Tucked away from the shops and tourists of Regent Street lies the restaurant-laden Heddon Street. “I didn’t even know this was here!” Stag proclaimed as we rounded the corner. Here you’ll find restaurant and sake bar, Sakagura, nestled among an array of other culinary delights. We arrived on a rainy Wednesday evening to try their new ‘Yakiniku’ barbecue menu. Much to our delight, we left later that night full of delicious grilled foods, happy from all the sake (*innocent face*) and, most importantly, impressed at the innovation behind some incredible taste combinations. Sakagura is not one to miss.
We were quickly ushered in, then right back outside to their front patio; this yakiniku can only be had outside or in their downstairs ‘Sake Cellar’ (yes, I want to live there too) because of the open flame. But really, barbecue is always best had al fresco, anyway.
(It also means that our pictures of this fabulous meal were taken under the reddest of all reds heat lamp, affecting their quality and colour. Please excuse us; not our finest).
Within about two minutes of sitting down, one of the many oh-so-friendly servers came over and discussed the specials of the cocktail menu. (As a point: the service as Sakagura is faultless. One of the highlights of the evening, for sure).
The ‘Matsuri Nights’ — a watermelon, Amalfi lemon, tea sugar syrup and cachaça infusion — stood out as the one to try. “Matsuri in Japanese translates to ‘festival,” our server explained, “as Japan is full of festivals during the summer months.” I don’t know about Japan, but I do know this drink was a festival of happy tastes. Bursting of fresh watermelon and beautifully sweet with the tea syrup, I greedily gulped it down a bit too quickly.
To accompany our meal, we were also brought out another drink: Nøgne Ø, a sparkling sake from Norway of all places, served cold from a bottle. Neither of us had ever tried a sparkling sake before. I could see Stag’s eyes light up as they popped the lid off and the drink fizzed in the glass. “It has an earthy taste,” the sommelier explained to us. Stag took his first sip. “It tastes… mushroomy. But in a really good way!” to which both the sommelier and I laughed. This sparkling sake was Stag’s favourite sake of the night; mine was still to come.
Next came the star of the show: the yakiniku meal. ‘Yakiniku’ roughly translates to grilled meat, and Sakagura’s menu offers diners three options per person (of either meat, fish or veg), to cook yourself over a traditional “shichirin” barbecue.
“Well.. which would you recommend?” I asked the server. There were about three different types of wagyu beef on the menu, plus a host of other cuts, and my meat knowledge isn’t any more sophisticated than “It’s yum.”
He simply pointed to the top item on the menu — the Japanese Wagyu sirloin — and nodded. “It’s the best.” He also recommended the traditional Japanese eryngii mushroom and the British ox tongue. We quickly ordered — two rounds of Japanese Wagyu sirloins (all married-couple squabbles can be traced back to ‘who was greediest with the wagyu; better order two, to be safe), an ox tongue mushroom, asparagus and scallop order later — and were soon sizzling up our own barbecue feast.
In addition to all of the grill items, Sakagura’s yakiniku menu also comes with a rice, miso soup and salad each, plus a variety of Japenese dipping sauces. The miso sauce was Stag’s favourite; the soy mine. And, to both our delight, there was plenty of sauce to go around, so no fighting over the last drop.
And as much as I savoured every bite of the grilled meats (the wagyu was undoubtedly sublime; the ox tongue the weakest link), the surprise of the night was the miso soup. Sure, I love me a salty, savoury bowl of miso every now and again. But when you hear me utter the words, “I need to stop eating the grilled wagyu beef, because I need to save room to finish the miso soup” — you know you have a winner on your hands.
The other surprising element of the night? How much I loved cooking my own food at a restaurant. No, seriously. Often a meal out these days is a whirlwind sprint of course-course-course, with no room to breathe. But with the yakiniku — sitting there, sake in hand, taking our sweet ol’ time to cook the meats and laugh, chat. To smell each round of barbecued food. And savour each bite. It was the best equivalent of “slow eating” (is that a thing?) I could imagine. It harkened the feel of a proper “date night” that’s often missing from our usual restaurant visits.
Our new best friend — otherwise known as ‘Sakagura’s sommelier’ — brought us over another round of three (!) sakes to try. The pink one was both of our favourites, and it was unequivocally the best sake I’ve ever tasted. The other two were also beautifully cold and crisp, leaving Stag and I (lovingly) declaring “You had more,” “No, you had more.” The usual married-couple-dines-out experience.
Two mounds of melt-in-your-mouth ice cream capped off the evening, the perfect dessert for a meat-heavy meal. We opted for two unusual flavours to try: dark chocolate wasabi, and soy sauce caramel. Both were delicious, but the chocolate-wasabi ice cream was a flavour combination that not only was unusual, but it worked. So very well. I would never have thought that the taste of wasabi would compliment chocolate so well, but Sakagura proved me wrong.
We may or may not have had even more drinks at this point: yuzu umeshu (yuzu wine) and choya umeshu (plum wine) to be exact. I cannot confirm or deny my sake state of being as the night closed — except to say I was full, so very happy, and we decided to take an Uber home. Perfect evening: sorted.
Considering Sakagura’s prestige — it’s been recommended in the Michelin Guide for 2017 — I was floored when I learned that the set yakiniku menu only costs £30 per person. Considering the sheer amount of food you get plus dessert, it really offers great value for money (and if there is one thing I love in this world, it’s great value for money. And sake. Have I said that yet?)
Even better: Sakagura is offering 2 for £35 on their yakiniku barbecue for the month of August! Reserve through the voucher website to get the deal. Stag and I plan on going back with some friends for a fun night out. Happy grilling to all!
Thank you to Sakagura and to The Japan Centre Group for hosting us! Our dinner was complimentary, but all opinions are straight from Stag and from me.
Have you eaten at Sakagura? Do you love sake and yakiniku as much as I do? I’d love to hear your thoughts!