Opinion: Sake – wake up and taste

Drinks: Wines
Location: England, Europe, Japan
Other: Opinion, People

If you’re not selling sake in your restaurant yet, maybe you should be.

At the IWC awards dinner on Tuesday, some of Japan’s best ‘kuramoto’ (sake brewery owners) were present to accept their trophies. Sam Harrop MW gave a brief explanation of sake first, so even for a dedicated wine crowd this should have been an interesting diversion. But I was saddened by the substantial minority of bored-looking people who hardly bothered to clap. If that was you, then wake up – you’re missing out.

Sake is growing really strongly in the UK. Ok, so it’s growing from a tiny base, but so is wine consumption in China and that doesn’t stop half the wine world from thinking it’s the promised land. So why isn’t the UK trade taking more notice of sake? After all, sake has much in common with wine and is drunk (with increasing enthusiasm) by the very same people who buy wine. It’s a sophisticated, food-friendly drink, with lots of different styles, origins, and even varieties of rice.

Even more significantly, sake is moving out of Japanese restaurants. At Yauatcha we serve Chinese food, and we’ve had a sake page on the wine list for about a year. Hakkasan will go the same way soon. Three years ago we had to suggest sake to customers, and they bought just a glass. Two years ago customers would ask for a glass of sake without prompting. Now? They go straight for a bottle. London, at least, has a growing core of customers who know exactly what sake is, and they want to drink it. And these people expect sake in all types of restaurants, not just Japanese.

So if you were in the audience on Tuesday, and thought the sake awards were a waste of time, perhaps you need a re-think.

About Author

Christine Parkinson

Christine Parkinson started her career in the kitchen, and moved into management after 3 years as Head Chef. Responsibility for 39 restaurants eventually convinced her to follow her passion and concentrate on wine. In 2001 Christine created the first wine list for Hakkasan, and later became Wine Buyer for the group, which includes the Michelin-starred restaurants Hakkasan and Yauatcha, with operations in London, Miami and (soon) Abu Dhabi. She has been called “one of the most creative wine buyers in the UK” by wine guru Jancis Robinson, and recently received the ‘Taste On-Trade Influencer Award, in association with Imbibe’. When not on the phone to suppliers, she is often out on a motorbike, and is therefore probably responsible for most of the UK’s bad weather.

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