Sachi and Sakaya: the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine
Tempus peruses the menu at these sister establishments - one for food and one for drinks - and discovers a spectacular new standard for Japanese cuisine in London
Outrageous. Astounding. Magnificent.
This is just a small collection of the myriad gushing adjectives sufficient to describe a night of dining and imbibing at Japanese eatery Sachi and its adjacent sister sake bar Sakaya, situated in the heart of West London. It really is that special. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Sachi and Sakaya are both housed within the behemoth that is Pantechnicon, a brand new multi-faceted cultural space dedicated to fine dining, luxury shopping and even workshops. Taking up one side of Motcomb Street in the glitzy neighbourhood, from the outside the space is regal and resplendent, replete with chic covered seating areas for al fresco dining – or drinking – but inside it is a thoroughly modern experience; it’s black marble, varnished oak and floor-to-ceiling glass doors as far as the eye can see. Crammed with an array of dainty shops and high-class restaurants, this is something of a Belgravian playground, where the rich and famous come for anything from a whisky tasting to a multi-course dining experience.
And while my companion and I had traipsed to Pantechnicon to try our hand at both of these highly demanding activities, we would be starting with the latter of the two. Slinking down an unassuming staircase that one could be forgiven for missing (as we did), my companion and I were greeted with the imposing, heavy doors of Sachi, a restaurant which had admittedly already caught my eye due to the rave reviews it has received from fellow journalists and non-writers alike since opening.
We were seated just feet from the lengthy table at which a cast of impeccably dressed and coiffured sushi chefs were preparing nigiri and sashimi for the guests, carefully poring over the edges of their oblongs of rice with one eye strained shut as if they were crafting fine jewellery.
Shortly after, one of the establishment’s many wait staff made their way over with a food menu and a frankly frighteningly large sake and wine list – so large in fact that Sachi has both a wine sommelier and a separate sake sommelier on hand to hold the guests’ hands. We enlisted the help of the latter to order a wonderfully smooth, crisp sake as a makeshift apperitif before we were asked for our food orders with a few nudges here and there, and never in my life have I been so grateful for being upsold. Our order was suitably conservative, but had we not been talked into trying more items we would have missed out on some of the most spectacular cuts of meat I have tasted in my time.
After an amuse bouche of lobster miso soup, we kicked things off with a nine-piece nigiri set and its sashimi counterpart. Deftly presented on slate grey plates, both were a remarkable feat of gastronomic versatility. While the sashimi was served plain, allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves, each variety of nigiri came with a unique topping, from wasabi to soy sauce. Gorgeously tender cuts of otoro (fatty tuna) and scallop were worthy of special mention, as was a wonderful slab of prawn – but all paled in comparison to Sachi’s freshly sourced masu (trout), which was astonishingly delicate, practically dissolving on contact with the tongue and leaving a delightful, buttery mouthfeel. It was absolutely spectacular.
Then came the meat courses: a black garlic and fermented mushroom beef short rib and a tagliata-style wagyu steak with a beetroot and miso sauce. The short rib was as if it had been plucked straight from a barbecue mere seconds before; succulent, tender and almost sweet on the inside with a rough, charred exterior. But the wagyu was the showstopper, stunning my companion and I into silence with each bite, save for a few exclamations of “oh wow…”. An almost impossibly soft cut of meat, it felt at that moment as if beef literally couldn’t get any more satisfying, melting away in the mouth in a way that only the highest-grade wagyu can. And paired with a few glasses of cabernet sauvignon, it was practically heaven.
As if proceedings couldn’t get any better, we were then treated to an intriguing – yet once again wonderful – dessert of matcha cake, flushing it down with another glass of sake and a macchiato before receiving a fist bump from our waiter as we made our way up to Sakaya to trigger the second, somewhat more anarchic, half of the evening.
Sakaya is, simply put, adorable. Based loosely on a traditional Japanese izakaya, it is reminiscent of the miniscule bars you might find in Shinjuku’s Golden Gai, with walls stacked high with rare whiskes and sakes and seating for just four lucky patrons. As the rain lashed down outside, we received envious looks from passers-by as we walked in, still reeling from the magnificence of the food downstairs. And at this point we were introduced to Eleonora, our host for the remainder of the evening and the shining star of Pantechnicon. Knowledgeable, welcoming and often gut-bustingly funny, she served us wave after wave of sake, talking us through each style with precision, detail and no shortage of hilarious stories.
It felt like we had tried every sake variety under the sun when Eleonora suggested we try a handful of Sakaya’s rather intriguing cocktails, including the Tokyo 1964, made with Grand Marnier, lemon juice and Hibiki blend whisky, and the bar’s unusual take on an Old Fashioned, made with schochu rice liquor and snap pea juice; refreshingly bitter but with an icy, umami quality to it, it worked, admittedly much to my surprise. And then came the whiskies, which ranged from well-known classics such as Taketsuru and Nikka to more obscure cuts such as Mars Shinshu (Japan’s highest-altitude distillery), the latter of which so impressed my companion that he parted with no small amount of money to buy a bottle from our host.
Few nights in this job have been as memorable as the one I experienced at Pantechnicon. On a damp night in Belgravia, I had become utterly besotted by this cosy, beautiful expression of Japanese culture in West London, which is clearly the work of a staff that care deeply about the work they do, from the chefs to the managers. I simply never wanted to leave.
Sakaya, with its warm interior and superb selection of drinks, is a must for whisky and sake fans, and Sachi; well, where to start? It is perhaps representative of the highest heights that Japanese cuisine can reach outside of Tokyo itself, and if this is the standard to which other similar restaurants in the capital will aspire, we Londoners are in for a bright future.
Ladies and gentlemen; the bar has been raised.