Sake and Spice, Not Your Everyday Food and Wine Match

Jul 01, 14 Sake and Spice, Not Your Everyday Food and Wine Match

I was recently invited to a Sake and Spice dinner at Moti Mahal in Covent Garden. I was intrigued by the whole concept of sake with Indian cuisine because when I think of curry, sake does not immediately spring to mind. However, the dinner was a real eye opener. Below is the menu:





                                               Karraree Bhyein aur Salad 

Sparkling sake

Sparkling sake

Crisp fried lotus Stem and sprouted lentil salad

Fukukomachi Junmai Daiginjo – Kimura Brewery

Sagar Rattan

Seared scallops with sesame seeds, coriander and tamarind,

served on top of crushed lime and cumin peas

Atago no Sakura, Junmai Daiginjo – Niizawa Brewery

Tandoor roasted lamb chops with kashmiri chillies, Black lentil stew,

Barra Peshwari

Mint ‘n’ cumin paratha

Fukukomachi Daiginjo – Kimura Brewery

(2012 IWC Grand Prix Champion Sake)

Murgh Biriyani

Sake served in a tin cup

Sake served in a tin cup

Fennel scented chicken cooked with aromatic basmati rice in a sealed pot,

Okra ‘salan’ curry, Pomegranate raita

Kimoto Classic Junmai – Daishichi Brewery

(served warm)

Aam Shrikhand

Mango yoghurt Panna Cotta, peanut ‘Gajak’ crush

Kimoto Umeshu – Daishichi Brewery

The dinner was hosted by Sake expert Natsuki Kikuya and Barry McCaughley, Beverage Consultant for Moti Mahal. Barry gave me his thoughts on Sake and why he thinks its time has come to move beyond its traditional sushi menu home.

What makes Sake suitable to pairing with food?

Primarily it is the 20 different amino acids in Sake (greater than any other alcoholic beverage, 7 times more than red wine) that

Barry McCaughley

Barry McCaughley

give the notion of Umami in a Sake (particularly glutamic acidity)  and make it such a great match to food. This is partly due to the longer fermentation period. Sake carries the flavour of food and enhances food in its own flavour spectrum, rather than trying to change the flavour in the mouth by blending tastes (like you might with wine).

– It is particularly good with seafood and fish as it takes away any fishy flavour and creates a very clean palate. Some red wines enhance this fishy character which is in most cases undesirable.

– Sake is naturally higher in residual sugar than most wines and lower in overall acidic volume but when combined with the fact that the acidity spectrum is far greater (ie more different types of acids) this gives you a great platform from which to match a wider variety of foods more easily.

– a good variety of styles and interpretations (though not as much as wine) also helps

– Sake seldom ‘fights’ with food for tastebud real estate

– It matches to a wide variety of food and can do so when there are several dishes on the table all with powerful flavours

photo 2

Seared scallop with sesame seeds, coriander and tamarind

Why match the styles with Indian cuisine?

Lighter, less spicy dishes work well with Junmai Daiginjo styles as the food allows the delicate and aromatic nature of these Sake to shine through without complicating the flavours, hence the Fukukomachi Junmai Daiginjo is paired with a light salad of sprouts and the one dimensional pleasures of the crispy lotus stem. Both these dishes enhance the fruity (honeydew melon) character of the Sake.

As the dishes get more complex I choose Sake that features balance and more classical proportions over the more obvious and predominantly aromatic Junmai Daiginjo’s. I look for a Sake with great texture, mouth feel and umami (amino acid profile) to compliment and ‘carry’ the spices of the food. In this case the Sake is a vehicle to enhance the spice blend on the food. That’s why Tandoor roasted lamb chop taste smoky and spicy with straight Daiginjo from Kimura (the award winner). This sake has added brewers alcohol which reigns in the natural Daiginjo aromas and give the Sake more harmony. It is also a more ‘Umami’ Sake.


The Umeshu with the Mango Pannacotta is just about perfect as the Umeshu has quite a bit of natural acidity which dovetails quite nicely on the palate with the more sweeter Mango. The sweetness of the Umeshu and purity of its Plum fruit is at the right level to make it feel neither lost or washed out on the palate and it is really interesting that the two fruit notes (mango and plum) both hold their own ground and compliment each other. It gets me thinking about a Mango and Plum cocktail.

Mango panna cotta

Mango panna cotta


Do you think the time is right for Sake in the UK? Why?

I think we are right on point with Sake right now in the UK. I believe the market could be at a tipping point where Sake will move out of its natural home on the menus of Japanese restaurants and into the mainstream. The challenge for any supplier of Sake now is to get non – Japanese restaurants to feature Sake. Sake’s unique ability to pair with all and any type of cuisine is a real trump card and as we know it excels where wine is challenged – ie ethnic cuisines, spices and foods that feature a wide range of complex and bold flavours in the same mouthful. It is also my firm opinion that Sake is a better match to European cuisines than wine, in general (and I know that’s a strong statement). With wine there are so many things to consider when matching – fruit, acidity, tannin, weight. With Sake its more about balancing the textures, controlling any flavour clashes and  finding the right level of Umami to carry the food flavours.

I am particularly impressed that finally a major wine importer has taken really positive steps to make a big deal about Sake (I’ve been waiting for this for years now!). Until now Sake was an added value service provided by suppliers of Japanese foods but now that a company like Bibendum is starting to work with it the service to the customer should be far better (product knowledge, logistics, events and marketing). Drinks distributors and Sake specialists are where the future of Sake distribution in the UK is heading.


Moti Mahal is running a series of dinners in the next few months featuring a particular beverage with the cuisine of The Grand Trunnk Road. The next dinner is July 15th and the theme is  ‘Champagne and Spice’  with Philippe Manfredini of Gosset Champagne. Contact Moti Mahal for more info.


1 Comment


  1. Moti Mahal - Champagne and spice dinner with Gosset - Cooksister | Food, Travel, Photography - […] a wonderful whisky and spice matching dinner there and more recently my friend Denise attended a sake and spice…

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