Japanese food is a true art form as I’ve gained a deeper understanding from my recent obsession with catching up on Destination Flavours on SBS, as Adam Liaw explores Japan.
Last Friday night, I trekked (literally – I had a 15 minute walk!) through the unfamiliar grounds of the western suburbs to Moga, a new(ish) Japanese restaurant in Paddington.
I was invited to explore the world of sake with third generation sake master, Kakutaro Kubo. His family owns the Ippongi Sake Brewery in Fukui, Japan which was established in 1902. He has travelled the world as a expert on sake, talking about the history and tradition behind sake. Extending and sharing his appreciation while educating about sake. His English was really good, although he had a translator on hand! He was a delightful and hilariously fun host. He even brought out a crocodile head as a game! Press down a tooth, if it snaps, then you win a prize!
Just like wine has it’s stark differences, so does sake. We watched a slideshow about picturesque Japan. He showed us the mountain where he obtains pure spring water to produce his sake – it melts off it’s 100+ year old snow cap. The purity extends all the way down to his polishing of the rice. 55% is polished off leaving an inner core (45%) of the rice grain, removed of impure proteins and starches to yield the best possible sake.
The first thing I noticed from the sake was it’s clarity. I’m honoured to have the opportunity to sample some of Japan’s finest sake. He told us a recent story that one night at a restaurant in Japan, David Beckham tried a sake and returned the next day and requested this restaurant that was closed to re-open just so that he could drink this sake again. Nothing like a bit of name dropping 😉
We were also able to try some umeshu (my favourite!), which is plum wine.
A few things that I learnt:
- Sake is not to be drunk like a shot.
- Sake can be drunk hot or cold.
- Fruity, crisp sakes are best served cold. As a general rule, daiginjo (super premium ) and ginjo (premium) sake is better cold.
- Warm sakes bring out the sweetness and dryness.
- Don’t warm sake too much, it should be about body temp or slightly warmer.
We were treated to 6 courses with matched sake or plum wine sake.
1st course: The fresh sashimi included raw hokkaido scallop, smooth and gelatinous. It was so subtle in flavour compared to cooked scallops. A selection of fresh fish was presented on the plates with edible flowers and vegetables. It was definitely one of the most elegant, visually-appealing dishes of the night. The bright colours shouted spring. Loved it.
2nd course: marinated duck nori wraps. Sweet duck with fresh coriander and cool cucumber cut through the sweetness. The spiced creamy dipping sauce was a nice kick too. It was served with plum wine sake. Not an unsurprising pairing given ducks affinity with plum. Bonus points for eating with my hands!
3rd course: grilled sasa salmon – salmon with enoki and shiitake mushrooms, red miso wrapped in bamboo leaf and grilled. The smoked flavour from the coals and bamboo leaf imparted a different flavour than what smoked salmon is traditionally known to my tastes. Everyone was given two, but there were leftovers and without hesitation, I managed to grab a third delicious parcel. This was paired with the junmai daiginjo, the most expensive sake on the night. This literally is super premium sake made from ‘pure’, polished rice. It was a lot stronger in alcohol content which matched the bold flavours of the smokiness and the fermented punch from the red miso.
4th course: oyster mizore ni. I love a dish with a story and background. ‘Mizore’ means snow flake, represented by the cute mound of grated daikon radish floating in the soup. This elegant dish was served with salmon roe, battered fried oysters and baby spinach. The soup was dense and rich, with salmon roe popping in your mouth like the equivalent of salty popping candy. The battered, fried oysters soaked up the soup so was soft rather than crunchy. This was paired with a warm junmai sake. The warm sake was much sweeter than previous sake but was able to take on the rich, umami flavour of the broth.
— By now, I was struggling. The sake was flowing fast and the food was intoxicating.. or the sake was. I was pretty happy with everything at this stage and only 2/3 through the dinner.
5th course: maki and nigiri set – a platter of nigiri (rice with a slice of raw fish on top) and maki (rolled sushi). This maki was very different from the usual sushi roll with nori on the outside. These were much more special. One of the varieties was a crispy salmon roll with salmon skin wrapped around rice with a salmon filling as well as an avocado maki which was then deep fried in a light tempura batter. This is was like the holy grail of sushi. Different textures and flavours combined with the cold version of the sake from the 4th course. The difference of temperature for sake was surprising. It was a lot lighter in flavour and suited the delicate sushi.
— Reached struggle town but I could do it. There’s always room for dessert.
6th course: white sesame mousse with red bean jam. Don’t tell my mum but this was goo-ood. I was never a big fan of red bean pastes or soups as a child, often literally running away from the kitchen if she was serving it to us and refusing to eat it. The panna cotta-like mousse was sweet and light without being cloying. Served with another plum wine, this one was the equivalent of a dessert wine. It was almost an amber orange. This sake was a little too sweet for my liking.
I chose to painstakingly finish a much too delicious finale to an amazing dinner. I hope I had honoured the sake master as well as the head chef, Satoshi-san who made a brief appearance while dessert was served by eating until I was full! Arigato gozimasu!
I definitely want to head back and try the rest of their menu.
7 days – 11am to 10pm
Tuesday to Sunday – 11am to 10pm
Shop 2, 146 Baroona Road, Paddington