I don’t know about you but whenever I hear “Heddon Street” my mind veers towards “Hedonism”. It certainly doesn’t bring to mind Hedon in Yorkshire, the town that gave the street its (misspelled) name because of its links to the Pulteney Estate but that might be because I’ve only just looked that up. We’ll see, I suppose, but I suspect I’ll still be thinking my original thoughts.
It doesn’t help, of course, that the street is now pretty much devoted to food and drink, two of my favourite hedonistic pastimes. Saying that, it’s not a street I’ve frequented as, well, to my tastes there wasn’t necessarily much to recommend it beyond It being, like Charlotte Street, a simple and convenient solution to visiting out-of-towners. I suspect that might change a little with the discovery of Sakagura.
The name translates as “sake cellar”, which is fitting given the restaurant interior. While downstairs houses slick seating and a huge grill area, upstairs it’s intimate, wood-heavy and, yes, maybe a little dark. The people next to us struggle for a few seconds with their menu, their phone torches and their table’s relative isolation, before relocating to the brighter, buzzy bar – and the fact that they don’t leave completely perhaps says something about the atmosphere here.
It might also mean that they’ve eaten here before because, within a couple of courses, we’re pretty smitten. Neither of us claim to be experts in Japanese cuisine: I interviewed Nobu once and he reckoned he was still a few years away from being able to claim expertise hence, unlike many reviewers I’ve seen and heard (seriously, chaps, we can ALL look lit up on WikiPedia), I tend to be a little less opinionated when it comes to Japanese food. That’s not to say I’m inexperienced – I’ve worked for Japanese companies, eaten a lot of Japanese food, visited the country – and my companion, a Californian resident and a world traveller, has been exposed to Japanese food for as long as he can remember. It’s just a little humility goes a long way…
Regardless, our list of positives rapidly outstrips the negatives. The room gets a big tick. The service is friendly and highly efficient – thank you, again, Mimi, for so many fine recommendations. The crockery and other accoutrements are stunning – we contemplate slipping the pepper pot in a pocket but talk ourselves back to honesty – and the food is mostly terrific
There are many influences other than Japanese, as it happens. Edamame, for example, come with a dusting of gochujang , the fermented Korean red chilli paste, which works beautifully. Squid with jalapeno and lime shows off the kitchen’s ability with tempura – there’s not a trace of oil anywhere – and continued willingness to favour taste over authenticity. Tuna tartare, with fresh wasabi grated at your table, is textbook stuff although it’s the seabass carpaccio – with plum ponzu and bonito – that I’ll head back for first (and the sashimi – while straightforward, achingly fresh and exceedingly good – suffers a little in comparison).
There’s a little moment of disappointment in the yakatori selection, which is mostly cold by the time they reach us, although we must throw our hands up and admit that our sake-and-Kirin-fuelled chatting (and over-ordering) may be the main culprit. It’s soon forgotten though, thanks to scallops in butter shoyu – East meeting West there in the most umami-fied, decadent manner – and, particularly, the miso grilled black cod. Yes, the dish is something of a cliché but there’s a reason it’s much imitated. Done well, it’s utterly delicious and Sakagura’s interpretation is probably the best I’ve had anywhere. I’ve also got to mention the rice. Mimi explains it’s brown rice, and they mill every day and sell it at the Japan Centre. All I know is: a) it’s ridiculously good; and b) it’s the first time I’ve ever said anything that positive about rice. (My dining companion insists that I say nice things about the toilets and, to be fair, they are rather smart and the stick figure signs are an amusing touch.)
Desserts are thoroughly decent – someone somewhere has a deep understanding that a little matcha goes a very long way – but I suspect I need to return and not eat quite so much beforehand to really do them justice. The fact that this sounds immediately appealing to me should be an indicator of quite how much I enjoyed this dinner. Consider all my boxes happily ticked. Sakagura is a winner in any language.
8 Heddon Street
London W1B 4BU