Whether your go-to order is a saucy, crunchy, spicy sushi roll or an elegant piece of salmon cut to standards even more exacting than the ones your mum has for your future, there’s a saké to suit. But when faced with a lengthy menu, how can you know which sushi and saké combinations will be most harmonious? The key is in taking a closer look at both the flavours and the textures of different dishes and saké styles.
Generally, an aromatic saké works well with a wide variety of sushi dishes. Its light acidity balances out fattiness while complementing other flavours such as wasabi or vinegared rice.
However, it’s important to note that the same sushi dish can work well with multiple sakés.
For instance, an oily fish such as mackerel could benefit from a creamy saké that matches its richness, but it could also be lovely paired with a zestier, more acidic saké that manages to cut through its luxurious texture.
Digging a little deeper
If you’re partial to simple, elegant sushi made with leaner white fish, you might select a lighter, drier junmai saké to bring out the fish’s sweetness. Keep an eye out for the word ‘karakuchi’, meaning ‘dry mouth’, on the label, as its crisp and clean finish won’t overwhelm the flavour of the mild fish.
For a fattier fish such as tuna, a rounded honjozo can be a good option. These sakés often have a cleansing quality to them, refreshing the palate to leave you ready for the next bite. And if you tend to like seared sushi such as flamed salmon nigiri, choose a saké that will enhance the smokiness of the fish: a rich junmai or junmai ginjo with a decent umami content makes a harmonious match.
Going for sushi rolls with massive flavours, creamy sauces and tempura-battered toppings? A full-bodied kimoto saké Sohomare Tokubetsu Kimoto "Heart and Soul" works brilliantly. Made through laborious, traditional, natural fermentation techniques, kimoto-style sakés are robust and brimming with character – an exceptional counterpart to adventurous sushi selections.
As for the Beyoncé of saké styles, junmai daiginjo – these sakés can certainly be enjoyed with sushi, but choose your dish wisely. Their complex floral notes can easily be lost when sipped with a meal that’s heavy on wasabi, soy sauce or spice. Go for a delicate sashimi selection, and you’ll find harmony.
Your guide to saké and sushi in London
Ready to experience saké and sushi harmony for yourself? Head to these restaurants and discover your winning combination.
Kikuchi, for the purist
Kikuchi’s understated atmosphere is ideal for enjoying saké and sushi together in their purest form. The Fitzrovia restaurant’s elegant omakase menu is a good starting point, as it offers a variety of high-quality fish (think buttery yellowtail and tuna that’s not just fatty, but very fatty). Of course, when you order omakase you’re bound to get a mix of different fish, so it’s key you choose a saké that works well with both fatty and lean varieties.
To ensure that you’re getting the most from these sophisticated plates, look for a drier saké with a kiss of umami: the Kubota Senjyu is a tokubetsu (special) honjozo that’s been polished to 60% rather than 70%, adding to its aromatic qualities without edging away from dryness.
Sushisamba, for the adventurer
With incredible views of the City and cuisine that marries Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian influences, Sushisamba is perfect for the intrepid saké and sushi connoisseur.
Though many of the sushi rolls, dubbed ‘samba rolls’, make excellent matches with saké, the most daring diners should go for the tiger maki takuwan, with wasabi tobiko, crab, tempura prawn, wasabi mayo, beetroot yogurt and unagi tare. It’s a downright explosion of flavour that calls out for the Sohomare ‘Heart and Soul’ Tokubetsu Kimoto Junmai, which boasts ample umami flavours that enhance the beetroot’s earthiness and balance the wasabi’s spiciness.
If vegetarian rolls are more your style, try the negitoro, with shibazuke, cucumber, avocado, sesame, sweet gourd, spring onion and tempura crunch. Its zesty flavours marry well with the Tamagawa Heart of Oak Tokubetsu Junmai – this saké’s full-bodied texture matches the avocado’s creaminess, and its nutty, savoury notes enhance the roll’s sesame flavour.
Chisou, for a bit of everything
At Chisou in Knightsbridge, sushi and saké harmony reigns supreme: delicate sea bass nigiri works well with mellow, understated Karakuchi Junmai (there’s that ‘dry mouth’ word again!); bluefin fatty tuna nigiri finds its match in Shunsetsu Honjozo.
The seared salmon belly nigiri is complemented by the crisp umami notes of Sai Junmai Ginjo, and the hot saké maki, a sweet potato and avocado tempura inside-out roll with seared salmon, a fiery miso sauce, shiso leaves and tempura flakes, makes a worthy partner for the savoury, pleasantly funky Tokubetsu Kimoto Junmai.
Other great London restaurants for matching saké with sushi
Benihana, various locations
Dotori, Finsbury Park
Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden and Fitzrovia
Miyama, City and Mayfair
Roka, various locations
Sticks ‘n’ Sushi, various locations
Tokyo Sukiyaki-Tei, Chelsea
Credit: Sebastian Higgins
To read more about how saké is made and the best ways to enjoy it, click here. And to find out more about food and saké matching, visit foodandsake.com.