Before this recent tasting at Tsuru Sushi, I knew nothing about sake except that I like it. For this reason then, I tried to pay close attention to our very knowledgeable and experienced teacher, Ngaire Takano and I’ll try now to make the most of the barely legible notes I scribbled down at the time.
The evening kicked off with a minor meeting point fail, after which myself and two mates hurried down from London Bridge to the restaurant, which is tucked away behind the Tate Modern. We sunk a couple of cheeky Asahi beers and nibbled on edamame for refreshment, before getting down to to the main event – four different sakes.
The first was a Daiginjo-Shu sake, made using rice which has been ‘polished’ to 50% of its original weight – apparently a very fine sake. It tasted surprisingly soft and sugary with a light, peachy fruityness – not at all harsh like the (obviously poor quality) sake I have tasted many times before.
We were also served some food throughout the evening (although not to be strictly matched with the sake) and with the first drink arrived these light gyoza along with really good, seriously sticky teryaki chicken. I was pretty hungry what with it being dinner time and I could easily have demolished a whole pile of both.
Sake number two was also Daiginjo-Shu. This was crisper with a more intense flavour than the first sake – it also has more alcohol added to it. Apparently some sakes such as these need to be watched for 72 hours straight to ensure that the quality of the drink is maintained. During this time it is constantly tasted to make certain that the delicate balance of ingredients is just right. That’s some serious dedication. I can’t say I wouldn’t nod off. In fact, just how do they stay awake?
Us ladies weren’t allowed the ‘privilege’ of watching sake brew for 72 hours back in the day however. In fact, we weren’t even allowed near it as it was thought that our higher body temperatures would make the sake turn sour. At this point Ngaire took great pleasure in telling us that female sake makers today are actually producing a superior quality drink. Maybe it’s all that extra heat coming off us.
Our third sake was a Ginjo-Umeshu, made by preserving plums in ginjo sake (from what I remember ginjo has a little distilled alcohol added to it, to increase the aroma). This was a gorgeous brown colour from the fruit and was very sweet – almost like a dessert wine. Smooth and subtle. Between this and our last drink, we enjoyed some generous veggie and non-veggie sushi plates. A highlight for me was surprisingly the inarizushi (below) – sweet, delicious and partly responsible for my recent acceptance of tofu. We also enjoyed the rolls which my friend and I were delighted to find contained pickles. We really heart pickles.
Our fourth and final sake was a change to the advertised line-up – a Genmai aged brown rice sake, which we tried with a piece of chocolate brownie – a bit of a surprise combination to all of us but it worked well. The brownie was good, squidgy and chocolately and although the sake was a little heavy on its own, with the brownie it took on a more syrupy quality, again like a dessert wine or sherry.
Sake is a drink with an interesting history but is very labour intensive to produce and is generally shrinking in popularity due to the influx of wine and beer. There are a few sake lovers out there championing the cause however and we learned how some of these people are even starting to play around with flavours, infusing the sake with ginger, garlic or lemongrass for example. I assume this is intended for use in cooking. Glass of garlic sake anyone? No, didn’t think so.
I shall definitely be making an effort to drink more sake from now on, as I was pleasantly surprised by just how different the various types tasted. I found the evening very informative and the credit should definitely go to Ngaire Takano for this – her informal and fun style is backed up by fact that she really knows her stuff. Our tasting on this occasion was complementary, although I must add that was a complete surprise – I was there under the assumption I would be paying £18 for the evening and I won’t hesistate to recommend that you do the same.
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