While sake bars are by no means a novelty in this city, Covent Garden’s new(ish) bolthole Moto is a remarkable find. Taking a refreshingly relaxed attitude to Japan’s most popular spirit, they're looking to spotlight the indie stuff that until now has never made it to the UK - and, in some cases, even out of Japan. Offering a selection of bottles aimed at novice drinkers and seasoned sake lovers alike, we went down to see what this Maiden Lane hideaway is bringing to the mix.
Stock is displayed across the walls of the diminutive 25-seater space, but there’s absolutely no pressure to know what you’re looking at. For this reason, the best seats are at the bar; firstly, to get a proper look at the goods on offer, and secondly, to utilise the bar staff’s extensive knowledge of the collection.
As newbies to the stuff we’re happy to be offered a sake flight (from £15) that lets you taste three very different sips from across their range. We try a tokubetsu junmai grade bottle fronting the flavours of peach, porridge and something almost like yoghurt, followed by a drier, far lighter yamadanishiki junmai. Lastly, and my personal favourite of the flight, is a yamahai junmai that's at once exceptionally savoury but issues a few high notes of subtle sweetness.
The flight comes with a set of seasonal bar snacks. Their signature Chicken Fry (£8) is good. Like, very good, with a pile of crunchy panko-crusted nuggets giving way to soft, seasoned meat; add a squeeze of lemon and they’ll really sing. The smell alone has got tonight’s drinking buddy - a vegetarian since August 2014 - questioning whether he should be making an exception on this occasion.
The Nekomanma (£5) offers similar temptation, with sticky rice and soy-cured egg yolk covered in a drift of bonito flakes. A rogue chopstick does find its way into the bowl, attempting to avoid the deeply flavoured tuna shards without much luck. Thankfully the Nasu No Nibitashi (£5) saves him from too much transgression. Simmered aubergines bathing in a rich umami-laden broth more than hit the spot, and make the optimum dipping arrangement for the remainder of the chicken, which I am more than capable of finishing on my own.
Shining a spotlight on Japan’s craft superstars, Moto are literally bringing something entirely new to the UK sake scene. Doing away with any airs and graces about the spirit, the team have created a wholly welcoming space for curious drinkers to educate themselves, as well as giving serious fans plenty of room to explore.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out our list of London's best sake bars.