The breathtaking displays of cherry-blossom may have faded in Tokyo’s Ueno Park, where residents flock each spring to enjoy the delicate blooms and delicious scent of sakura season, but if you’re in London this week, you can still make it for cocktails beneath blossom-laden boughs at one of London’s best sushi spots, Sake No Hana, until 19 May. We sauntered over to the Hakkasan Group’s city-central Japanese fine-diner for a taste of hanami-style sushi and sake (and to plot a trip to Japan to catch the real thing next year – check out our sakura-spotting guide below).
Ingenious florist Veevers Carter has strewn the Kengo Kuma-designed bar and restaurant with plumes of pink blossom as puffy pom-poms, to create a fittingly floral setting for the specially themed menu focusing on all things cherry. Sakuratini cocktails put a Japanese spin on the classic Cosmopolitan, with maraschino cherry adding a darker note to the Cointreau and cranberry base; and creamy sparkling sake-topped Sakura Bellinis, a blend of Heering and Luxardo liqueurs, lime and Tanqueray.
We made disgustingly short work of the beautifully dressed double-decker bento boxes, scooping up snow crab and spicy tuna rolls and plunging plump chu-toro tuna and salmon sashimi into our eager mouths faster than you can say ‘Where’s the wasabi?’.
But – please allow me an out-of-character OM-actual-G – the (ahem) cherry on the cake for us was the divine dessert, a cherry-chocolate confection with cherry-leaf tea ice-cream, nashi pear, almond and ginger, served with a pot of the delicately scented, soul-calming and palate-refreshing tea. And a couple of macarons, for good measure. Get there before the blossom goes, and find inspiration for your next big trip…
THE SMITH TRIP: WHERE TO SEE SAKURA IN JAPAN
Ueno Park in Tokyo’s Taito district see branches bursting with buds in early April; it’s popular and buzzing with energy, as families gather for traditional hanami picnic parties, bringing their own or buying from street vendors en route. The season lasts longer in quiet, central Shinjuku Gyoen national garden, where more than a thousand trees of some dozen varieties provide a rolling display that bookends the Ueno show; pack a picnic and debate the differences between Shinjuku, New York’s Central and London’s Hyde Park.
Where to stay
Set up base camp in the heart of westerly Shinjuku at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Not only does it have one of the world’s best bars (yes, right, that one from Lost in Translation), it has staggering views and it’s a hop and a cheery skip from Shinjuku Gyoen gardens.
In the city’s hip, historic Asakusa district, The Gate Hotel Kanimarimon gets you close to the action (and the blossom at nearby Ueno Park) – it’s within walking distance of both the Senso-ji temple and Skytree Tower. If you don’t mind roaming a little further for your flowers, hit budget boutique hotel Claska for hip hospitality and quirky cool.
Arts, crafts and culture-packed Kanazawa is home to Kenrokuen (one of Japan’s three best gardens), well-preserved geisha and samurai districts, and the remains of Kanazawa Castle. In spring, the whole city seems to bloom, with flowers framing iconic sights such as the Ishikawamon gate of Kanazawa Castle, the banks of the river Asanogawa and Mount Utatsu.
The climate’s colder here, so the blossom season starts in early April and lasts for about two weeks, when the Kenrokuen Gardens are open free to the public and prettily illuminated by night.
Where to stay
The 1,300-year-old spa town of Yamashiro, about 40 minutes’ drive from Kanazawa City, is a fantastic spot for a road-trip sojourn, giving you access to some of Japan’s best bits in a smaller-scale urban set-up. Smith-selected stay Beniya Mukayu takes traditional culture and adds 21st-century trappings. This revamped ryoken in Yamashiro Gardens serves superb seafood, kaiseki-style, and every room has its own onsen (spa bath).
Sakura at Sake No Hana is on until 19 May – booking recommended. Sake No Hana, 23 St James’s Street, London SW1A 1HA (+44 20 7925 8988).