Our Sommelier of the Month for March 2020 is Natsuki Kikuya from Endo at Rotunda, which is a fabulous Michelin Starred Japanese Restaurant at the BBC Television Centre. Natsuki has very kindly answered a selection of questions which are below along with her response.
How did you get into the wine/sake industry?
Born in 1982 in the family that has been running a Sake brewery in Akita, and a Buddhist temple in Toyama prefecture, both on north-west side of Japan where is nourished with the best ingredients from the mountain and the ocean, and where winter can be severely cold.
My journey, to trace the path of her family roots, had started in 2009. Natsuki had worked as a “Sake sommelier” at Zuma & Roka restaurant in London, UK, and in 2013, she had launched “Museum of Sake”, intangible museum which provides education and promotion the craft of sake, connecting Japan to the UK and Europe through a range of special events and courses for the public and food industry. Now she works as Sake director at Endo at Rotunda.
Why do you enjoy using Riedel glassware within your restaurant?
Because Riedel is the best specialist company who knows how to bring out the most of drinks inside. Riedel’s product lineup is customised for each styles, categories and even single grape varieties, which gives customers not only the joy of flavours but also educational opportunity to understand how aroma and each element of flavours work.
What reaction do you get from customers when you serve their wines and sake in the different varietal specific glasses?
Customers always appreciate the visuals of the glass shapes and effect you get how they enhance the aroma and flavours of wine or sake. In Japan, traditionally we serve sake in “Ochoko” and “Tokkuri”, which are cups and carafes for sake. There are various shapes, sizes and materials of them, and guests are often asked to choose their favourite cups and carafes to enjoy their sake moment. I believe having different varietal glasses for different drink will give a similar experience for customers make their drinking moment personal, memorable and educational.
Have your guests been impressed with our new range of Performance stemware with the optic impact within the bowl?
ENDO restaurant has been designed by Kengo Kuma, who is worldly renown architecture in Japan designing the stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and has recently completed the new V&A Museum in Dundee. The space of ENDO restaurant has extraordinary length of the Hinoki wood counter and cloud-like feature made by Japanese Washi paper-like fabric, glowing soft and warm clouds floating in the skyline of West London. Ripple of Performance glass works perfect with our atmosphere of the space and customers are always very impressed.
What has been your greatest sake experience to date?
All my sake brewery visits have been treasurable moments but spending one month working at Matsumoto Shuzo in Fushimi region of Kyoto in the winter of 2017 was the most fruitful time of my learning experience.
Every morning I would wake up 5:30am to head to the brewery in the dark to start our morning works; steaming rice, working in the Koji incubating room, carrying steamed rice to tanks, washing and cleaning etc. It was just amazing feeling to immerse myself in the brewery where workers work hard in the coldest months with lots of physical and labour intensive work with professional spirits. It really changed my view on craftsmanship and how I receive each bottle from producers.
What has been your biggest sake faux pas?
I will make it “sake” faux pas this time!
“Sip sake, not to shoot sake”
I think more and more UK audience today understands sake, but still majority of people think sake is a high alcoholic spirit.
Sake is NOT a spirit, it is gently fermented / brewed from rice, and average abv is 15-17%, which is slightly higher than many wines but still much lighter than any spirits.
So, the best way to enjoy its delicacy and purity is to enjoy like wine by sipping and enjoy together with meals. Sake has much lower acidity than wine and has significantly more Umami, which works perfectly with delicate and savoury dishes such as mushrooms, selection of seafoods and dairy products such as cheese.
As it evolves in the bottles and in the glass, I would like you to enjoy sipping sake by different shape of glasses and how flavour transforms by passage of time.