Sake No Hana: Just because it looks good, doesn’t mean that it is good (July 2015)

If someone said ‘here is a fat dollop of cash, now go and design a restaurant’, what you may get is Sake No Hana. Of course, just because it looks good, doesn’t mean that it is good. This was our impression anyway, after a recent weekday lunchtime visit. You also can’t get away from the fact that however swanky the interior may be and however enjoyable the views over sedate St James’ are, the restaurant is still located in the ugly monstrosity that is The Economist building. On entering and having been greeted by the default smiling pretty front-of-house, diners are expected to mount an escalator to enter the main dining room. I guess this is to heighten the sense of anticipation. Unfortunately, as my host pointed out, the said escalator was out of service (as was the lift), perhaps creating something of an anti-climax, at least for me. After this futuristic commencement of events, one cannot help but be wowed by the dining room, a beautiful space of light, curves and bamboo. Even if not quite the ‘futuristic forest’ promised by the website, the room still impressed. It was a pity that the food and service did notably less so. We opted for the set lunch menu, arguably the best (relative) value item, at a mere £29/head. Beyond the excellent presentation of all dishes, there were certainly some flashes of culinary brilliance such as the white noodles accompanying the prawn tempura and also the spicy salmon sushi, but there were too dishes of a decidedly average nature (such as the Miso soup). Meanwhile portion sizes were stingy across the board. The promised pickled courgette that was allegedly supposed to accompany my main comprised but two slithers, just to cite one example. Moreover, when it came to service, it varied between being rushed – with plates cleared almost before we had put down our chopsticks – to enduring lengthy and tedious pauses with no explanation between dishes. We were also brought (and charged for) a second bottle of water despite not having requested it. The place seemed busy and my comrade informed me it gets even busier in the evenings so clearly Sake No Hana must be doing something right. Maybe people just come for the atmosphere; certainly there are many other places to get better (and cheaper) Japanese food in London.