Ichiba, Europe's largest Japanese Food Hall in Westfield, White City, has just launched a new sake & oyster bar with over 20 sakes to sample starting from £4.50 for 100ml, alongside fresh Jersey oysters served in the shell with ponzu sauce (soy sauce, yuzu citrus and rice vinegar) at £5.00 for two.
If you are unfamiliar with sake, you are in the right place. Start with a 3 x 50ml sake flight of three different flavour profiles and have a play, or just hope that Bowie is behind the bar. He has a ridiculously high level of sake expertise but is perhaps happiest when explaining it to an enthusiastic and interested novice.
The menu divides the sakes into Dry & Crisp, Fruity & Aromatic or Rich & Full-Bodied but please don't make the mistake of thinking that sake is all that similar to wine. In many ways, the production process is more like beer, whereas the recent trend of including sake in cocktails has most assuming it is a spirit but sake has its own rules, so just open your mind and try.
There is one vital piece of information that I need to impart. I have drunk a lot of sake in my time and I have also eaten a lot of oysters - but combining them has blown my mind. Maybe I'm late to the sake party or maybe I'm not the only one still drinking Chablis with oysters but I'm here to tell you that sake is far and away the best pairing and I am never drinking anything else with raw oysters ever again, if I can help it.
It's a transformative experience and it makes you look at pairing food and drink in a completely different way. Instead of a pairing that cleanses the palate and resets it for the next mouthful, sake actually becomes a non-combative, integral part of the food experience. It heightens and rounds everything out, adding layers of flavour. Sake has a high level of glutamic acid which is a natural dance partner for umami-rich foods such as oysters and amps up the flavour. There is a classic Japanese saying that 'sake doesn't fight with food' but this is more like a steamy tango.
The sake pictured is designed to be eaten with oysters; you can buy it a few metres away from the bar in the food hall (I know, because I did). And if you still have the tiniest whisper of doubt, here's the best test in the world: go to the sake & oyster bar at Ichiba and once you have added the chosen dressing to your oyster, top up the shell with sake. I love my wine, but you can't do THAT with Chablis.
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Deputy Editor, Chatting Food London: Amanda David
Amanda David is a freelance writer specialising in London’s restaurants, bars, exhibitions and events and is a regular contributor to London Cheapo and Palate magazine.
She has also just launched a website, A Cook's Bookshelf, reviewing cookbooks old and new, with side-by-side photographs of recipe illustrations next to her home-cooked version.
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