JAPAN CENTRE CELEBRATES 40 YEARS IN LONDON WITH NEW RESTAURANT
It’s 40 years since Tak Tokumine launched the Japan Centre in Piccadilly to create a ‘home away from home’, and to celebrate, the team has opened its most authentic restaurant yet, Sakagura
Considering the tumultuous events of 2016, it’s reassuring talking to Tak Tokumine: ‘British people are remarkably open to different cultures, despite what the recent political results were,’ he smiles.
Tokumine first settled in the UK in 1975, launching the Japan Centre a year later. ‘When I first arrived from Japan it was hard to find anything I was familiar with, and if I did it was extremely expensive and out of reach for most people.
‘It was my dream to make a home away from home in a way, for myself and also to show all the beauty of my home country to my new country.’
From that acorn of an idea it has become one of the largest and most influential businesses in London. Japan Centre now includes a food hall, bakery, deli, a homeware department, and is behind restaurants such as Shoryu Ramen and Ichiryu Udon.
But that is clearly not enough, as the Japan Centre is teaming up with Royal Warrant holders Gekkeikan, Japanese plum wine brand Choya and the Tridoll Corporation to open Sakagura on Heddon Street.
‘It is a truly exciting joint venture,’ Tokumine enthuses. ‘This allows us to blend our expertise to offer our guests exclusive sakes, cocktails and special seasonal collaborations for a truly unique Japanese experience in London. From the food, service and the surroundings, guests will really feel like they have stepped into Japan.’
Sakagura certainly looks the part. Set across two floors, diners can choose to be seated on the ground floor in small intimate dining booths with a dedicated sake bar, or propped up at the traditional 11-seater wooden kappo counter in the basement to watch the chefs at work.
Sakagura celebrates all things ‘washoku’ – authentic Japanese cuisine that has been honoured by UNESCO
The design merges traditional with contemporary, with dark wood panelling, sake barrels and noren curtains juxtaposed with cool rough copper, brass and timber textured concrete, creating a sophisticated dining experience.
With a menu created by Executive Chef Kanji Furukawa and Head Chef Jin Yackshin, Sakagura will celebrate all things ‘washoku’. ‘This is authentic Japanese cuisine that has been honoured by UNESCO on its Intangible Heritage list, which aims to protect intangible aspects of culture,’ Tokumine explains.
‘This everyday style of cooking and cuisine incorporates a harmonious mix of rice, miso, pickled vegetables, fish and meat into each meal with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients and beautiful presentation.’
The dishes currently on the menu are a feast for the senses, from the Berkshire black pork belly with halen mon sea salt, through to fresh lobster served on individual Japanese shichirin stoves. What’s more, you don’t need to battle with guilt: ‘The menu is healthy and nutritious,’ Tokumine points out.
‘Our star of the show, the Shokado Bento, comprises seven flavoursome, healthy dishes: sashimi, agemono, tofu, salad, yakimono, seasonal rice and miso soup.’
An added attraction of Sakagura is their finely curated and well-stocked sake cellar, serving selected choices and championed labels handpicked from Gekkeikan.
‘Sake is an integral part of Japanese cuisine, being made to beautifully match it,’ Tokumine says. ‘Gekkeikan is one of the world’s oldest and finest sake companies, the chosen sake of Japan’s Royal Family. Sakagura’s sake is served from exquisite ceramics at our dedicated natural wooden bar counter, and guests can even choose their drinking vessel from our presentation display, a unique offering in London.
‘We will be hosting sake workshops, tasting events and supper clubs so people can enjoy sake in all sorts of ways. We also offer limited-edition sake-based cocktails created by our expert mixologist, Maria Vittoria Vecchione. One of the highlights on the menu is Furano Fields, a floral cocktail created with lavender, namazake, Jinzu gin, apricot brandy and passion fruit.’
Perfect for celebrating 40 years of authentic Japanese culture and cuisine in London – cheers!
8 Heddon Street W1B 4BU; 020 3405 7230; sakaguralondon.com