behind London's famous Japan Centre, it comes as no surprise that Shoryu offers some of the best ramen and gyoza in town. For a sip of saké with your noodles, choose from a long list that includes a producer in operation for over 350 years. If you fancy something a little different, though, check out their cocktail list, which includes an Amaretto Sour made with orange-infused saké, and their signature Dirty Lychee, a heady mix of saké, lychee and dark rum. Whichever way you shake it, saké is our new favourite cocktail base.

Shoryu
Locations in Carnaby, Covent Garden, Liverpool Street, Regent Street & Soho
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