Hong Kong consumers have a soft spot for all things Japanese, and this is definitely reflected in the alcohol industry. The 852 is the number-one Japanese sake importer in terms of value. However, the many styles and brands of sake often present a challenge to the average consumer. Recognising this, the Hong Kong Washu Awards, a Japanese sake and wine competition, was launched in 2020 in order to help consumers to select the sake styles they prefer.

Sake is brewed in almost all the 47 prefectures of Japan. Tochigi, a prefecture in the Kanto region that perhaps is not as well known as its neighbours, is pleased to partner with the Hong Kong Washu Awards and Gonpachi Japanese restaurant to introduce more of its sake to Hong Kong.

Tochigi is less than one hour from Tokyo by Shinkansen (bullet train). It’s surrounded by mountains, from which rivers flow. These rivers are sources of clean spring water for sake brewing. Water makes up over 80% of sake and contributes to its style. The water in Tochigi is soft with a minimum of minerals, resulting in sake with floral and fruity characteristics. Tochigi has also developed its own sake rice – Yumesasara – which can achieve a high polish ratio in order to produce Ginjo and Daiginjo sake.

From now until the end of June, Gonpachi is showcasing sake from 13 breweries in Tochigi. The different styles of sake range from traditional to modern and from Nama-sake to Daiginjo, complementing the authentic yet avant-garde cuisine served at the eatery.

To celebrate Tochigi sake, an eight-course Sakura Matsuri Set Menu (HK$1,680 for 2 without sake) has been specially created. We sampled the menu with different Tochigi sake and were pleasantly surprised. My favourite course is the tuna sashimi paired with Kaika Junmai Ginjo (開華 純米吟醸 風の一輪). This sake is refreshing and light. I enjoyed it very much on its own, but I thought the tuna-belly sashimi might overpower it. In contrast, the sake opens up and becomes more intense, complementing the tuna’s flavour.

This Sakura Matsuri Set Menu is only available until the end of April at the Gonpachi outlet located at Lee Garden Two in Causeway Bay.

The Daina Shiboritate Tokubetsu Junmai Nama Genshu (大那 特別純米 初しぼり生酒) was another surprise with the tempura course. This delicate sake enhances the asparagus’ flavour while creating a nice contrasting texture with the oyster.

For wine lovers, the Senkin Classic (Classic 仙禽 無垢) is a must-try sake. With food matching in mind, this sake is influenced by wine and has a higher acidity than most sake that pair well with oily dishes. This sake is pure and elegant, enhancing the braised abalone with sakura.

Sake does not fight with food because, unlike wine, it has low acidity and bitterness. It’s versatile and often acts in the background to support the food with which it’s served. But this pairing experience at Gonpachi brings sake to the forefront and proves that sake-food pairings can be as interesting and surprising as wine-food pairings.

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A marketer turned winemaker, I make, promote, judge, write about and drink wine.

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