31 Jul Kumo Izakaya & Sake Bar, Brunswick East – Dassai Sake Tasting Dinner
Kumo Izakaya & Sake Bar was just named best Japanese Restaurant in the Victorian metro region by Savour Australia and I was recently invited to a sake tasting dinner held at Kumo, hosted by owner, Andre Bishop. Andre also runs other establishments including Izakaya Chuji and Nihonshu sake bar, and was the perfect person to teach us all about sake, having been titled a Sake Samurai by the Japanese Sake & Shochu Association in 2013 to award his knowledge and dedication to the world of sake. The sake on show today was made by Dassai, Japan’s most prestigious sake brewer. Given Kumo’s reputation and my love for Japanese food, I was very much looking forward to the event.
I loved the ambiance of the restaurant, which had a relaxed, simple and modern Japanese aesthetic. There are a variety of seating options available including communal tables, booths, bar seats, as well as private tatami dining room, which is where the dinner took place.
We started the night with edamame seasoned with Murray River pink salt, and a variety of vegetable chips flavoured with aonori salt. These were addictive and perfect for snacking.
As we drank and dined, Andre imparted his impressive wealth of sake wisdom to us. We covered all manner of things, from different types and grades of sake, to the manufacturing process. The top four grades of sake are known as ginjo sake. Lower grades of sake contain high levels of pure, distilled alcohol. Only very small amounts of alcohol are added to premium sake to enhance fragrance and flavour, though junmai sake does not contain any distilled alcohol. Unlike grapes, rice doesn’t contain sugars that can be converted to alcohol. Instead, a koji mold needed to process the rice starch during fermentation. All the alcohol in junmai sake is purely derived from the brewing process and it tends to be more full-bodied, punchy and rich.
The quality of sake is also affected by the variety of rice used. As with grapes and wine, different varieties of rice lend different flavour profiles to the resultant sake. The best rice? It’s Yamada Nishiki.
Our first sake tasting was of the Dassai 23. The number appended to the name denotes the level of rice milling that took place before the sake was made. Rice used for Dassai 23 has been milled until the grains are only 23% of their original size, resulting in a cleaner, more elegant sake. My favourite sake of the night, I really enjoyed its smooth, fruitiness and would have helped myself to more, had it not been for my affliction with Asian flush syndrome.
We were then treated to a platter of fresh assortment of lovely sashimi featuring oysters, kingfish, scallops, tuna amd salmon…
… and tender wagyu tataki with ponzu.
Though perhaps a little fiddly to eat, the softshell crab roll with masago and white aojiso dressing was no less delicious.
Up next, the Dassai 39 had a lighter, sweeter and more refreshing taste than the 23. It matched very well with certain types of izakaya dishes like katsu and skewers because of the way it cut through some of the greasiness.
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the crushed prawn katsu with creamy, spicy mayonnaise. Crunchy, juicy, flavoursome, and perfectly sized, these were just so moreish.
The pork belly buta kushi skewers were also quite enjoyable, especially with the umami imparted by the miso onion salsa.
Our final sake, the naturally carbonated and slightly fruity Dassai Sparkling 50 was enjoyed with the last round of food.
Looking rather handsome were the (multiple) scallops served on the shell. The bonito flakes were a dream with the delicate and perfectly cooked scallops.
Sake hasn’t quite taken off yet in Australia due to our preference for wine, but as we continue to embrace other cuisines, hopefully our knowledge of other drinks will also grow. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Kumo, from the lovely food to the friendly service. Andre hosts these sake dinners every now and then, so whether you’re a sake aficionado or just starting out, keep an eye out for them!
Disclaimer: I was invited to dine at Kumo Izakaya & Sake Bar as a guest, however, opinions expressed here are purely my own and not influenced by them in any way.
Kumo Izakaya & Sake Bar
152 Lygon Street
Brunswick East, VIC, 3057
(03) 9388 1505