Christmas is coming quicker than everyone expected! It feels like summer was only yesterday and here we are, buying advent calendars for kids (I’d love to buy a sake one for myself but still can’t find it!). The countdown has just begun. All shops around London are running Christmas promotions enticing spoilt for choice Londoners and tourists by beautiful shop windows, lucrative deals, Santa’s grottos, Christmas songs (I wish they play something new) and other exiting and not so activities. Ichiba, the largest Japanese supermarket in Europe, also didn’t want to stay behind. Last Saturday they were having Taste Ichiba Christmas Day and I decided to check it out.
Let me come clean from the start. I’m not an affiliate of Ichiba and have no commercial relationship with them. So it’s not a promotional post for the store. I just haven’t been there before and decided that it’s a good opportunity to check them out to take a closer look at their sake range, taste some sake, see what they generally sell and what Christmas activities they do.
I arrived at Ichiba in the late afternoon and it wasn’t too busy. The store is located on the ground floor of the Westfield Shopping Centre just beside the entrance. Very strategic position. Ichiba’s Eat and Drink section looked quite impressive: sushi, noodles, donburi, yakitori, katsu curry, yakisoba, ramen, bakery and cafe. Everything you would call Japanese street and fast food. It also has a sake bar. I’m sure the exhausted shoppers of Westfield are very grateful that they can relax after their shopping and have a glass of cold beer, an ochoko of warm sake or a cup of nice green tea with tasty food.
However, their overall product range wasn’t that impressive. Compared to Japan Centre, which is owned by the same group, it felt smaller. Probably, because Ichiba is quite spacious but the product range is the same. But I still prefer Japan Centre in terms of Japanese groceries.
Where Ichiba excels is their sake range. It’s better than at Japan Centre or at any other brick and mortar store selling sake in London. They have anything from inexpensive table sake brewed in the US to super premium junmai daiginjo and sparkling sake. For example, Ichiba’s nigori range boasted with a few very nice sake, which I was very tempted to buy but remembered that I have a couple of opened bottles of sake in the fridge, which I had to finish. So if I need to buy sake and I have time, I would probably go to Ichiba.
Of course, there was a sake tasting promotion running on the shopping floor. Honami, from House of Sake, who represented the Tosa Brewing Company (Keigetsu) had two nice sake and one yuzusake to sample. She was quite busy as people were coming to her stall to try sake and ask questions about it. I couldn’t help myself having a sip or two. We asked Hanomi, what was the most popular sake of the day.
I have just written about Keigetsu Tokubetsu Junmai Honami was talking about in my Sake and Curry Discovery Night post. It’s a really good sake. Another popular drink on Honami’s stall was Keigetsu Yuzusake. You can read about it in my post here and listen to what Hanomi told us.
What Honami said about drinking the yuzusake warm was a discovery for me. I’ve never tried it before but will do as soon as I buy another bottle of it!
We also managed to catch an energetic Taiko drums performance at Ichiba. It was very entertaining and the drummers were so cool. I guess they really enjoyed performing in from of the small crowd adding the Japanese vibe to the European Christmas spirit.
There were also art and craft tables for kids and Hello Kitty who was wandering around posing with children for photos. Overall, it was a very relaxing start of the Christmas season for us. We have a few more events to attend before the New Year including the Grand Christmas Sake Tasting organised by the British Sake Association, of which I am a proud member now, The Sake Family
Jingle bells, jingle bells… jingle bells kampai!