Shake It Up With Sake

Shake it up with Sake

“If you’re going to emphasise the flavour of the food, sake is the best combination you can have,” says Maurizio Polomba, head of wine and sake at Sushisamba. Compared to how we’d traditionally match food and drinks, the rulebook gets thrown out the window – sake doesn’t follow the usual conventions.

Sake intensifies food flavour, rather than changing it, so there’s no risk of one element outweighing another. Consumers can enjoy the subtleties of sake without it taking away from the food and vice versa, making it a sommelier’s dream. It has very low acidity and a complete absence of tannin, yet contains roughly seven times more amino acids than red wine. The restrictions of matching wine with food are cast off when it comes to sake. One style will match virtually any dish. It can seem a little strange at first, matching clear sake with red meat, for example, but it’s been happening in Japan for hundreds of years. 

Sake as an aperitif

William Dennison, sommelier and assistant manager at Michelin-starred House of Tides in Newcastle, uses a wine link to get consumers to understand sake. Wary that some may have memories of sake “served warm and knocked back at a Teppanyaki restaurant”, he suggests to his guests “the perfect aperitif”, offering them a small sample to make up their own mind without being intimidated. This is a similar approach to Sushisamba. The first page of their drinks menu is dedicated to sake. Containing 15 sakes by the glass, it’s much easier for guests to skip to what they know. However, each waiter is trained to offer sake as an aperitif and direct guests’ attention to Sushisamba’s brewery of the month. And it works. Maurizio explains, “Now we don’t struggle to sell [sake]. Customers come because they like particular styles and they know we’re experts.”

The importance of temperature

Different styles of sake will suit different clientele. William has had great success with the sweet, plum-infused Umeshu sake instead of dessert wine at House of Tides. It blurs the lines between sake and food pairing, similar to a wine match, but distinctive enough to be “a real crowd pleaser”. And, of course, temperature plays as important a role as with wine, altering the flavour of sake. Yes, you can drink it warm, but to really appreciate the subtleties you should be serving it around the same temperature as white Burgundy. 

More versatile than wine

The ace up any sake sommelier’s sleeve is surely its versatility. In order to truly appreciate wine and food, consumers should have an idea of what they’ll eat before they order. With sake, the beauty is experiencing how one bottle works with virtually any food. Maurizio puts it best, “I can have my meat course and you can have your fish course and one bottle of sake works for the whole thing. The experience is more concentrated on the food itself than the beverage.” Matching sake with food does require an element of trust from your guests, but the reward is worth it. And with the sake market in the UK having expanded 240% in the last 10 years and 50% in the last five, this is certainly a category to take note of. 

Download The Bibendum Guide to Sake from our website.

4th November 2015

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