Review: Sakura Festival at Saka no Hana

Cherry blossom around Hikone castle

Cherry blossom around Hikone castle

Sakura season – otherwise known as cherry blossom season – spreads like a fever for a couple of weeks in April. For those who haven’t been to Japan during this period, you will be unprepared for the sheer decadence of the scenery and the sheer reverence with which it’s treated. You should probably see my blog post here.

In honour of this time of year, upmarket and rather swanky restaurant Sake no Hana held their own sakura festival with their very own sakura menu. The interior was decorated with some rather realistic and beautifully lit cherry blossom trees, and with delicate sakura painted along the counter at the bar.

Photo: Betty Chen

Isn’t this gorgeous? (Photo: Betty Chen)

Although we didn’t venture into the restaurant proper (there are some intimidating escalators leading to the unknown), we were very impressed with the bar at the front. Blossoms aside, it was sleek and minimalist but with an atmosphere that was perfect for a late night drink. Which is what we did. Almost. One of us had a drink. We really came for dessert!

Temptations... (Photo: Betty Chen)

Temptations… (Photo: Betty Chen)

The sakura menu was intriguing – two types of cocktail, some sakura tea and iced tea, a £28 double-layer bento and then… dessert. The Sakura Palet D’or (£8) – because, you know, a solely French or a solely Japanese dessert isn’t quite amazing enough. It’s all about Frapanese, darlings.

This Sakura Palet D’or (yes, I enjoy saying that out loud way too much) was described as follows: “cherry-chocolate dessert with fresh cherries, nashi pear, almonds and ginger, and cherry blossom tea ice-cream made from the leaves of cherry blossom trees.”

I’m always terrified when I go to a place that serves ‘haute cuisine’ that it will try too hard to impress, mix too many flavours and serve esoteric combinations in a sophisticated manner as possible. When I eyed up the plate they placed in front of me with the modest chocolate mound and various bits and pieces that were not immediately identifiable, I worried that this might be one of those cases.

Just what exactly is all of that?

Just what exactly is all of that? (Photo: Betty Chen)

But it wasn’t! The chocolate was velvety smooth with a tempered sweetness and a light fragrance from the sakura. The ice-cream almost had a spiciness to it and provided a tantalising contrast. These were accompanies by pistachios and sakura marshmallow-like white cubes. It was beautifully presented and beautifully carried out.

Photo: Betty Chen

Ah, it’s amazing! Yes! (Photo: Betty Chen)

For those of you who aren’t quite into chocolate, I bullied my boyfriend into breaking his “never drink alone” rule and forced him to order a Hanami Bellini (£10) – sparkling sake, Luxardo cherry liqueur, Heering cherry liqueur, lime, and Tanqueray gin. Whilst cocktails aren’t a big thing in Japan, or at least as far as I’m aware, and I’ve yet to happen upon sparkling sake, this very un-Japanese drink was brilliant. Banish any thoughts of syrupy sickliness and replace it with a light, refreshing and elegant drink, which is simply perfect for drinking under cherry blossom. (Some Japanese geekery for you – ‘hanami’ means flower viewing. During sakura season, people have lots of picnics and parties under the blossoms.)

With great cocktails and dessert in a wonderfully chilled atmosphere, Sake no Hana would definitely tempt me back for a late night drink. After I’ve tried their full menu.

Sakura and dessert spoon - a combination made in heaven

Sakura and dessert spoon – a combination made in heaven (Photo: Betty Chen)

Hanami bellini

Hanami bellini (Photo: Betty Chen)

Website: http://sakenohana.com/london/ (There’s one in Dubai too!)
Where: 
23 St James’s St, London SW1A 1HA
When: Lunch Mon – Fri 12 – 3pm, Sat 12 – 4pm; Dinner Mon – Thurs 6 – 11pm, Fri – Sat 6 – 11.30pm; Sunday closed.

Photo: Betty Chen

Their lights made my hat into a disco ball! If I go back and offer to rotate slowly for their guests’ amusement, do you think they’d hire me as an official food taster? (Photo: Betty Chen)

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