OYSTER x SAKE at Oystermen

OYSTER x SAKE at Oystermen

So do you always order Chianti with Tuscan Wild Boar Ragu or Red Burgundy with Beef Bourguignon? What about Angus steak? Do you have it with Scotch whiskey or ale? Of course not! You don’t have to match a dish and a drink by country. However, there is a very common myth about sake, that you have always to drink it with Japanese food. The argument goes like this: sake has been developed for hundreds of years to complement the delicate nature of Japanese cuisine. While it makes a lot of sense and sake is great with Japanese dishes, it doesn’t mean that it is only restricted to them. The recent event, Oyster x Sake, organised by JFOODO, The Japan Food Product Overseas Promotion Center, and supported by Tengu Sake, was aimed just to dispell this myth. 

Venue: Oystermen

The Oystermen Seafood Bar and Kitchen
Rob is preparing oyster for the event

The Oystermen Seafood Bar & Kitchen is a trendy seafood place in Covent Garden. Founded by two charismatic guys, Matt and Rob it has been recently refurbished to add some space and give it a modern feel and look. The place is cool, young and energetic with a massive bar, open kitchen and wooden interior. It’s small but cosy. I didn’t see their proper menu but guessing by the food we had with sake, it must be very good. It’s a great place to hang out with friends in the evening or have a relaxing lunch. I heard that the restaurant is usually buzzing with guests. 

Event: Oyster x Sake

Oyster x Sake
Sake is chilling at the fridge while Rob and Matt are putting final touches on the menu

Oyster x Sake was a part of a series of events called Journey of Sake| Harmony Stories and featured six sake and one umeshu. All drinks were provided by Tengu Sake, whose owner, Oliver, was also hosting the event. The guests included owners of various restaurants, press and media and other people connected to the sake scene in the UK. For example, I met Shirley Booth, President of the British Sake Association and I saw a representative of the Japan Finance Ministry. The Ministry among other things is also responsible for collecting sake taxes. Thus, their interest for sake events. I just hope that they did not tax Oliver!

The event was very well organised. There were five small dishes paired with six sake. The waiters were bringing a dish and the pairing sake, Oliver was giving a quick introduction to the sake and then one of the restaurant’s owners or the head chef was introducing the dish. Everything worked like a clock, without any hiccups or delays. 

Oyster x Sake
Oliver from Tengu Sake presenting the next character

Food and sake (a play in 5 acts and a secret finale)

Act I: Oysters

Oysters were the main characters of this event. So they were ushered and introduced to us at the very beginning. Both were from Maldon. The large one was a Kumamoto oyster, mild, sweet and creamy. The smaller one was a Rock oyster, meaty and salty.  The Kumamoto oyster was paired with Kinoshi Gold Daiginjo Hiyashibori sake from Hyogo Prefecture. It’s a single pasteurised nama sake with a delicate fruity aroma and creamy texture. It’s medium dry and has a nice clean finish. Its creamy texture went very well with the creaminess of the Kumamoto oyster. 

Oyster x Sake
Oysters and sake

The second pairing was the Rock Oyster with Tatenokawa 50 “Stream”. It is a junmai daiginjo sake, very aromatic with a fruity nose full of melon, apple and tropical fruits. It had a relatively sweet flavour with hints of brown sugar and balanced acidity. The sweetness of Tatenokawa played very well with the salty taste of the Rock oyster. Overall, it was a great starter. I was slightly unsure about the distinctive oyster aftertaste, which contradicted a bit the fruity and delicate taste of both sake. But I guess, the aftertaste is one of the qualities people love oysters for. It’s like eating the essence of the sea itself. So finishing it with a mellow sweet sake worked great for me. 

Act II: Bream Carpaccio

Like in any good play, after introducing of the main character, the author proceeds with the story. The story of the bream carpaccio included Kosho and Kalamansi dressing. I think the Kosho referred to yuzu koshu, a Japanese dressing made of chilli peppers, yuzu peel and salt. Kalamansi (or calamansi) is a citrus hybrid from the Philippines. Together they teamed up with the main characters, oysters, as well as aniseed herbs to take on the sea bream. And they succeeded! The carpaccio was delicious: the bream was tender, creamy and very delicate with the seasoning providing the much-needed kick.

Oyster x Sake
Bream carpaccio and a glas of Silent Blossom Fukukomachi

The dish was paired with another great junmai daiginjo sake, Silent Blossom Fukukomachi from Akita Prefecture. The sake had a very delicate aroma of green apples, melon and banana. Despite its not very pronounced aroma, Silent Blossom had a very intense fruity flavour with honey and pear in the taste. The sweetness of the sake complimented beautifully the delicate plainness of the carpaccio. Both the carpaccio and the sake were the highlight of the evening for me.

Act III: The mystery of the Beef

Oyster x Sake
Matt is passionate about the food he serves

After the battle of the Bream, the author decided to inject some mystery into the plot. The next dish was Oyster Stout Braised Beef Sheen & Oyster Pie hidden under toasted panko. It was a meaty (both literally and figuratively) full of umami dish, which required a special sake. And it found its match in a form of Aperitif, an aged junmai daiginjo sake from Gifu Prefecture, which job was to uncover, what was hidden in the oyster shell.

The pairing was probably made in heaven. Oliver gave us a small lecture about umami and how it exponentially increases. And the combination of the pie (if you could call it that!) and koshu (aged sake) vividly demonstrated it. The sake had a very intense aroma with wood, cheese and burnt sugar notes. It was full-bodied, full of umami and had a beautiful amber colour. It perfectly complemented the hearty meat and oyster dish!

Oyster x Sake
Beef and Oyster pie with Aperitif

Act IV: Pasta and Black Face

Who is Black Face you may ask? Why was he there in the Oystermen? I think it was a plot twist, to shift the attention from the oysters to sake! I’ve written about Black Face (Hyakujuro) here before and it’s a superb sake. Again, it’s a junmai daiginjo from Gifu Prefecture. However, it’s not as fruity as many other junmai daiginjo sake. It has yoghurt, mushrooms, wood and even hints of stone in the nose. Its taste is positively intense and quite acidic. 

The dish paired with Hyakujuro was Braised Dorset Cuttlefish Orzo, Lyonnaise Onions and Red Butterfly Sorrel. It was a creamy and rich pasta dish, very tasty and comforting. The acidity and the intensity of Black Face paired very well with the richness and creaminess of the pasta. 

Oyster x Sake
Pasta and Black Face

Act V: Misty Mountains of Tempura

The last act in this amazing drama was all about escaping and returning back home. The dish was Tempura Seafood including  Prawn, Oyster, Squid and Hake. The gang had a secret weapon, Squid Ink Aioli, black and rich. The tempura was a bit oily for my taste but crispy outside and soft and delicate inside as all good tempura should be. I think it was more Kanto style as it was golden and came with a sauce. The only thing lacking were vegetables, which usually provide a good balance to seafood.

The tempura was paired with Misty Mountains, usu-nigori bodaimoto sake from Okayama. The brewery, Gozenshu, was founded in 1804 and currently has a female toji (master brewer), which is still a rarity in Japan. Maiko Tsuji is the 7th generation descendant of the family and makes a slightly different style of sake than usually associated with Okayama, especially its southern part. It’s less sweet and as the brewery describes it, “clear-cut” sake.

Oyster x Sake
Tempura under Misty Mountain

Usu-nigori means thin nigori and bodaimoto is an ancient brewing method used in medieval Japan before the more traditional kimoto method came into play. Misty Mountain is a very interesting sake. It has a fresh aroma with rice, yoghurt and green apples overtones and a very zesty taste, more acidic that you usually expect from nigori with some bitterness and mouthful texture. It went very well with the tempura washing the excess of oil away and adding freshness to the deep-fried dish.

Secret finale: Dessert and umeshu

Everyone strives for a happy ending in any play, book or film. For me, the happy ending of the meal is a nice sweet dessert! I have to admit that I have a sweet tooth and a meal without a dessert is a like a French movie from the 60s for me (but I still love French new wave!). So Oystermen and Oliver had a trick up their sleeves: the grand finale of a caramelised peach with a sort of chocolate macaron on top (I’m sorry the dessert was not on the menu so I don’t know the exact name and ingredients).

Oyster x Sake
Peach dessert and umeshu

Desserts are generally tricky to pair with sake because even the sweetest sake is not as sweet as dessert wines. And here we’ve got umeshu coming to the rescue! Kodakara Umeshu from the Tatenokawa brewery was an excellent drink to accompany the dessert. Made from the finest Nanko plums from Yamagata Prefecture, and combined with Tatenokawa Junmai Daiginjo sake and Shochu made from the lees (kasu) of the same sake and sugar, Kodakara had a rich sweet but very well balanced taste of fresh plums as if you’ve just picked them from the tree. The dessert and umeshu was a perfect finale for the Oyster x Sake afternoon.

Afterword

JFOODO, Tengu Sake and Oystermen did a great job pulling off the food pairing event. With the interest for sake growing, such events offer restaurants a good opportunity to test sake pairing with dishes from various cuisines and decide if they would like to add sake to their drinks list. The food pairing events also help popularise of sake in the UK through media like myself who writes about it. The first person’s account always works much better than direct advertising and promotions. As I’ve written in my previous post, I also plan to organise sake pairing events this and next year to do my contribution into the great cause of sake promotion.

Oyster x Sake
Seafood kitchen at work

The event was also very well organised. I particularly liked the Oystermen’s quick and unobtrusive service, brief but passionate descriptions of sake and food from Oliver, Matt, Rob and Alex as well as the warm and trendy atmosphere of the restaurant. The selection of the sake was superb and the dishes were delicious. It was evident that the organiser put a significant amount of thoughts into pairing and it worked perfectly. So next time you fancy a seafood risotto or a half dozen of oysters, find the place which serves sake!

Kampai!

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