At Saké Restaurant & Bar, its curated menu of carefully married flavours and dishes almost reminiscent of art are best known at its many locations across Sydney and Melbourne. To pair these dishes, the Japanese establishment prides itself on an extensive choosing of wines, sake and most famously, the cocktails. Fusing Australia’s affinity for a tipple with the historic practice of sake production, the award-winning restaurant is renowned for its whimsical creations carefully created to pair with its dishes.
For the resident mixologist of Saké, Ali Toghani, the unique role often leads the cocktail specialist down a “rabbit hole” when inventing new flavour combinations. From lacing Japan’s in-season fruits with quality whiskies and vast styles of sake, the bar team behind Toghani have conceived a menu that can only be described as contemporary Japanese. To bring these specialty concoctions into the home space, GRAZIA meets the mixologist expert behind the bar for a lesson in the craftsmanship of a hero Saké cocktail.
GRAZIA: Talk to me about your role at Saké. What does a regular day look like for you?
Ali Toghani: “A normal day at Saké is non stop, anywhere from making sure the guys behind the bar are aware of changes to wine vintages to prepping up and getting batches ready for the service to simply being able to chat to customers over the bar top about sakes, Japanese whisky and Japanese beers we offer, everything! A regular day changes depending on the need of the venue which is really cool to see from both a restaurant and bar level, having just come in from other venues and seeing how they operate, it’s nice being asked for a different point of view of how the bar should work and we are always thinking up new concepts or ideas to get us into the new season and busy period.”
GRAZIA: Sake and Japanese liquors are not normally associated with cocktails. How have you incorporated this culture into your cocktails at Saké?
AT: “Having a strong group of guys who come from backgrounds outside of Japan behind the bar allows us to add to the concept of contemporary Japanese by allowing for infusions of different ideas. Obviously having a backbar full of Japanese whisky, sake, umeshu and shochu helps to create a seamless and welcoming blend of flavours that aren’t going to deter people from ordering off the menu.”
Signature Martini: “Dry and clean martini meets with elements of umami in this Japanese iteration of the classic as your preferred spirit of gin or vodka goes on a date with Japan.”
40mL Four Pillars Rockpool Gin or Ketel 1 vodka
25 mL Mansakuno Hana Junmai Gingo
15mL Cinzano Dry
Best paired with: Kingfish Cerviche/Tostadas
GRAZIA: Where do you draw inspiration from?
AT: “I find myself going down rabbit-holes when it comes to looking up ideas from simply finding out what fruits are in season in Japan that would hold true over here, helps keep me interested and always seeking for more information. This includes how to go about creating oleo sacrums to shrubs to fat washings which feeds my inspiration from what other bartenders around Sydney, the world and in books have and are doing.
GRAZIA: Does the cocktail menu change dependent on the season?
AT: “We have already started to ponder on some new ideas coming into the warmer season that we can luckily learn off from their summer just passed.”
Hattori Hanzo: “Bitter, spicy, sour and refreshing, this gin and sake love child will help you better understand the complex nature of what Japanese culture can do to help expand the world of cocktails.”
25mL Tanqueray gin
25mL yuzu gin
10mL elderflower cordial
10mL lemon juice
20mL cucumber and jalapeño juice
Best paired with: Cape Grim Short Rib Bo Ssam
GRAZIA: Are you constantly experimenting?
AT: “One of the joys of having such a multicultural team is their takes and thoughts on cocktails and beverage. At previous venues I’d have a fridge dedicated to syrups, reductions, purees, etc… just incase an idea came into my head that required a pineapple/vinegar syrup that would really help pull everything together, its one of the most exciting parts of the job in my mind to have something come together from nothing.”
GRAZIA: What tips would you give someone wanting to create these at home?
AT: “If you can’t get your hands on something, the best part of making cocktails is everyone’s pallets are different, replacing syrups with jams can enhance something. Not having the correct utensils won’t take away anything from the drink itself if you’re enjoying it and it’s how I made my previous lists by making mistakes of drinks that taste off, it’s the best way to learn.”
Pink Blossom: “The tart and sour flavours of strawberry and passionfruit are offset by the body and sweetness of Umeshu and lime as this crowd favourite eases people into their night.”
30mL Choya Mutenka Umeshu
30mL passionfruit puree
30mL cranberry Juice
30mL strawberry purée
15mL lime juice
Best paired with: Grilled Shiokoji Chicken