For Sake's Sake

Sakae Sushi at Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, puts a contemporary spin on an old cultural favourite.

There were Margaritas, and Manhattans and Mimosas and Mojitos, some classic in form, others imaginative in content. The good ones left a pick-me-up effect, the bad ones some drunken-dialling and the worse kinds an aspirin the day after. Everyone has a cocktail story to tell, and it's not quite different from the others'. This makes it easy to like Nima Dorjee Sherpa, bar man at Sakae Sushi. He doesn't slice pretentious apples and oranges on the rim of a throat chokingly ice-stuffed glass, and most importantly, doesn't give it a sing-song Mexican name. It's even easier to like him if you carry an undying love for Japan in your kitty and a desire to stumble upon ancient traditions in some place least likely.

Oh sure, he doesn't use the traditional choko cups, but his creations aren't bereft of the raw flavour of unpasteurised brew or the rich aroma of an amber aged drink. He can balance the shifting starchy tones of a spirit fermented from grain and not fruit, a spirit the world knows to be sake. Sherpa leaves its immaculate transparency a virgin, and prefers to play on its 16 per cent alcohol strength. So, while cocktails are turning themselves into a science with molecular consistencies and bizarre garnishing (snails and oysters, believe you me!); it's blissful to see how he uses sake, and pure-fresh-sparkling sake, to come up with effortless and pleasant tasting drinks.

Here's what tops the charts at this bar:

Saketini: A slight bent to an orange peel and a partial release of its aromas start to swirl in a cool, clear whirlpool. The crisp fermentation of the Kiku-Masamune sake is offset by rationed drops of vodka and fewer drops of sugar syrup. Pairing: Vegetable tempura with wasabi mayo

Sushi Martini:  No, there's no sticky rice settling grossly on the bottom of the glass. But there's a very visible piece of a nori sheet, all shredded and rack-dried to hold mild flavours together. There's also the hard-to-miss visceral warmth of the hearth. Pairing: Agedashi Tofu

Gibson Martini: The gambolling flavours of cocktail onions play hard to chase, and keep you hooked on till you slurp out the last fine strains sliding down that martini glass.  By the third drink, the thaw has set in, and the increased ice cubes make it a smooth ride home. Pairing: Gyoza Dumplings

Shochu Bond Martini:  It looks like a classic bond martini, but the astringency and starchy evenness will not want you to stir-or-shake it, even once. The Ichiko shochu carries the innate freshness of the hand-drawn spring water it's made from, and the angostura bitters and dry vermouth giggle along. The olive, that's just aesthetics.  Pairing: Pepper Garlic Tiger Prawn