Sake pairing has a special place in Japanese history. Often referred to as the “drink of the Gods” in antiquity, the history of this simple rice wine reportedly dates to the Nara period (710-794 AD) in Japan. While the actual origins of this “rice wine” are mysterious, for centuries it has been used for social gatherings, religious ceremonies and song and dance events in Japan. The growth of the international financial market in the 20th century prompted for mass production of this favorite Japanese alcohol and it soon an international favorite at Japanese restaurants and bars all over the world. Boasting one of the largest special imports of sake in the UAE, Okku is clearly one of the best Japanese dining spots in town in which to experience this revered drink. I headed there one evening to try the delicate art of pairing several courses with a particular sake brew.
As soon as we arrived my guest and I were led to a cozy table at the back of the dimly-lit restaurant. There we eagerly sat in anticipation of a dining escapade that we equated to the Dionysian experience of fine wine. Having already eaten at the restaurant on a number of occasions, I knew more or less what to expect from Okku’s top-notch creative Japanese cuisine. My guest and I were first treated to Okku’s signature sake martini and then a host of appetizers including Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice, made with jalapeno and spring onion on a sweet-soy rice cake; HuShiHu Salad offering a mix of Yuan crispy duck, baby gem, mâche, romaine lettuces, red radish, mixed cabbage, leek, daikon and fresh pomegranate with plum-amazu dressing. There were also skewers made with deliciously rich Waygu Beef & Foie Gras – so warm and creamy that they seemed to easily melt in our mouths. All of this was paired with the Full Moon Pure Junmai. A slightly lighter sake, it is a choice sake of the Japanese Imperial Household. It had a deep and delicious flavor.
For the Sushi and Makis section of our meal we given Suzuki Kizami Yuzu of seabass, shiso leaf and fresh yuzu; Garden Maki comprising carrot, avocado, cucumber, chive, beetroot, citrus-sesame goma; Ama Kinuta Maki made with salmon, tuna, seabass, yellowtail, shrimp and asparagus wrapped in white radish and a cucumber and flavored with yuzu-soy. The ‘O’ Style Ebi Tempura was an immediate favorite. It comprised a delicious arrangement of prawn tempura, cucumber, masago, avocado, spicy sweet-soy with tempura flakes. We were also served three types of sashimi and three types of Nigiri. All of this was paired with the Tamanohikari Bizen Omachi Junmai Daiginjo sake. Its sweet and succulent taste made it an immediate hit. Our server explained how it was made with Bizen Omachi rice, an ancient rice strain not commonly used for sake, but which lends the Junamai Daiginjo with a well-balanced taste and a distinctive body that has a crisp and refreshing finish.
The meal didn’t stop there. Out came our main course of Yuzu-Saikyo Miso Black Cod of grilled yuzu-saikyo miso marinated Atlantic black cod and Truffle Chahan comprising truffle fried rice, garlic, zen mai, spring onion and black sesame seeds. While the black cod wasn’t as creamy in texture as I was expecting, it was incredibly flavorful and an immediate sensation. This was paired with the Kiku Masamune Kimoto Honjozo, a sake created through slow, but painstaking method of the original Kimoto method. Its labor intensive techniques give it strong and earthy tones.
And lastly, we came to our dessert. To round off our meal on sweet note we were served the Apple Harumaki, a lovely apple strudel type of dessert that ended our feast with just the right amount of sugar. This was coupled with the Petite Moon Kirei Peach Sake. Produced by steeping ripened peaches in sake and lemon juice, this was sweet and slightly sour liqueur that featured a deliciously smooth texture.
We were thoroughly impressed by number of courses in our dinner, but more so by how we managed to eat them all. Small in size and for the most part light in ingredients, the sake pairing also assisted to effectively wrap up one course and move to the other – almost as if we were starting to eat all over again!
While our service could have been a bit swifter, which we realized was due to the fact that it was a very busy Saturday night, Okku is always a pleasure not just for its culinary creations, but for its vibrant ambiance.
Okku is located in H Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road. Tel: +971 45018777.