A few months ago someone said to me “To keep silent and act wise is still not as good as drinking sake, getting drunk, and weeping.” Sp when i heard that Covent Garden had recently welcomed what can only be described as a unique Japanese-inspired drinking spot, called Moto I had to see what all the fuss was about. Focusing strongly around sake and paired with pimped up bar snacks. And I don’t mean bar nuts, try their Nekomanma, warm riced with cured yolk and bonito flakes or their version of Chicken karaage, if you’ve never tried Sake, fear not. The staff at Moto are not only friendly but extremely knowledgeable (and patient too) and will recommend great Sakes for you or try their Sake Flights. Being a gin martini fan I had to try the Ocean Martini an interesting blend of vermouth, miso and bonito gin. As I enjoyed my martini I managed to sit down with the owners of Moto, Brandon and Erika who told me everything I never knew about Sake and why Sake means so much to them.
Erika what is Sake?
Sake is DELICIOUS! Besides for that obvious fact, it is Japan’s national drink. Generally, the alcoholic strength is between 15% and 18% and is only made from natural ingredients without the use of any preservatives, tannins or sulphites. It is a historical artefact, as it is a rice brew that has existed in Japan for over 2,000 years. Furthermore, it offers a wide spectrum of aromas and flavours depending on varying production methods and serving styles.
Also, here’s an insider’s tip for you – next time you want to order some sake (hopefully when visiting us at Moto!), ask for a “nihonshu” if you want to feel like a native, as the word “sake” in Japanese does not actually refer to sake as the western world knows it, but to all alcoholic drinks in general.
What does Sake mean to you?
Sake is a work of art, an expression of the brewer’s passion and craftsmanship. It is a preservation of Japanese history and culture. It demonstrates terroir, as it is made in almost every Japanese prefecture to fit each locality’s climate and food culture. Finally, it is a vehicle that brings people together in merriment, as sake is a convivial drink meant to be enjoyed with friends and family.
What is your earliest memory of Sake?
Erika: Visiting my Japanese grandfather and uncle for New Year’s celebrations (a very special spiritual holiday in Japan) and seeing them sipping on some sake as we all gathered around the dinner table for our annual feast. Back in the day, I thought sake was a stuffy and outdated drink meant to be enjoyed by old people alone… who would have thought it would become my passion, and in my 20’s at that?!
Brandon: Sake smells very similar to Taiwanese cooking wine since both of them are made from rice but Taiwanese one has a higher abv. When I was a kid, I used to stay away from cuisines adding cooking wine because of the smell. I, therefore, did not try any sake although Taiwan is one of the biggest sake consumption countries. My earliest profound memory happened in my 20’s when my friend brought me a water-like, but complex sake from Hakurakusei, in memory of assistance from all around the world during the 311 earthquakes. I was amazed by the taste and the story behind it, and this triggered me to dive deeper into the sake world.
What cliches would you like to banish that exists about what sake is?
- Sake is not a “rice wine”: This is a misnomer since it is made in a way which is closer to the brewing of beer than fermenting of wine.
- Sake is not a spirit: Sake is not distilled but fermented
- Sake does not need to be served hot: Sake can be appreciated at a wide variety of temperatures ranging from 5°-60°C!
- Sake does not need to be paired with Japanese food alone: Quite the contrary, sake goes beautifully with any cuisine in the world! As it is often said in Japan, “sake does not fight with food.” See for yourself by having some sake next time you are cooking up a French dish, as all its umami-rich cheese will go beautifully with umami-rich sake. Or perhaps Italian, as more purer styles of sake will not clash with a highly acidic meal with copious amounts of tomato sauce.
What made you decide to focus on sake in London?
Given how Japanese cuisine and culture is extremely popular here, even “trendy” if you will, sake is not a foreign concept in London, which made for a great receptive environment in promulgating our mission of demolishing barriers of entry into the exciting world of sake. With that being said, we noticed a severe lack in variety when it came to the current portfolio of Japanese sake represented in the British market, especially sake produced by small, artisanal Japanese breweries, which are the hero producers that deserve the most recognition. Also, we could not find many bars where you can go to order a glass of sake in and of itself. Instead, most sake purchased here is as an afterthought when dining at a Japanese restaurant. And even in such a scenario, servers are rarely, if at all, equipped with adequate information to help guide customers as to how to best enjoy the beverage. With all these qualms in mind, Moto was born as a place where sake newbies and aficionados alike can sip on a glass (or two!) of sake imported directly from Japanese craft breweries and served by knowledgeable staff that can provide the appropriate education needed for guests to better appreciate this time-honoured industry.
How did you come up with the name Moto and what does it mean?
The word ‘Moto’ is derived from the Japanese language which has dual meanings. First and foremost when thinking about sake, moto is the name of the fermentation starter, one of the most crucial stages in the sake brewing process. Without the moto, there would be no sake, Japan’s most traditional alcoholic beverage and therefore our bar’s drink of choice most widely represented on our menu. Another meaning for ‘Moto’ can be translated as ‘origin.’ We thought the name fitting as we import our brews directly from the source, thereby showcasing the seasonality and terroir of our drinks in real-time as well as the faces and stories behind every bottle.
What makes Moto different from other bars in London that have an extensive sake list?
First of all, Moto’s sake list is entirely different from any other bar in London as not one of our products have reached the U.K. market as of yet (including many that have never been exported outside of Japan for that matter). Additionally, not many London bars with sake on their menu also function as retail spaces but at Moto, if you have a glass of something which you love too much to leave behind, you can purchase the bottle for takeaway. Finally, Moto staff are subject matter experts that can guide any guest through the wide variety of different aromas and flavours that the sake world has to offer, with tips on food pairings, service temperatures and more!
If you could only drink one sake for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Erika: A rich, umami-bomb of sake that is also fruit-forward, bursting with flavours of juicy peaches and pears. Such moreish and savoury sake can be enjoyed at room temperature or warm, to have on its own or with strongly flavoured foods like hot pot or a truffle and triple cheese pizza!
Brandon: I would definitely pick that sake from Hakurakusei.
And what dish from your menu would you pair this sake with?
Erika: Miso salmon with a side of Nekomanma (rice topped with soy-cured yolk and bonito flakes).
Brandon: Chicken Fry could be a nice partner. The water-like feature of the sake can balance the oily taste so I can eat more! Who doesn’t like fried chicken?
To find out more about Moto visit