Central London

Published on April 4th, 2016 | by Clarissa Waldron

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Sakura at Roka Charlotte Street

Most Londoners will have heard of Roka, the contemporary, high-end Japanese restaurant chain popular with the likes of the Beckhams, the Jolie-Pitts and Jennifer Lopez. However, the Charlotte Street branch’s basement Shochu lounge may come as a surprise. In fact, many times I’ve walked past this venue and never noticed the second door which leads you underneath the world famous restaurant!

I recently got my first taste of what lies beneath as we were invited in to the launch of the Shochu lounge’s Sakura pop-up, which runs until April 30th.

The lounge is celebrating both Sakura (cherry blossom season in Japan) and Hanami (an age old Japanese custom of enjoying the bloom) with limited edition bespoke seasonal cocktails which you can enjoy under the specially crafted ceiling arrangement of cherry blossom flowers and branches. The cherry blossom garden and menu comes courtesy of a collaboration between the restaurant, Suntory Whisky (the oldest whisky brand in Japan) and floral designers Veevers Carter.

From the end of March until early May, cherry blossoms bloom all over Japan, and the seasonal spectacle is celebrated by picnicking in parks which boast these beautiful flowers. Celebrating Sakura is ingrained in Japanese culture as it’s a tradition that originated thousands of years ago when an Emperor would host parties underneath the cherry blossom trees.

In this subterranean lounge, the beautiful flower installation is assisted by pretty pink lights which cast a warming glow across the space and instill the essence of Yozakura, or “Night Sakura” – the practice of viewing the cherry blossom during the evening, when parks are decorated with hanging lanterns that illuminate the blossom.

Suntory Blossom and Match a Rack

Throughout the month, the three £10.90 celebratory cocktails available at Shochu are Match a Rack (with umami spirit and mango cordial), Suntory Blossom (my personal favourite with ume sake, blood orange and Sakura tincture) and Happo Harmony (featuring rhubarb and ginger syrup).

The blend of whisky used in the cocktails is the Hibiki Japanese Harmony – a rather apt word considering the calming tranquil nature of the surrounding flower set.  This whisky is made with malt and grain whiskies and the blend itself is very smooth with wafts of honey and orange. Retailing at roughly £50 a bottle, you know it’s a good’un so why not give it a go on the rocks which is also an option!

And as you perch on the roomy couches and poufs, admiring your surroundings, you’ll notice the pink lights down here also highlight a very cool standout piece of artwork by the Gorillaz’s Jamie Hewlett, depicting futuristic Japanese characters having a bite to eat. If you decide to follow suit and head upstairs to the main restaurant you might just catch yourself sitting next to an A-lister.

Suntory Blossom_Benjamin Eagle_HighRes-22

If there’s another branch of Roka closer to home for you then fear not, a Sakura-inspired cocktail will also be on the menus until 30 April in the other locations: Aldwych, Canary Wharf and Mayfair.

Shochu @ Roka, 37 Charlotte St, W1T 1RR

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