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10 posts from January 2008

07 January 2008

The Big Food Fight - it's going to be big

Watch out, I'm about to get more preachy than usual.

Please go and watch as much as possible of The Big Food Fight on Channel 4. This is going to be important stuff.

Read about the Chicken Run here. HFW, as ever he is fascinating, but this time he's also showing us some deeply disturbing stuff.

This is about educating consumers and suppliers.

Jamie, Gordon and Hugh might be onto something - let's hope they make a real difference.

Maybe it'll be the tipping point for the kosher food industry as well. Here's hoping.

Mobile reading

If you're anything like me you won't always want to read blogs from behind a computer screen. Blackberries, mobiles and the like all mean you can if you want, read on the loo, the train, the plane etc etc.

Although you can access Silverbrow on Food from any browser, I know the main site is a bit graphic and widget heavy. So, if you want to read from a mobile or without all the graphics, go here, to my mobile Tumblr account.

Tumblr is a rather cunning setup that allows me to aggregate my main blog and my Twitter account into one site. So if you go to either my main Tumblr account, or the mobile one, you can read everything I've written.

Alternatively, look for this logo in the right hand column and it'll take you over to Tumblr mobile.

01 January 2008

Sake No Hana

I have yet to find a sushi restaurant in London that comes close to Yasuda or Kuruma Zushi in New York. The flavour of the fish in both places blew me away. They look different - Yasuda has an eye on contemporary design, Kuruma Zushi on traditional design - but they are unified by the quality of the fish.

I am hopeful that Sake No Hana might be the place to bring that quality to London. The game was given away by an exceptional piece of otoro. It's tender, steak-like texture and deep, savoury flavour, instantly reminded me of my blow-out meals in New York.

It is too early to say with any conviction that Sake No Hana will be so good, because the restaurant is still finding its feet and isn't yet fully open. The second floor dining room - the main restaurant - is only serving dinner and the sushi bar, on the ground floor, is not yet open.

I have had the opportunity to eat there twice now. The first time was during their friends and family week, when we were guinea pigs being tested in return for a free meal. We had a great meal with astounding service and when they found out about the blog, we got our drinks comp'd as well. The second time round I booked like an ordinary punter and am fairly certain they didn't twig re the blog.

I think there are flashes of excellence with the food. As I mentioned, the otoro was outstanding. Also very good was a dish of deep fried aubergine, sesame paste and flakes of bonito. It's an almighty hit of umami - a dish makes you instantly feel happy and cosy and coseted and just right. A tofu dish lacked any of this excitement. It was bland, slippery and tasteless. Not the best example of a staple of the Japanese diet.

On the first occasion I ate there, there was a great shabu-shabu type dish that substituted yellowtail and enoki mushrooms for the beef usually found in shabu-shabu. The fish was exceptional, its firm texture putting up well with the heat of the broth, which itself was slightly sweet, a tad sour and with deeply satisfying, reminding me a bit of the consomme I had at The Goose. Unfortunately, they'd taken it off the menu the second time I went.

At this point I must come to a rather abrupt halt. I can't really remember all that much about the food from the second meal. I don't make notes at the table and I generally have stopped taking photos of what I'm eating. I rely on memory and the kindness of the restaurant to let me take away a menu with me, as Patterson's had done the night before.

I wanted to describe the menu to you. To explain how the various courses worked, give you the names of some of the dishes to devour at any opportunity (quite a few) and those that should send you scuttling for the hills (not that many really).

Unfortunately I can't. At the end of my meal I asked for a menu but I was told it wasn't possible. They didn't have enough folded pieces of paper to hand out, but they'd email me. I'm still waiting. I know they're not a three star Michelin restaurant, but when The Fat Duck offered the same thing, it was in my inbox within 24 hours.

I'm being slightly disingenuous, I give the impression I'm surprised. I'm really not, service was not particularly attentive on the night and I didn't have much faith they'd email me.

Our waiter's insistence that we order at least one dish from each section of the menu gave the impression he was a profit-drone, rather than helping us eat a great meal. It wasn't helped when he kept pointing out some of the more expensive sakes to try, from an already expensive list. Where was the cheerful Australian sake sommelier who was there at our first meal? If it was his night off, he should have a number two.

Service generally was a bit dozy: anything sufficiently viscous was spilled at one point or another. We were only offered bottled water, when the stuff from the tap is perfectly fine. We were told it might be a problem swapping ice-cream flavours to include those in other desserts. Eventually, the kitchen bowed to our unreasonable request.

But let's be fair. The restaurant is still finding its feet. They're not yet fully open and at the time of writing, they aren't charging service either. I only found this out when I realised they'd got the bill wrong by not including the sake and there was no mention of service. According to our waiter there is no tronc. So if the waiting staff aren't being incentivised, which is what he was implying, is it any surprise they're not doing a brilliant job?

I'm tearing into a new restaurant with growing pains. I'm an asshole, what can I say? Remember though, this is not a new restaurant from some naif. This place has been opened by Alan Yau and a team with a track record at Hakkasan, Yauatcha, Busaba Eathai and Wagamama's among others. These are people who know the restaurant business. These are people who expect the best service from their staff and will be pissed off that their staff spill drinks and forget to fulfil promises.

I'm ambivalent towards the restaurant. I have eaten very well there and had fantastic service, I've had pretty mediocre food with poor service. At heart I am an optimist and I want to be able to eat as well in London, as I did in New York. Given the hope engendered by the otoro and some fried aubergine, I'll be knocking down their door when the sushi bar is eventually up and running.

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Sake No Hana, 23 St James's Street, London, SW1A 1HA, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7925 8988

What others think

Fay Maschler, Evening Standard - a sensuous, revealing experience
Jan Moir - Sake No Hana remains intriguing. It is one of those restaurants you have to study to enjoy