A symbol of the transient nature of life, the cherry blossom (sakura) season dates back to the eight century. Hanami (literally, “looking at flowers”) parties and picnics take place each year as the cherry blossom front sweeps the length of the country, typically beginning as early as February in Okinawa, concluding in Hokkaido as summer arrives. Throughout this period, countless festivals and celebrations take place throughout the country beneath the sakura trees, where families and friends gather to appreciate the short-lived blooms.
In celebration of the sakura festivities, retailers across Japan begin to fill their shelves with sakura-infused products, while a number of London restaurants and bars have also participated this year. One of London’s best Japanese restaurants, Zuma London has commissioned an impressive installation by Ivvo Zerous, Creative Director of Moyses Stevens, featuring real life tree trunks and branches covered in pale pink flowers evoking those which bloom each year across Japan, lining the walls and ceiling of the bar area.
Partnering with Grey Goose and Bombay Sapphire, Zuma’s Bar Manager has also created a selection of cocktails specifically designed to accompany the installation, each available alongside the bar’s classic list, also offering over 40 different varieties of sake. Discussing the six new cocktails, Pawel said: “Cherry Blossom is a very iconic season in Japan and we wanted to bring some of that celebration of spring to Zuma. We are delighted to partner with Grey Goose and Bombay Sapphire to create both the unique installation and bespoke Cherry Blossom menu – and look forward to welcoming guests to sit beneath the branches and enjoy a cocktail.”
On a recent Monday evening visit, the venue was surprisingly busy, having become renowned as one of London’s best Japanese restaurants soon after opening in 2002, with 14 branches now operating across the world (at the time of writing). Under the “waterfall” of cherry blossom, we began with a ‘Frozen hana’ (£14.50), comprising Star of Bombay gin mixed with plum sake, tonic reduction and dry vermouth and martini bitters, intentionally harbouring aspects akin to a fresh take on a Negroni. The ‘Hokkaido cooler’ (£14), on the other hand, is a longer refreshing drink. Here, Bombay Sapphire English Estate gin is teamed with St. Germain, grapefruit and topped with soda water.
Based with Grey Goose vodka, Zuma’s ‘Hanami Martini’ (£12.50) strays from the original recipe, less bracingly alcoholic. The unorthodox addition of sakura-infused honey works remarkably alongside the Grey Goose’s floral notes, however, also accompanied by sakura vermouth and rose gomme. Also featuring Grey Goose, ‘Fukoka blossom’ (£12.50) has an intriguing flavour profile, with cherry and pineapple gomme joining kaffir lime leaf to present tropical fruit savours, heavily perfumed with vetiver gris.
Unsurprisingly, Zuma’s bar snacks deliver a taste of the kitchen’s excellence. Cubes of firm tofu – cloaked with tempura batter, deep-fried and served with avocado – are a must order, as is the tempura soft shell crab.
Header photograph: Richard Southall
Zuma London can be found at 5 Raphael Street, London, SW7 1DL.