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Sake No Hana Restaurant – An Interview with Head Chef Hideki Hiwatashi
Sake No Hana Restaurant – An Interview with Head Chef Hideki Hiwatashi

Sake No Hana Restaurant – An Interview with Head Chef Hideki Hiwatashi

28 April 2017 Belphoebe New

Mayfair’s Sake No Hana restaurant thrives on the simplicity and authenticity of Japanese cuisine. An escape from the busy city streets, Sake No Hana is designed to be a haven, evoking the atmosphere of a futuristic forest in rural Japan. This season, the restaurant are celebrating Japan’s Sakura (cherry blossom) season with a dedicated menu and a special new installation by British artist Rebecca Louise Law, bringing the delicate beauty of the cherry blossoms to the restaurant’s interior. We spoke to Head Chef Hideki Hiwatashi, who has spent over 15 years under rigorous training to become one of the most accomplished chefs of Japanese cuisine. He told us about what we can expect from Sake No Hana’s Sakura season and his desire to bring Japan’s focus on regional, natural and above all delicious ingredients to the UK.

London Calling: Can you explain the importance of Sakura season and why Sake no Hana has chosen to celebrate it?
 
Hideki Hiwatashi: Sakura is a highly anticipated sign of spring in Japan, a time to reunite with friends and family and to reflect on the fragility and beauty of life. Hanami, the main ongoing form of celebration, sees a group of friends, family or colleagues gathering together under the blossoming cherry trees with an enormous feast to spend time socialising and enjoying nature.
 
The Sakura-zensen (cherry blossom forecast) is broadcast with the daily weather between February and May in Japan, indicating when the blossom will bloom. The most beautiful blossoms can only be seen for a very short time and they often start to fall at the peak of their beauty. Because of this, they are seen by many Japanese as a reminder that life is beautiful but ephemeral and to make the most of our days.
 
We decided that we would like to bring a taste of this to London and share the joy of celebrating spring with wonderful seasonal foods.



LC: You grew up in Tomakomai which is known for its fresh seafood – what is the story behind you becoming a chef?
 
HH: Tomakomai is a harbour town and is known as the best place to get Hokki clams. It is also surrounded by mountains, where I often went as a child with my father foraging for mountain vegetables. I grew up eating the best of the sea and the mountains, simply prepared without sauce most of the time.  My interest and appreciation of good ingredients stems from this environment. It was on my travels around Australia and USA that I discovered not everyone has the chance to eat this kind of real delicious food, and my dream to be able to cook the best of Japanese food and share it with others became more concrete.

LC: You’ve worked across the world in both Australia and London, but obviously your work is influenced by home. What is it about Japanese cuisine that makes it so uniquely delicious?
 
HH: All areas of Japan are dominated by nature, from the rivers that flow out of the rugged mountains to the sea that surrounds it. All regions have their own specialty meat, fish and vegetables that are a bounty of the particular climate and geography of the region. These specialties are often delicious eaten just as they are. It is very simple food that nourishes the soul and the body. I think that Japanese people brought up on unadorned fresh, seasonal food have developed a keen sense of taste for subtle flavours, umami and a respect for the ingredients. It is this combination of seasonality, locality and a focus on natural flavours that makes Japanese food so delicious.



LC: Every effort has been made with the restaurant décor to champion Japanese design, including the bamboo and of course the cherry blossom installation by Rebecca Law. How does this affect the atmosphere of dining at Sake no Hana
 
HH: In Japan, we have a history of living with natural materials. Traditionally, the wooden houses were made with bamboo and paper screens. Not just the houses, but all of the temples and shrines are traditionally built with wood without using nails. The design of Sake no Hana imitates this style of carpentry. The wood design along with the handmade bamboo blinds gives Sake no Hana a very Japanese feel in a way that cannot usually be experienced in the UK and helps to create a special place to step out of the busyness of London and enjoy food with friends, colleagues or family.
 
LC: The experience of running a Japanese restaurant in London must be very different to the restaurants in Japan. What’s it like to share the cuisine of your culture with people from around the world?
 
HH: As a chef, I am very lucky to be in the position of being able to share the tastes of Japan with the international customers of London. The first wave of Japanese food in London was sushi and teppanyaki, closely followed by the growing popularity of the Ramen noodles and udon noodles. Japanese food is much more than noodles and sushi, there are many levels to it. My dream is to be able to share the best of Japanese food using the best of the regional ingredients.


 
LC: Your training to become a chef sounds like it was incredibly challenging and a real endurance test. What’s been the most challenging moment of your career?
 
HH: The training that I went through to be a Kaiseki chef was very hard both physically and mentally, but my biggest challenge was adapting to the kitchens in London. Learning to understand the customer’s tastes and the new styles of ingredients available whilst maintaining the traditions and values of Japanese food is a big journey that I am still on.
 
Sakura Season at Sake No Hana runs until 10 June at Sake No Hana 23 St James's St, St. James's, London SW1A 1HA. Visit their website.

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