Sake no Hana is a modern Japanese restaurant in St James, located on the first floor of the Economist Building, a grey modern block flanking Economist Plaza. It’s an offshoot of Hakkasan, a modern Chinese restaurant which is also responsible for dim sum restaurant Yauatcha. So the question is, can a restaurant run by a Chinese group be authentically Japanese?
The ground floor is all black shiny walls and pots of orchids with a narrow escalator to the actual restaurant. Arriving feels like being on a different planet – or at least it did on the day we went when the sun (remember that?) glittered through the tea-coloured textured screens. It felt like spring had come. Maybe it has.
We started with some sashimi – chutoro (fatty tuna), hamachi (yellowtail) and unagi (eel). They were all excellent, fresh and flavourful. The restaurant has its own sushi and sashimi counter where you can see the chefs at work.
My OH had the tempura, a selection of prawn and vegetables which he spoke of very highly.
I had the Lunch Plate featuring salmon, snow crab and roast duck. While each of them was good, the mix felt a bit random. I would have felt happier if it had been served in a lacquer box with little compartments to keep each morsel separate, as it would have been in Japan, instead of artfully piled up together on a plate European style.
Both meals came with rice, white miso soup and pickles which had a fresh flavour and attractive crunchiness.
The restaurant has a relaxed feel to it, and the mix of diners, some Japanese, some not, seemed very at home. Not surprisingly, given its location, many of the other diners were clearly there having business lunches.
The decor is by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, whose work is currently on show in the Sensing Spaces exhibition at the Royal Academy which I wrote about recently. What he has done at Sake no Hana is quite different from his nets of lights at the Royal Academy; he’s used cypress wood and bamboo to line the walls and create light layered structures set against a dark blue ceiling. In a way it’s very Japanese and yet strangely the effect is not Japanese at all.
In fact, as the OH pointed out, if it wasn’t for the food you wouldn’t feel you were in a Japanese restaurant at all. The atmosphere is quite different, particularly the service, by laid back young non-Japanese men. The china plates and damask napkins were another European touch. Oh well, at least they gave everyone chopsticks, not knives and forks.
They do a reasonably-priced lunch (though stay away from the sashimi if you’re on a budget) and it’s the perfect restaurant for a sunny day. They’re currently doing an offer of a four course lunch or dinner and a ticket to Sensing Spaces for £40. Contact Sake no Hana quoting ‘Royal Academy’ to reserve.