Sake Restaurant and Bar opened at the new look Hamer Hall late last year. After drooling over the menu of its predecessor in Sydney (there is also one in Brisbane), I was a little excited when I heard it was opening in our fine city. With the back drop of Southbank and one of the best views of the river going round, they are really onto something.
While the food menu drew me in (we will get to that a little later), the interesting Japanese inspired cocktail menu was what really sparked my interest. I chatted with Alex Watson, Bar Manager, about cocktails, his favourite drink and the beautiful lady that is Melbourne. After a meal matched with a Japanese twist on the Tom Collins, two types of sake, red wine and yuzu sake to finish, I trusted him when it came to food and drink matching.
Amy: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you came to work at Sake Restaurant and Bar?
Alex: Before I moved to Melbourne I was Bar Manager of the Purple Bar with the Sanderson Hotel in London. Prior to that I worked for Gordon Ramsay and Langham Hotels. I have a huge passion for Japanese culture and cuisine and the timing of Sake Hamer Hall opening couldn’t have been better.
Amy: What is the focus of the drinks list at Sake?
Alex: We try to cover most bases with the wine list and we have a very premium selection of sake we exclusively import ourselves for all three sake venues. Other than Midori and Malibu we pretty much cover all other familiars.
Amy: How did you go about creating your cocktail and wine list?
Alex: My inspiration for cocktails has come from living in London & Manhattan. These two cities really pay attention to the classics. My list pays its dues to some classics twisted in a contemporary Japanese way.
Amy: Do you think Sake the drink is becoming more prevalent in Australian restaurants?
Alex: Yes absolutely. Certainly the concept of the modern Japanese restaurant has taken off globally in the last couple of years and sake comes hand in hand with that.
Amy: What do you want the bar at Sake to be for people?
Alex: Everything. A night cap and some dessert with the family after a show. A couple of cocktails before heading to dinner in the city or a casual beer and some uber fresh sashimi after work. We cater for all.
Amy: What’s your favourite ingredient to use in cocktails?
Alex: It all depends on whom I’m making it for but right now we are playing with different types of bitters for our fall/winter cocktail list.
Amy: What is your opinion on cocktail and food matching?
Alex: I love talking to the chef about food and cocktail matching. For me a dining experience isn’t complete if you don’t have a great beverage match. Cocktails have a strong food matching ability in my book.
Amy: Where do you see the Melbourne food and drink scene in the next five years?
Alex: I would hope to think Melbourne would secure herself as one of the top food cities in the world… great chefs, great produce and amazing regional wines. Trends I think will be smaller venues opening up dedicating themselves to a much smaller spectrum of what is on offer but doing it brilliantly.
Amy: What is your go-to drink?
Alex: Negroni served straight up instead of on the rocks and a cold beer on the side.
Amy: What is your favourite cocktail on the list at Sake and why?
Utsukushi heru. It’s a twist on the French martini and perfect for summer quaffing. We use Tekkan shochu (Japanese spirit) made from sweet potato along with pomegranate and violet liqueurs and pineapple juice.
While I got to pick Alex’s brain, I also got to sample the food. Now, did I mention that the food is to die for?
While we had an array of dishes, which left us all feeling more than satisfied, there were four favourites that I would be sure to order again.
The first dish of the evening was Hiramasa kingfish with yuzu soy, jalapeno and coriander.
The kingfish was soft as butter and had the perfect amount of kick from the jalapenos. A light and delicate start to the meal.
From here we made swift moves to the grilled miso-marinated Patagonian toothfish in lettuce cups. This was the standout dish of the evening for me. Perfectly cooked toothfish was sweet and sublte in flavour from the miso and the lettuce added crunch. They were the perfect mouthful.
A more hearty dish, the shrimp tempura with creamy spicy sauce and yuzu dressed salad was very morish. Crisp fried shrimp were doused in a creamy Japanese mayonnaise sauce and served with salad which provided a nice fresh element.
Now, when it comes to desserts at Japanese restaurants, I’m not going to lie, I don’t usually want them or like them. But as I took the first bite of the buttermilk pannacotta with passionfruit coulis I was converted. The texture of the pannacotta was not what I expected. It was full and almost grainy, which sounds odd, but it was divine. It was perfectly sweet which was balanced by the passionfruit and the expertly matched yuzu sake which was served along side it. Yuzu sake, a Japanese version of limoncello ( if you ask me), is a little bit special.
If you like japanese food, cocktails, or bar snacks you need to get yourself down to Sake Restaurant and Bar.
Disclaimer: I dined as a guest of Hot House Media and Sake Restaurant and Bar