Two London bars are celebrating the arrival of spring and Japan’s cherry blossom, or “sakura”, with cocktails filled with Japanese flavours.
Actual cherry blossom has been brought in to decorate the Shochu Lounge at Fitzrovia restaurant Roka and the bar at St James’s restaurant Sake no Hana.
It evokes Hanami, the centuries-old Japanese tradition of celebrating the cherry blossom which blooms between March and May.
Adorned with blossom throughout April, the Shochu Lounge is offering a Sakura season cocktail menu created exclusively with blended whisky Hibiki Japanese Harmony from Suntory, selected by bar development manager Simon Freeth.
The three cocktails include Match a Rack, a short drink made by mixing the whisky with matcha-infused arrack, savoury Umami Spirit and mango cordial. It is served straight up in a nick and nora martini glass, garnished with a lemon twist.
Another short drink is the Suntory Blossom, combining Hibiki Japanese Harmony with ume sake, blood orange, and a sakura tincture. It is served in a rocks glass with carved ice, garnished with a dried blood orange wheel and sakura blossom.
The Happo Harmony (pictured top) is sweet and spicy, mixing the whisky with rhubarb and ginger syrup, soda water and sprayed lemon flower essence. It is served in a highball glass with carved ice, garnished with a rhubarb twist.
As well as the sakura-adorned Charlotte Street bar, the sakura-inspired cocktails will also be available at Roka’s other three locations in Aldwych, Canary Wharf and Mayfair.
The Match a Rack cocktail will also be paired with a small plate of Hokkaido snow crab with tapioca crisp and nori, created especially by Roka’s group executive chef, Hamish Brown.
Simon said: “For us, the Hibiki Japanese Harmony was the clear core ingredient for the Sakura season cocktails. The expression is reflective of the harmony between people and nature in Japan, which is the story we want to convey in this activity.
“The Hibiki Japanese Harmony has been matched with traditional Japanese flavours such as matcha tea, umami and sakura, combined with seasonal ingredients like blood orange and rhubarb – creating unique serves that are perfect for this season.”
Launched in July 2015, Hibiki Japanese Harmony is inspired by the riches and subtleties of the 24 Japanese seasons, incorporating 10 malt and grain whiskies, aged in five types of casks, from Suntory’s three distilleries.
Keita Minari, brand manager international for Beam Suntory, added: “Sakura is a hugely important season in Japanese culture, and Hanami has been practised for centuries. In modern culture, it is celebrated with picnic parties under the canopies of cherry blossom.
“We wanted to recreate a ‘Suntory’ version of this in London, and Roka’s Shochu Lounge is the perfect place to experience a contemporary take on Hanami.”
From the end of March to June 18, Sake no Hana has been transformed with intertwining cherry blossom branches, falling petals, a grass floor, and blossom entrances. At night, lights twinkle within the blossom to create the intimate atmosphere of “yozakura” which literally means “night sakura”.
After the success of its cherry blossom makeover over the past two years, Sake no Hana is this year offering a special limited-edition seven-course menu to tie in with this year’s Sakura. It features a cocktail, a bento box created by executive head chef Hideki Hiwatashi, a dessert and macarons.
The Kaori Arpège cocktail (pictured below) is made with Beefeater 24 gin, yuzu sake, cherry liqueur, peach bitters, grapefruit juice and agave. It comes with three atomisers to spray onto the cocktail, including: red cherry, black cherry and cinnamon; elderflower and jasmine; and violet. Each completely alters the taste of the cocktail with each spray.
Inspired by the Hanami tradition of sitting beneath the blossom to read and write poetry, guests who order the special menu will be gifted with a haiku written by one of the famous haiku masters printed onto a paper petal.