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Monday, August 23, 2010

Ocean Room, Sydney

Is there an alcoholic drink more misunderstood than sake?

Too often dismissed as overly harsh and alcoholic, a recent Sake Masterclass at Ocean Room showed us otherwise. Guests were led through a six course degustation dinner designed by Executive Chef Raita Noda. Each course contained sake as an ingredient, and was matched with sake by Melbourne-based sake master Toshi Maeda.

Sakes sampled during the course of the evening

We sat down to tables covered in an assortment of wine glasses, sake glasses and sake cups made from bamboo. The latter were a last-minute inspiration by Raita, who had allegedly stayed up very late to hand-carve each one the night before. Sipping sake from a bamboo cup, and appreciating its lightness in the hand, and the feel of timber on the lips, only added to the experience.

Ikebana floral arrangements by Raita Noda's mother

Sydney Rock oysters in bamboo

Sydney Rock Oyster

We whetted our appetites with Sydney Rock Oysters, fresh and lively with brine, dressed simply with lemon.

To commence proceedings, guests were poured glasses of white wine as well as sake.

Ocean trout pearls, white anchovies and smoked cod roe

We were instructed to take sips of both the wine and the sake as we ate our trio of salmon caviar, white anchovies and smoked cod roe. Drinking the wine and the sake side-by-side was illuminating. Against the clean fresh flavours of Japanese-style seafood, the wine was heavy, invasive and lingering on the palate. The sake, on the other hand, was striking in its purity, its cleanness and clarity allowing the subtle nuances of the seafood to shine through.

The arrival of our next dish has everyone craning their necks forward with anticipation.

Sake jelly king crab
sous-vide Alaskan king crab and cured white turnips with sake and sour plum jelly

Sake: Eikun Ichigin Junmai Daiginjo, Kyoto

Alaskan king crab, cooked sous-vide, and served with shavings of pickled turnips and radish, is sweet and succulent. It's paired with the Eikun Ichigin Junmai Daiginjo sake, a premium sake that has won a gold medal at the Japanese New Sake Award for an unprecedented ten years running. The sake is smooth and quite soft on the palate, with notes of nashi pear.

Meantime, everyone on our table is fascinated by the glassware, the round bowl deemed to be perfect for recreating the famous Quay snow egg as seen on MasterChef. The bowl on top is also beautiful, in the shape of a truncated martini glass.

Sake master Toshi Maeda

Throughout the evening we're primed on the sakes we're drinking by sake master Toshi Maeda. We learn that:

  1. Sake is not designed for cellaring or aging. It should be drunk immediately and once opened, the bottle should be finished with 2-3 weeks
  2. The best quality sake is junmai daiginjo. This is followed by daiginjo, junmai ginjo, ginjo, junmai and finally honjozo
  3. Junmai means only rice yeast has been used in the sake - others incorporate distilled alcohol (less than 10%). The distilled alcohol is used to help shape the flavour and create balance in the final sake
  4. The percentage rate found on sake bottles does not refer to alcoholic percentage, but the leftover weight of rice that remained after polishing. Daiginjo uses rice that has been milled down to at least 50% and up to as high as 35%. It is said that the lower the number, the more delicate and fragrant the sake will be.
  5. Nihonshudo is often translated as the Sake Meter Value and refers to the relative density of sake. This often gives an indication of sweetness - the lower the sweeter. Ordinary sake will be about +2, whilst ratings of +6 or more are considered dry.

Flash sakura smoked ocean trout with houji-tea with ocean trout pearls vinaigrette;
lightly poached "arai" Crystal Bay prawn sashimi with green chilli and shiso salsa;
fresh cuttlefish and Tasmanian sea urchin ravioli with coriander infused oil

Sake: Niwa No Uguisu Tokubetsu Junmai, Fukuoka

Our next course is a treat for the senses. Lifting the shot glass over the ocean trout releases dramatic plumes of smoke. Beside it is a test tube of vinaigrette with plump ocean trout pearls which we pour on top. The aburi ocean trout is charred on the surface and deliciously smoky in flavour.

Flash sakura smoked ocean trout with houji-tea with ocean trout pearls vinaigrette;

Crystal Bay prawn sashimi

Crystal Bay prawn sashimi was served in a bamboo pod, and dressed with a light green chilli and shiso salsa. The ravioli was ingenious - paper-thin slices of cuttlefish, translucent and tender, were enveloped around delicate mounds of fresh Tasmanian sea urchin.

We enjoyed this with Niwa No Uguisu Tokubetsu Junmani, a prized sake rarely found outside of Japan, highly desired for its use of crystal clear water from the Chikugo River in Fukuoka.

Blue fin tuna sashimi prepared in five unique styles with condiments

Sake: Tateyama Junmai Ginjo, Toyama

A dramatic black platter holds five cubes of blue fin tuna, each presented in a different way. We progress our way through a series of preparations that includes:
  1. Seared akami (lean tuna) with foie gras, ponzu jelly and momiji radish
  2. Seared toro (fattiest tuna belly) with shiso julienne, sesame and lime juice
  3. Zuke (seasoned) akami with dry natto, negi miso and leek julienne
  4. Oil blanched toro with fresh wasabi, soy and kombu
  5. Marinated chutoro (tuna belly) with truffle, caviar and spicy daikon.
Tateyama Junmai Ginjo is said to have the smell of apple and nashi pear, balanced with umami notes of rice. This is the sweetest sake of the night with a Sake Meter Value of +2, with a slightly dry finish.

Cellophane bag steamed snapper
Filleted pink snapper, scallop and seared tofu steamed with sake and yuzu butter

Hatsumago Tokubetsu Honjozo

Cellophane bag steamed snapper is like having a Christmas present for dinner. The bag is cut open to reveal plump portions of fish served with scallops, tofu, carrots, broccoli and lemon.

Our accompanying sake is the Hatsumago Tokubetsu Honjozo, this one served warm. The flavour of this sake is enhanced by heat - whilst Toshi says that drinking sake hot or cold depends on personal preference, it is often said that lower quality sakes benefit best from heating, bringing out more flavour and nuances.

Waitstaff offering fresh grated yuzu citrus to garnish the snapper

Semi frozen sake shot with Umeshu plum wine and yuzu zest

Tamanohikari Junmai Touketsu Shu, Kyoto and
Uguisu Tomari Plum Wine, Fukuoka

Roasted Angus beef with sake scented jus
Sansho pepper roasted aged Angus beef with ginjyo scented jus and flame seared Roquefort cheese

Sake: Garyubai Junmai Ginjo, Shizuoka

We conclude our savouries with roasted Angus beef, paired with a marvellously piquant wedge of Roquefort cheese, although the subtlety of the sake scented jus is a little lost amongst the boldness of the blue.

Sake-kasu blancmange with daiginjo jelly

Dessert is another multi-course offering. Sake-kasu blancmange is probably one of the stronger sake-tasting dishes, especially with the soft set jumble of daiginjo jelly and fresh pomegranate seeds on top.

Sake: Shirakawago Junmai Nigori zake, Gifu

Our matched Shirakawago Junami Nigori sake is not to everyone's taste, an unfiltered sake that is cloudy white and slightly fizzy. Its tart creaminess is odd to the palate at first, but once I liken its flavour to a Yakult mixed with soda water, I manage to finish most of it.

Fresh jobocabla chiffon cake with sake-infused creme fraiche
and shochu marinated strawberry

Chiffon cake with sake-infused creme fraiche is a much more convincing crowd-pleaser. Soft fluffy sponge, silky creme fraiche and shochu marinated strawberries are the perfect end to a sake-happy evening.

Ocean Room Executive Chef, Raita Noda

Grab Your Fork attended the Sake MasterClass as a guest of Ocean Room.

Sake Master Toshi Maeda runs the online sake shop Sake Japan.

Ocean Room on Urbanspoon

Ocean Room
Ground level, Overseas Passenger Terminal
Circular Quay West, The Rocks, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9252 9585

Lunch Tuesday to Friday from 12pm
Dinner Monday to Saturday from 6pm
Late night dining until 12am Friday and Saturday

Related Grab Your Fork posts:

Congratulations to John, Peter and Ming. You have each won a double gift pack of Rochester Ginger drinks.

Missed out this time? Don't forget to enter the Grab Your Fork Freebie Friday competitions still open:
(entries close Sunday 29 August 2010)

(entries close Thursday 02 September 2010)

(entries close Sunday 5 September 2010)

21 comments - Add some comment love

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/23/2010 02:33:00 am


  • At 8/23/2010 5:48 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    the tuna five ways was my fav mmm chutoro why must you be so tasty

  • At 8/23/2010 7:21 am, Blogger Gourmet Chick said…

    Wow interesting that sake should only last a few weeks - I have a few bottles I have used a little bit of for cooking and kept for years.. whoops. I stand corrected!

  • At 8/23/2010 8:03 am, Anonymous Louise said…

    Wow. It looks like an absolutely amazing night. I've never been much of a sake fan, but I'm sure a night like this would help. The food looks incredible too. I haven't heard of Ocean Room before, but would love to check it out on a Sydney visit.

  • At 8/23/2010 8:11 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    It was really interesting trying the sake and wine side by side, it made such a difference! Great photos, love that you managed to capture the smoke escaping from under the glass.

  • At 8/23/2010 8:50 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    What a great evening and I'm in love with those bamboo cups. Gorgeous pics Helen!

  • At 8/23/2010 9:56 am, Blogger missklicious said…

    Mmm looks like a fantastic feast

  • At 8/23/2010 9:59 am, Blogger Margaret Tran said…

    Totally agree that sake is one of the more misunderstood drinks of the world. Love the composition of your shots! Looked like a really awesome night.. and omgosh, bamboo cups!

  • At 8/23/2010 10:15 am, Blogger Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. said…

    Ahhh awesome dishes!
    Hmm I can't remember where it was, but frozen sake is soo good!

  • At 8/23/2010 11:06 am, Blogger joey@FoodiePop said…

    What a fun class! Everything looks so good as usual .... :)

  • At 8/23/2010 11:57 am, Anonymous Jacq said…

    Love the photos, especially the one of the smoke billowing out of the shotglass! Looks like it was an amazing night, I would have loved to try all the different sakes

  • At 8/23/2010 1:14 pm, Blogger Ladybird said…

    Oh my! What incredible use of sake!

  • At 8/23/2010 3:11 pm, Blogger Gastronomy Gal said…

    I had some delicious plum wine- umeshu- with a green tea flavour the other day- it was delicious!

  • At 8/23/2010 5:04 pm, Anonymous Anna Johnston said…

    Interesting the wine & sake sipped on together through the meal. Loved the bamboo cups too.

  • At 8/23/2010 6:06 pm, Anonymous thang @ noodlies said…

    Yum, I love japanese food, so delicate but so tasty at the same time.

  • At 8/23/2010 7:42 pm, Anonymous Mark @ Cafe Campana said…

    Very informative post. I know very little about sake so any insight is helpful. I am liking the idea of smoke hidden in a glass too.

  • At 8/23/2010 10:47 pm, Blogger Vivienne said…

    Everything looks so delicate! Sake in those desserts are pretty cool too!

  • At 8/25/2010 3:05 pm, Blogger Matt said…

    OMG how do you hook that up! That is, form what I can see, the most japanese fusion food I have ever laid eyes on.

    Was this a specialised menu or can you get that food whenever you go?

  • At 8/25/2010 9:47 pm, Blogger FFichiban said…

    Hee hee misunderstood just like Kong Kong. That was indeed a tasty educational night. Definitely must 'research' more sake!

  • At 9/02/2010 12:11 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi chocolatesuze - lol, chutoro is like the wagyu of tuna!

    Hi Gourmet Chick - I do the same with wine. My bad. I think he did mention it's ok to cook with them beyond a couple of weeks.

    Hi Louise - It is fascinating how just a little bit of knowledge can go a long way!

    Hi Stephcookie - I agree, I found it so enlightening, especially trying them all one after the other and comparing them with wine. The smoke was so cool!

    Hi John - I loved the bamboo cups. So beautiful, and thanks ;)

    Hi missklicious - It was, and educational too!

    Hi Margaret Tran - I could hardly fathom that Raita spent half the night carving the bamboo cups. It really was worth it though. Such a great effect.

    Hi Yas @ hungry.digital.elf - I've tried frozen sake in Japan and yes, that is rather tasty stuff although pretty strong!

    Hi Joey - It was a fab night :)

  • At 9/02/2010 12:16 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Jacq - Aww thanks. Maybe Billy gets some credit for being such a good hand model!

    Hi Ladybird - It was very creative, especially how it was incorporated into each and every dish.

    Hi Gastronomy Gal - Oh I do have a soft spot for umeshu but I've never tried green tea flavour!

    Hi Anna Johnston - We only had the wine at the start of the meal - the sake was definitely better suited. And yes, I think we all want bamboo cups now!

    Hi thang - I agree, I think that's why Japanese cuisine is one of my favourites.

    Hi Mark - The smoke was much fun. Maybe a new trick for your next dinner party? :)

    Hi Vivienne - The presentation was all exquisite, and sake in dessert was very creative.

    Hi Matt - It was a fantastic evening. The event was a one-off held over two nights although I wonder if Raita will keep some of the dishes for his next menu?

    Hi FFichiban - Heh, I am sure you will apply yourself with much diligence!

  • At 9/04/2010 1:54 am, Blogger shaz said…

    WOw, what a great evening. And great shots, you even managed to capture the smoke, well done. And so much sake!


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