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An Evening Of Sake Tasting At Moshi Moshi

Published 13 June 2010

I’ve always been a fan of Moshi Moshi, the UK’s first Kaiten Zushi (that’s “conveyor belt sushi” to us laymen), ever since I first stumbled upon it, tucked away round behind M&S on the 1st floor of the Liverpool Street station concourse.

To me, Moshi Moshi has always delivers high quality food without being elitist or intimidating and never fails to satiate my sushi cravings without emptying my wallet. I show my loyalty to Moshi Moshi by being a proud holder of their member’s card and in return Moshi Moshi email me every month with their newsletter updating me on their monthly offers, which included a special sake tasting event last month in May.

As someone who’s been known to enjoy a tipple or two I’m a complete newbie to sake. Clearly, the opportunity to imbibe in 6 different sakes (all in one night I might add!), without having to invest in the whole bottles, was too tempting to resist. At £23 for the sake-tasting course, it was good value for the sake itself, yet alone with a 3 course meal afterwards. So, after roping in a Japanophile friend to come with me, I signed up for the evening.

Caroline Bennett, the founder and MD of Moshi Moshi has designed the interior of the restaurant to be as beguiling as the country itself.  The fact that we were inside a London Mainline station was lost on us as we walked past what can only be described as a wooden structure that looked strikingly like the inside of a whale’s belly. Our Sake Master for the evening, Sarah, was already busy pouring out the first sake to the other 3 people in our small but intimate sake tasting group. Sarah Wedgbury is one of the co-founders of Sam Sake.

As we settled in and got to know our companions, Sarah poured us our first sake, Namacho Honjozo Namachozo.  Although sake’s fermentation process is similar to that of beer, it’s taste is more akin to wine or a spirit and now I can understand why it is commonly referred to as “rice wine”.  Unlike wine, however, you don’t need to worry about warming the cup up with your palm as there are no rules on how to drink your sake, but you do still take in the aroma. Described as “a fresh, light, semi-dry honjozo with a hint of creaminess”, I was (pleasantly) surprised that even my own, not overly refined, tastebuds could discern the floral notes and lightness of the sake.  We moved on to the next sake, Minato Tsuchizaki Yamahai Futsu-Shu, similar to the first but I tasted a more fruitier undertone.

Of course by this time, my new friends and I were fairly merry, despite the bucket for the less appreciative sake tasters, and we needed some food as the alcohol content must have been strong as the conversations got surreal rather quickly! We all had a set starter selection of zensai tapas which was chicken yakitori, edamame beans and Seafayre tempura. For the vegetarian at our table, the yakitori was swapped for some green leaves compacted in a cube with a slight hint of sesame oil and my own edamame (being allergic to soy) was exchanged for gyoza. The tempura batter was light and the fish inside, fresh. I think I won there, but there was definately no complaints at our table!

The starters were followed by more sakes. I was less impressed by the Harukasumi Yamahai Honjozo and the Fukurokuju Junmai as they left a harshness that was not to my personal taste. But then we got to what was considered the higher quality sakes, with the Fukurokuju Tokubetsu Junmai and the Aki no Ta Junmai Ginjo. Admittedly, by this point I’d forgotten the flavours of the previous 4 sakes, but I found the Tokubetsu Junmai to be fuller bodied and easier to drink.

Like my starter, my main course, the Fiztroy sushi set, as expected were extremely delectable. However, my dinner companions felt that their choice in the Wild Alaskan salmon teriyaki lacked sufficient sauce and the salmon itself was potentially overcooked.

As we were mulling over this, Sarah returned to share more of her sake knowledge garnered from experience touring Japan and working in restaurants. Sarah explained to us that sake was graded based on their rice polishing rate (RPR), the highest posible being 70%. The lower the percentage, indicating less of the original rice grain left meant the brewing process wasn’t hindered by the protein, fat and mineral content of the original rice grain. The resulting effect would be a more delicate flavour. Sakes range from the generic Honjozo (~70% RPR) to the mid-range Ginjo (~60% RPR) and finally the higher quality Daiginjo (~50% RPR). Of course there’s always an exception to the rule, for example the Junmai, which uses a style of brewing to ensure that additional “brewer’s alcohol” is not added, which typically the case with most sakes.

Finally, to round off the evening, we were served with mochi cake and green tea which gave us all a happy ending. I felt that as an introduction to sake, the event was very well organised by Moshi Moshi and Sam Sake, a Japanese sake distributor in London. The combination of food with the sake tasting in small tables of 6 made the experience more atmospheric and fun. Although Moshi Moshi’s high standards in food is a double edged sword with the high expectations that comes from the reputation, they remain focused commitment to delivering good quality and environmentally friendly sourced food to its consumers, as well as offering events like this sake tasting at least twice a year. As for my tastebuds, they clearly still have a long way to go to be finetuned to the more premium end of sakes, but there’s definately no harm in trying out more sakes until then! See you at the bar!

To find out more about special member offers and events for June at Moshi Moshi, click here. If you would like to attend one of the numerous sake tastings held throughout London by Sam Sake, visit this page for a listing of their upcoming events.