They say that you never get over your first love affair, that later love is never quite the same. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I’ll be honest – I was quite young when I first fell in love. My first love affair began even before I was a teenager – my first love affair was with Japanese food. Dad took us up “the Cross” (Kings Cross in Sydney) to a place where I learnt to take of my shoes, to sit on tatami, and to taste the unfamiliar foods from a place far away, a place about which I could only dream. Yes although my brother and I were young, I do remember being allowed the slightest sip of an exotic warm beverage (from a tiny little cup with no handles) – sake.
Now, that it’s many years later, I still enjoy Japanese food as one of (in my opinion) the great cuisines of the world. My love of sake has improved with age, and while I am an amateur observer, who does not understand the nuances of rice polishing, my palate certainly appreciates them. I think we’re now getting a taste for it here in Sydney, as I notice that sake often starts the wine matching for the degustations at a number of our high end restaurants. Similarly a taste for sake seems to be making more appearances on Melbourne wine lists.
So, I was humbly honoured to be invited to a very special Sydney event at Ocean Room, Circular Quay, a dinner to taste twelve boutique sakes presented by the sake brewers themselves. I can’t say for sure, but as I understand it, this is a first (but hopefully not a last) for us in Sydney. With the intriguing diversity of sakes, Ocean Room Executive Chef Raita Noda created a brilliant, predominantly seafood, tasting menu, which complimented the beauty of the sakes.
Our sake tasting notes, including the region, rice type and rice polishing notes and the sake meter value. As I understand it, the sake meter value indicates dryness and sweetness (the higher is dryer, the lower is sweeter).
Sake Tasting Notes and Raita’s Tasting Menu
freshly shucked Coffin Bay pacific oyster with champage mignonette
TAKETSURU “Omachi” Junmai - Hiroshima (Omachi rice / 65% / +7)
the dark straw colour of this sake is typical of Takesuru. Its smooth dry flavour combined slight astringency, making it very easy to drink.
Big Eye Tuna Cube
hot oil blanched, miso cured foie-fras, yuzu-ponzo gelle, yuzu dust
KOIKAWA “Tetsujin Nigori” Ginjo – Yamagata / Gohyakumangoku / 50% / +4
Dry with elements of citrus and fennel, with hints of apple. Leaving a sharp, astringent aftertaste.
Flavours of melon and lychee overlay a base of rice with a smooth, dry finish
MORINOKURA “Sui-Sui” Ginjo – Fukuoka / Yumeikkon / 50% / +3
Flavours of melon and lychee overlay a base of rice witha smooth, dry finish
Jewel of Ocean
Crystal Bay prawn, Alaskan king crab, Fremantle octopus, fresh Jalapeno salsa, Granny Smith apple sphere
IZUMIBASHI Daiginjo – Kanagawa / Yamadanishiki / 48% / +5
The flavour is dry and clean and easy to drink. Hints of melon and peach, overlay the warm base of rice. The overall impression is smooth and mellow leaving a dry aftertaste with a note of anise.
ASAHIKIGIKU “Ayaka” Junmai – Fukuoka / Yamadanishiki / 60% / +3
Dry with astringency around the edges, leaving astringent aftertaste. Earthy flavour of a rice. Not “wow!”, but pleasant and easy to drink.
sakura wood table smoked, sous-vide ocean trout, finger lime vinaigrette
CHIKUSEN “Kounotori” Ginjo – Hyogo / Gohyakumangoku / 60% / +6
Dry with hints of grape and melon overlaying the umami of the rice. This sake is dry, taut and crisp in texture, with grape and melon-like aromatics wafting through.
TEN-ON “Sakanishiki” Ginjo – Shimane / Sakanishiki / 50% / +4
Dry with flavours of peach and strawberry finishing, dry with a touch of astringency around the edges.
Saikyo Miso Cod
oven baked, orange infused sweet miso marinated black cod fillet
KAISHUN “Kimoto Yamaguchi” Genshu – Shimane / Yamadanishiki / 65% / +5
This sake is dry with flavours of melon and peach, overlaying rice and leaving a slight tang on the palate.
UMETSU “Kimoto” – Tottori / Yamadanishiki / 60% / +10
Peach and grape overlay the rice base. This sake is very smooth leaving a burst of astringency as aftertaste.
cellophane bag, steamed Glenloth free range chickent, hearty chicken broth
SHINKAME “Kotorino Saezuri” Ginjo – Kanagawa / Yamadanishiki / 50% +5.5
Crisp and dry with a warm rice base. The flavour is smooth with hints of peach, leaving a lingering dash of fennel.
BENTEN MUSUME “Funakumi” – Tottori / Gohyakumangoku / 70% / +13
Unpasteurised. Mango, peach and lychee on the palate with underlying umami of rice. An aftertaste with fennel and chilli.
Sake + Cheese
Gorgonzola scented panna cotta, roasted banana, marinated cherry, junmai jelly
UZEN Shiraume “Chirori” Ginjo – Yamagata / Yamadanishiki & Miyamanishiki / 50% +5
Fresh fruity flavours of pineapple, melon and peach make for a refreshing drink. The texture is smooth on the palate with a clean dry finish.
GUNMA Izumi “Usumidori” Ginjo – Gunma / Gunma Wakamizu / 50% / +3
Refreshing with flavours of citrus and grape, with a slight astringency remaining on the palate. It makes a great accompaniment.
Some of the food was familiar but Executive Chef Raita Noda had also designed some signature dishes that are new to me, or are spin offs on concepts that I know. Take the glittering gold leaf in the fresh flavoured Granny Smith apple (jelly) sphere. Or, the upturned glass that oh so subtley smoked the trout on it’s way to the table. It tasted like it had been waved with smoked in such a delicate way, which didn’t permeate the flesh. We ate with our eyes, nose and mouths. It was so appealing to all our senses and lifted the sweetness of the ocean trout. His dish in a bag the Mizutaki Parcel, reminds me of the dear to me French en papillotte. When opening the bag at the table, again we were delighted with the first aromas of the juicy dish. And for dessert, or should I say the cheese course, we found ourselves with a sake and umami matched delight.
And I certainly confirmed just a few of my previous understandings about sake, and learnt a lot (in both my head and in my mouth) about the traditional rice drink. There are so many variations, so many flavours in the mouth, and the drink can be both simple and complex, at the front of the palate and in the aftertaste.
We learnt how heat opens up the flavours in sake. This can be recommended (against some popular misunderstanding) for the better sakes. Previously some at our table, had been taught it is to disguise, which is apparently not so.
I enjoyed other qualities too, including the stunningly beautiful craftmanship of the labels. My favourite label was the woodprint of storks, represented around the bottle through the four season.
And it was fascinating to learn the some sakes are unfiltered, some unpasteurised, and some take twice as long to make using “natural” time honoured traditions that have been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Many thanks to David Wasserman and his Wasamedia team, George and Krissie, Sakenet and Ocean Room for a truly delightful evening, and for having me as their guest. How amazing it was to slow down, and to honour the moment, with just a little taste of tradition and Japan.
Ground Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal
Circular Quay West, The Rocks, Sydney NSW Australia
+61 2 9252 9585