I genuinely feel that Sydney is on the edge of something big, substantially meaningful, in the sake world. Old misunderstandings are being replaced with knowledge as more and more people begin to appreciate sake for the quality product that it is. With this in mind it was with a sense of trepidation that I made the decision, but seeing as I fly in less that twelve hours it doesn’t really matter how I feel about it anymore. We are in the stage where signatures are signed, handshakes are spoken of in the past tense, and after fifteen years of mostly highs and sometimes lows, me and Sydney… we’re parting ways.
<< Head Chef Koji working the magic, Niji Restaurant, Kingsford
I’ve taken a bit of time off recently to visit some venues that have previously been unavailable due to work schedule, and after completing this ‘research’ I honestly believe that there are some capable, and increasingly competent, sake aficionados in the city. It’s not just the obvious, either, the Sepias, Sokyos, Sakes and Tokos. Everywhere you turn another sushi or ramen joint has opened, and with each new opening sake becomes just that little bit more accessible. Five years ago the options were pretty poor, no one seemed to know a junmai from a Junko and ‘dai!’ sounded like a threat, but now, now it’s different. And it’s not just Japanese-style venues. Sake imports to Australia have increased in the hundreds of percent over the last few years, and with the relaxing of the licensing laws and the subsequent Sydney small bar explosion places like Wine Library, Kuki-tanuki, Hinky Dinks, and The Passage are starting to show the others how things are done. There are even two places in Erskinville that sell sake.
Izakaya Fujiyama's sake selection in Surry Hills >>
I’m really happy to see sommeliers getting on board as well. The som from Aria told me recently that when they ran a glory spot on the menu with Mioya Brewery’s Yuho 55 Junmai ginjo they quickly sold-out, and another (award winning) sommelier refuses to even touch wine with Japanese food after I put a menu together for him. He now believes that it’s inappropriate to drink the stuff when sake is an option, that the two beverages are trying to achieve different goals, that every single sake he’d had at dinner that night beat the wine he’d selected to match his dishes ‘hands down’. I tried not to look too smug when he told me this, then patted him on the back and assured him that he hadn’t wasted his life, that it wasn’t to late to learn his junmais from his Junkos, that ‘dai’ wasn’t (necessarily) a threat and the world of sake was just waiting there for him, arms open wide, tokkuri at the ready.
Again, to emphasise the point I’ll quote another customer and convert. “People like sake, Wayne,” he said. “They just don’t know it yet.”
So I’ll say it one more time. Big things are coming, Sydneysiders. You’re on the cusp. Look forward to it…
…And yet here I am, leaving. The Northern Hemisphere is beckoning, and I figure that even though the sake I’ve been dealing with at Sake Restaurant and Bar is absolutely AMAZING, the ‘pool of amazing’ I can sip from is just that little bit deeper in Japan.
It’s been a blast, though. Mostly highs, sometimes lows. Tears have been shed but its all a good idea in the end. You can rest assured I’ll be telling you all about my travels on this column, and to be honest, if it’s terrible out there I’ll be back pretending I never left.
Good-bye for now, Sydney.
Look after yourself!
According to Wayne Shennen, good bartending is all about balancing flavours. “The subtlety of each ingredient should shine through,” explains the passionate New Zealander, a trained sake sommelier and one of Sydney’s most respected bartenders at award-winning Saké Restaurant & Bar. “If you can taste what you’re drinking, you tend to treat alcohol with more respect.”a
Having earned his stripes behind bars in Sydney and the UK, Wayne is now gaining a following of fans who appreciate his original cocktail mixes and extensive knowledge of sake and shochu.
“At Saké Sydney I’m given free reign to play – our bar staff all have a great knowledge of classic cocktails and we use this as the basis for getting innovative. We also have access to the world’s finest sake and shochu varieties,” says Wayne. “My goal is to make Saké famous for its drinks!”
Saké Restaurant & Bar
12 Argyle Street, The Rocks, Sydney
T. 02 9259 5656
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Tasting Business at Saké Restaurant & Bar