Thursday, August 4, 2011

Umami - the fifth taste at Sake Restaurant and Bar

"Mmm, umami..." - you don't often hear someone say that like they would say, "Mmm, sweet..." or, "Mmm, salty...". But with thanks to Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda who first isolated the flavour, umami is pretty much recognised as the fifth flavour alongside sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

Umami is often translated as savouriness, and is the taste one gets from monosodium glutamate (MSG/flavour enhancer 621) but there are also glutamates found naturally in food. Tomatoes, mushrooms, parmesan cheese, soy sauce, and most meats and seafood are all known for their umami taste.

The Nightingale Song cocktail and canapes at Sake Restaurant and Bar,
Argyle Street, The Rocks
We're at one-hatted Sake Restaurant and Bar to sample the 'Umami Cocktail and Canape Menu' which is collaboratively designed by head sushi chef Shimpei Hatanake and bar manager Wayne Shennen.

These two guys apparently went back and forth through a lot of pain and tastings over many weeks to achieve two sets of cocktails and canapes that provide "a perfect balance of flavours", according to executive chef and MasterChef alumni, Shaun Presland.

Each component is intended to bring out the best of the other and enhance the overall experience, to the extent that Shennen calls the cocktails "subdued" so as to make room for the flavours of the food. Nonetheless, I simply adore the evocatively named 'The Nightingale Song' cocktail on its own.

The Nightingale Song cocktail
This is currently my top contender for cocktail of the year - it is that good. At the first sip, I was rushed with plums, or more correctly, the 'apricots' of umeshu and umeboshi pickled plum paste, Shennan tells us (later in the night I also learn from Hatanake that nori sheets are made of algae rather than seaweed).

The saltiness of the red, pickled plum sauce is nowhere to be tasted until the very bottom of the drink, where the red plum sediment rests, although I think it lends fantastic restraint to the Choya umeshu's sweetness.

The smell of pear from the Absolut vodka is prominent, but not on the palate, while the riesling adds body, and the lemon and bianco vermouth aids a dry, uncloying finish. I also adore these elegant cocktail glasses.

Yuzu snapper spoon
This prettier-than-Christmas morsel was a piece of raw snapper, wrapped around snow pea sprouts, shio kombu salted seaweed and topped with a glistening pile of tobiko flying fish roe.

The white flesh of the snapper sashimi was yieldingly soft and its subtle flavour makes it an ideal match for the yuzu and olive oil dressing (yuzu described as a mix between a grapefruit and an angry madarin, Shennan shares - and he's not wrong).

The fine dice of salted seaweed was a little lost on me, especially with tobiko to concentrate on, but the seaweed alone is apparently a great drinking snack.

Scallop ume spoon
Scallop sashimi is rarely bad, but here's it's excellent, in a completely stunning dressing of white soy, grape seed oil, lime and a touch of umeboshi.

Garnished with thinly chiffonaded shiso leaves and presented on translucent slices of cucumber, these added colour and another texture against which the sweet scallops really shined.

The Honey Dragon cocktail and canape
The second selection to sample was 'The Honey Dragon' cocktail and matched canape, which had me excited at the though of seared salmon but a little petrified at the sighting of whiskey in the cocktail.

The Honey Dragon cocktail
The honey came from Polish honey vodka while the hint of chilli came from chilli-infused Belvedere vodka - this drink was menacing from the start, despite the pretty petals and flowers floating atop.

The Islay single malt whiskey had its trademark (for me) smokey, burnt leather taste - but in a completely subtle and surprisingly drinkable way, while the chilli just tickled the back of the throat. I think the lemon juice and cinnamon syrup definitely helped, as too the pretty floating garnishes.

The cocktail also subtlely included shochu spirit; apparently now the drink of choice for Japan's females due to its low calorie content.

Seared salmon (or ocean trout?) belly
I overheard chef Hatanake discussing salmon and his preference for less fatty fish - such as ocean trout, which I believe this is. Especially the belly part being not quite so fatty nor fishy as salmon, I had no complaints about the switcheroo of the barely seared fish.

Seared salmon (or ocean trout?) belly with yuzu soy
Another dressing to fall in love with, this time soy and yuzu for dipping seared belly that I was increasingly uncertain had ever seen the heat of a flame.

I contemplated drinking the yuzu soy dressing but didn't - although thankfully as Presland, Hatanake and Shennen had organised other goodies for us, including steamed prawn dumplings, teriyaki burger balls and a "hand roll sushi party" (does that count as cooking?), as well as impromptu beer and sake tastings - see photos here at my Facebook page.

The 'Umami Cocktail and Canape Menu' is available at the Sake bar at $25 per combination.

Food, booze and shoes sampled the Umamai Cocktail and Canape Menu courtesy of Sake Restaurant and Bar, with thanks to Lindy Thompson PR (and Shaun Presland, Shimpei Hatanake and Wayne Shennen!).

Sake Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

13 comments:

OohLookBel said...

What a great idea to pair these cocktails with such gorgeous canapes. I love your descriptions of the food and drinks, too.

joey@FoodiePop said...

Looks lovely. I really like Sake.

Bianca said...

Sashimi heaven mmmmmm

Dumpling Girl said...

I love the cocktails at Sake, must try this out next time.

sugarpuffi said...

oh wow so lucky! the umamai cocktail and canape looks so freakin good!

john@heneedsfood said...

Looks amazing and such gorgeous presentation!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I really enjoyed my lunch here. They do such great interpretations of Japanese food!

Tina said...

Hi Bel - Thanks! There's some great pairings there :)

Hi joey - I like Sake more and more each time I go :)

Hi Bianca - Sure was!

Hi Dumpling Girl - The cocktails are so innovative and drinkable there!

Hi sugarpuffi - Not sure which I lliked more - the cocktails or canapes.

Hi John - I think it;s a Sake signature look...

Hi Lorraine - Agreed, everything is so fresh and pops with flavour

Melissa said...

it's so fascinating to look at the presentation of their food. love the matching of flavours that they do!

Tina said...

Hi Melissa - They sure have some innovative, modern presentation - I loved the roll of snapper sashimi so much!

minibites said...

I love how this place presents Japanese food. All the dishes seem so delicate and pretty :)

Tina said...

Hi minibites - I think delicate and pretty describe Sake perfectly!

Gianna@TheEmptyFridge said...

I still feel the facepalm i gave myself when I turned on my camera and saw "No SD card" flash in front of me! Such an awesome night and my god that nightingale song cocktail is my excuse to keep on coming back!

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