We did something different for Chocolate Week this year. We didn’t just stuff our faces with the sweet stuff, we went upmarket and paired it with Japanese whisky.
Well, if I say ‘we did’, that’s a lie, because the lovely people from Hakkasan invited us to their Sake No Hana restaurant in St. James’s where we were among the first people to taste their exclusive Whisky & Chocolate Flight.
We love Sake No Hana as it has introduced us to Wasabi Prawns, which must be one of the best dishes ever. But that’s, yet again, another story.
Senior Bar Manager of Hakkasan, Eder Neto, and Daniel Pearse, the Head Pastry Chef of the group have worked tirelessly for over a year to perfect the pairings and tried several combinations until they arrived at the three whiskies and three chocolates standing in front of us. Both were on hand all evening and happy to chat with us and tell us about their work and inspiration.
Eder explained how he chose the whiskies to tell the story of one of the original masters of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru, who was a trailblazer in Japanese whisky production. He had moved to Scotland in 1918 to learn the craft of making whiskies and, upon his return to Japan, worked for drinks company Suntory before founding the brand Nikka with his first own distillery in 1934. As the location for his distillery he picked Yoichi, which has a similar climate and surroundings to Scotland, so that he could produce whisky as close in taste as possible to his beloved Scotch whisky.
And Dan, Craft Guild of Chefs 2015 winner in the Pastry Chef category, told us about his quest to find the best chocolates from around the world which would complement the whiskies. This obviously involved a lot of chocolate eating, tasting and testing – what a job!
After some seriously good sushi to line our stomachs it was time to put their work to the test.
Lazlo, the Bar Manager at Sake No Hana, guided us through the tasting.
First one up was Nikka from the Barrel, a blended whisky, which was paired with 65% Alto el Sol chocolate from Peru with a yellow fruit note, caused by the fermentation of the cocoa beans with banana leaves.
The second whisky was the Hibiki 17 served with a spiced kumquat and nutmeg ganache. The 72% Venezuelan chocolate was a perfect match for the spicy whisky.
Hibiki means ‘harmony’ and this was a wonderful whisky, made even more special by the 24-sided bottle representing the 24 seasons of Japan.
And finally we had the Nikka Yoichi, which tasted most like a traditional Scottish whisky of the three we tasted. This was paired with a smooth and creamy smoked salt ganache, made with milk chocolate from Papua New Guinea.
These are no ordinary whiskies and chocolates and even the wooden boards for the flight were specially designed to make the experience as exclusive as possible. We loved all the whiskies and the chocolates and were very happy when we were given samples to take home to replicate the experience.
The Whisky and Chocolate Flight is available at Sake No Hana at £29.
Sake No Hana serves over 30 different Japanese whiskies, but for a limited time only they will also offer four whiskies that are not available anywhere else in the UK. These whiskies include Ichiro’s Hanyu The Joker, Karuizawa 1983 Geisha, Kairuzawa 1989 and Hany (Silent) Ichiro’s Final Vintage. Due to their rarity there will only be one bottle of each whisky available and once it’s gone, it’s gone.