Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Sushi & Sake Masterclass, Inamo, St James

I love Japanese food, and I love socialising with people who love their food. So obviously, I was delighted to have been invited by Kavey to be her 'plus one' for a Sushi and Sake Masterclass at Inamo St James. Kavey's excellent blog, Kavey Eats, can be found here:

Inamo St James is a fusion restaurant, serving a combination of Japanese, Chinese and Thai dishes, and drawing influences from all 3 cuisines in some of its fusion offerings. 

However, it prides itself on its sushi, which is why they were keen to hold a hands-on sushi making masterclass run by its specialist expert sushi chef, Chef Jon.

The concept of the restaurant is that the diner can tailor their experience precisely to their own requirements. If you book a large area, you can bring a music playlist to your own specification. Your table can have a background of your choice projected upon it. And rather than wait for someone to take your drink or food order, you can place your order from the comfort of your table via computerised controls. In fact, you can even watch your food being prepared via a webcam in the kitchen, check train times or order your taxi home from the comfort of your table!

Here are a few pictures illustrating the table top controls. One aspect I particularly liked is that you get to see a large full colour picture of any dish you are thinking of having beamed onto your plate so you can have a really good look at it before making your mind up.

But I wasn't here as a diner, I was here to learn a small element of the craft of the sushi chef. We were going to be taught how to make Nigiri sushi (the one with the rice on the bottom and the piece of fish on the top) and sushi rolls. We were ushered into the kitchen, which was a full-on professional kitchen, where all the action happens.

Chef Jon was very precise with his instructions, kind and patient. He was also full of excellent tips for successful sushi making.

As I have indicated above, I learnt a lot of useful tips for sushi making, and I will try my best to explain the procedure and what I learnt here.

Our sushi rice (known in Japan as sushimeshi) was ready prepared for us. The Japanese call this rice 'shari'. Chef Jon advised us to use Nishiki brand sushi rice, available from the Japan Centre. I have found this product in Oriental Supermarkets (such as See Woo) in the past, so this was very helpful, as I think many readers will be able to find it. As Chef Jon told us, yes, it may be grown in the USA rather than Japan, but it is a traditional type of Japanese Sushi rice, so the origin is not an issue.

If you are making your own Sushi rice, you will need to wash it thoroughly. You then need to allow the rice to cool. It is best to allow it to cool naturally. Please don't put it in the fridge. The best explanation of how to make the sushi rice I was able to find comes from Nami's blog:

One really important point to make is that Sushi rice is really very gluey. It sticks to your hands and makes working the rice very difficult. The only way of avoiding this is to ensure your hands are really quite damp. It is useful to keep a clean, wet towel in your workstation, so that if your hands start to dry, you can top up with moisture.

We started with making Nigiri. The ideal amount of rice for this type of sushi is around 10g cooked rice, an amount which is easy to handle in just one hand. We made three types of Nigiri, using tuna (known in Japanese as maguro), salmon (sake), and yellowtail (hamachi).

Here is a diagram to show how to shape the Nigiri. I apologise for my pretty dodgy drawing skills! The only specialist equipment you will need is YOUR THUMB!

Next was the making of the sushi rolls. We were given a sushi rolling mat each to use for this part of the class. It was wrapped completely in cling film. Apparently, this is required for all sushi restaurants for food hygiene reasons, and needs to be changed several times in a night as it gets warmed up and bacteria grow on it. We were advised to do the same at home, both for food safety reasons, but also because it makes the job of rolling much easier.

We were given the choice of what style of roll we wanted to make; either uramaki, where the Nori (sea weed) is inside the roll with rice on the outside or hosimaki, where the Nori is outside the roll.

The Nori was a full sheet cut in half to make it the perfect size for making 3 rolls at a time. I was advised to buy the best grade nori available, if necessary from a specialist shop like the Japan Centre in Central London. The higher grades are crispier and get less soggy when used. The nori should be used rough side up, so that the rice is placed on the rough side. It will adhere better and will leave you the smooth, shiny side on the outside for pretty presentation.

The ideal amount of rice we were advised to use for making a big sushi roll which you then cut into 3 to make 3 normal size rolls is 40g.

So, you place the Nori on the mat, and pat the rice down on top, not all of the way.


You then, at the edge of the rice, place your fish, any cucumber or avocado that you intend to use.

Then you start to form the roll by gently using the mat to curve and shape the rice, before finally rolling.

Then you have to cut the rolls. This needs to be done neatly and precisely or the Nori will break and tear and ruin your presentation. You also want a precise cut of the fish.

The top tip we were given by Chef Jon was to keep a pot of cold water handy. The very sharp knife you wish to use should be dipped in the water, then held up to allow the water to drip the length of the blade. Then you use the knife, repeating the water dripping for each cut. It worked a treat! The knife even cut the individual grains of rice to give lovely flat, precise surfaces to the rolls!

So, when we had plated up our sushi, we were ushered out of the kitchen to eat the results of our labours. I was unbelieveably pleased to discover that Chef Jon has decided that my Sushi was the best formed of all of our group and decided to award me a prize of a bottle of Rose Sparkling Sushi! I call it Beginner's Luck, but was happy to accept the praise. It really made my day!

My prize was this:

We then moved on to the Sake tasting session. We tasted an Akashi-tai honjozo sake (the normal grade of sake) both hot and cold. Sake, as you will know, is made of rice. 

But you may not know that the 'grade' of the sake is controlled by how carefully the drink is prepared; how much the rice is 'polished' to remove the husk and leave as much of the pure starch for fermentation, etc. It is one of the reasons if you drink high quality Sake, you are far less likely to suffer a sore head the next day!

The difference between the hot and cold Sake was tremendous. I have only ever had it hot. I love the warm comforting nature of Sake drunk whilst hot, and the way the alcoholic vapours creep into your nose before you take a sip, but cold, I was surprised how many more delicate flavours come through, like flowers and a gentle sweetness. The tasting has broadened my horizons considerably!

To finish we tasted Umeshu, a plum infused sweet sake. The plum flavour was not overpowering, but complemented the Sake in a sweet and pleasing way. The closest comparison I can make is to a cream sherry, but even that is not a particularly accurate comparison. Perhaps you will have to try it for yourself!

I would like to thank Kavey and Inamo for letting me come to the Masterclass as a guest


  1. Ooooh Umeshu! Always makes me think of Ginza, which is sort of a Soho meets Knightsbridge area of Tokyo. However, as my name suggests, I usually take the European beer and sake combination as its always fun on a night out. But you have reminded me of the elegance of Japan and for that many thanks. SB

  2. Hello Sake Bounce,

    You are a mysterious one. But I am glad you have returned! Many thanks to you for continuing to read my little blog, but even bigger thanks for commenting.

    Umeshu is wonderful stuff! I am sorry my description doesn't quite pass muster, but it is difficult to describe!

    I've not been lucky enough to visit Tokyo. I had a trip where I'd bought flights, paid for my train ticket and booked accommodation, but unfortunately the Tsunami hit. I had to cancel everything as the Home Office decided travel to Japan was not safe. I WILL GO - but don't know how soon that will be. Ginza may well have to be a stop off when in Tokyo.

    If you enjoy beer & sake, then go ahead. Life is all about enjoyment!

    Glad that you liked the post - and thanks for not pointing out my infantile drawing skills! :)


    1. Mysterious? I'm just a man who remembers the first time he learnt to bounce an ochoko from chopsticks suspended above a beer glass. Fusion should be fun!

    2. Dear Sake Bounce

      Quite right, fusion should be fun!

      However, balancing an ochoko (Sake cup) on chopsticks is no mean feat. I have the feeling that the more Sake you've had, the harder it gets!

      Thanks again for reading and for taking the time to comment!


  3. Love the little sushi diagram.

    1. Dear May,

      Thanks very much for your comment! I tried my best with that diagram, but I am no artist! If it makes it clearer how to shape the nigiri, then that's pretty good. But I don't expect my former art teacher to be impressed! ;)

      Thanks for reading my blog and for posting a comment1