Thursday, 26 June 2014

Sake and Spice at Moti Mahal

Whilst you might expect to see sake (traditional Japanese rice wine) alongside Japanese food, this week I learnt of the magic of sake and spice at Indian restaurant Moti Mahal in Covent Garden - it was a revelation.

The image of sake in the UK is much like we used to see sherry - old fashioned - but with sommeliers, restauranteurs and general drinks industry folk on board, that image looks set to change and jumping in with an open mind is step one.

Our host, beverage consultant Barry McCaughley, admitted it can be difficult to find drinks which pair well with Indian food given the diversity of spices and ingredients. The menu at Moti Mahal focuses on the cuisine of India's famed Grand Trunk Road and when first approached with the idea of pairing Japanese sake with the menu Barry had his doubts, but soon saw the potential in this unusual relationship.

Alongside Natsuki Kikuya - curator and director of the Museum of Sake London - Barry presented six different styles of sake, each next to a traditional Indian dish. The intention of each was to stimulate the tastebuds to appreciate the depth of Indian spicing and amplify the personality of the sake. And I have to admit, it worked.

On arrival we were greeted with a sparkling sake - cloudy in appearance, sweet and effervescent - with spiced cashews to whet the appetite. Made in the traditional Champagne method, sparkling sake undergoes secondary fermentation, though isn't disgorged, hence the cloudiness.

First course was Karree Bhyein aur Salad (crisp fried lotus stem and sprouted lentil salad), served with Fukukomachi Junmai Daiginjo from Kimura Brewery. Served cold to enhance the aromatics, this sake was incredibly fresh with aromas of fennel and licorice and a palate of sweet honeydew melon - a nice complement to the salty, spiced lotus stem which made the flavours of the sake pop. At 16.5% it also gets the heart racing and I can't help feeling lost in an abv between grape-based wine and a spirit!

Next to arrive was Sagar Rattan (seared scallops with sesame seeds, coriander and tamarind, served on top of crushed lime and cumin peas) - a delight on the eye as well as the palate.

Also served cold, our second sake of the evening, Atago no Sakura, Junmai Daiginjo from Niizawa Brewery is in the same sake category as the first, but with a slightly fuller body and seemed to bring out the cumin in the peas.

Our third course of Barra Peshwari (tandoor roasted lamb chops with kashmiri chillies, black lentil stew and mint 'n' cumin paratha) was accompanied with the 2012 IWC Grand Prix Champion Sake, Fukukomachi Daiginjo from Kimura Brewery. Served in a traditional pewter cup to almost purify what's inside, this displayed classic melon and Nashi pear aromas - somewhat more complex that the previous wines.

With the Murgh Biriyani (fennel scented chicken cooked with aromatic basmati rice, okra curry and pomegranate raita) came the Kimoto Classic Junmai from the Daishichi Brewery. The noticeable difference? This one was served warm.

Said to bring out the umami character in the wine, it's traditional to serve certain categories of sake warm, though perhaps this is what generates an unfashionable image. With a more neutral flavour but more body and texture, there is a hint of steamed rice, but unlike the sake previous, there is very little fruit character, and although it wasn't our most alcoholic sake of the evening, it certainly tasted it with a warm burn at the back of the throat. I must admit, I didn't enjoy this one.

Lastly we arrived at dessert. Oh dessert, how you pleased me! Aam Shrikhand (mango yoghurt panna cotta with peanut crush) with the delightful Kimoto Umeshu from Daishichi Brewery was simply the icing on the cake for this event. Infused with Japanese plum, this sweeter sake has an almond, almost Amaretto flavour which complemented the sweetness of the mango.

As with traditional food and wine pairings, the same principles apply - match acidity, sweetness and body to complement, or play the opposites attract game to enhance the food or wine in question. Though it's perceived that sake should be served warm, it depends on the category and quality of the wine and there is an emerging trend for more sake to be served cold. There was an almost unanimous agreement that the chilled sake were more enjoyable than the warm - is this what's going to get sake it's cool, hipster vibe? Serve chilled to be cool?

There's much to be said for sake - don't expect it to be anything like grape wine for starters! - and I would encourage an open mind. If you haven't yet embarked on your rice wine journey, it might pay to start with our Sake Simplified post - an introduction to the production and resulting sake styles.

Shout out and thanks to Barry, Natsuki, the Moti Mahal team and the PRCo team - "Kampai!"

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Jo. So glad you enjoyed the evening and you clearly got a lot from it. Until next time. Best, Barry