The clocks have gone forward, the mercury is rising and spring is in full bloom in London, bringing with it a welcome softness to the city’s hard edges. Late March marks the start of sakura season in Japan (and the UK), where cherry blossoms burst into bloom across the country, turning its parks and gardens into heavenly explosions of pale pink petals. (If you’re keen to seek out some of London’s finest cherry trees, then head to the hotspots of Kew Gardens, Regent’s Park and the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park, where you’ll find avenues lined with them.)
In Japan, they have a word for making the most of the fleeting cherry blossom season: hanami, meaning ‘flower viewing’. And now, many of the UK capital’s top Japanese and Asian restaurants will be marking sakura season with bespoke menus and limited-edition cocktails that pay homage to this hopeful time, when nature springs back to life.
‘Hanami represents the fragility and beauty of life. It’s a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful, but that it is also tragically short, making sakura a metaphor for wabi-sabi life’, says photographer Rohan Shrestha, who has captured the essence of Kyoto during cherry blossom season for KOYN restaurant in Mayfair with a series of snaps that are currently on display in the venue’s front windows.
Japanese restaurants in general, and omakase venues in particular, are having a bit of a moment in London. Taku in Mayfair has just scooped a Michelin Star four months after opening, newcomer Mayha in Marylebone is making waves and The Aubrey in Knightsbridge is flipping the script with a cocktail-focused twist on the omakase experience. Bar director Pietro Rizzo shines a light on cherry blossom in two of his creations for the bar: the Peacock Room and Roshi.
To celebrate sakura season in all its ephemeral glory, we’ve rounded up nine venues in London in which to enjoy blossom-inspired drinks, with a fresh and floral take on a number of classic cocktails, alongside sweeter almond and cherry flavours. Read on to find out more about the signature cocktails these London bars have created in honour of this year’s petal fest.
9 cherry blossom cocktails from top London bars
Sakura season is one of the most important moments of the year at Aqua Kyoto on Regent Street, which is going all out with its celebrations via a bespoke cherry blossom-inspired menu featuring everything from pan-fried duck breast in a sour cherry teriyaki sauce to a zingy cherry blossom vermouth cake with yuzu sorbet. To kick off the feast in style, order the In Bloom cocktail, made with Kokoro cherry blossom gin liqueur, Mancino Sakura vermouth, Ruggeri Prosecco and soda. Presented in a flute decorated with a flamboyant flourish of edible red paint, this palest of pink drinks is the perfect palate-whetter. (£15)
Cherry Blossom Manhattan
We’re a little bit in love with Lucy Wong, the chic new subterranean drinking den from the brains behind Chinatown bar Opium. Aiming to take revellers time travelling back to the glamorous decadence of 1950s Hong Kong, Lucy is a girl who knows how to party, and the bar plays host to live music on Tuesdays to Thursdays. Equal attention has gone into the cocktails as it has the décor and atmosphere. Devised by London legend Dré Masso, Lucy’s signature sip is the Cherry Blossom Manhattan, which offers an indulgent take on the American classic via a heady mix of goji berry-infused Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Courvoisier, Mancino Sakura vermouth and cherry bitters. The raspberry red tipple comes topped with goji berries, a superfood packed with antioxidants, for one of your five a day… (£15)
Brightening up Aldgate no end is this hidden oasis riding high above the hustle and bustle of east London. With its name, floral bar stools and a ceiling cascading with dried flowers, Florattica was always going to be a shoo-in for a cherry blossom-inspired sip. To coincide with sakura season the bar’s head of mixology – Serena Carrino, formerly at bar Nightjar – has concocted the Kimiko cocktail, a pretty twist on a Tuxedo, made with Japanese gin Roku, Lillet Blanc, Tio Pepe Sherry, cherry blossom liqueur and a dash of the green fairy (absinthe). Dry and floral, with a fruity note from the cherry blossom liqueur, it’s a sophisticated sharpener that sets the tone for the rest of the evening. (£16)
Cherry Blossom Negroni
Not to be confused with the early noughties pop duo, contemporary Cantonese restaurant Tattu in Soho has a seriously smart cocktail list. It’s sakura season all year round at Tattu, whose dining rooms are bursting with blooms (also the case at sister sites in Manchester and Birmingham). The Cherry Blossom Negroni (£17) is as much a work of art as it is a cocktail. Made with gin, cherry blossom vermouth and fresh cherries, it offers a sweet-and-sour twist on the bittersweet Italian classic. Sparkling fans should seek out the Ruby Rose Fizz, created to celebrate the sakura this spring, which blends cherry blossom Everleaf Mountain, yuzu and Laurent-Perrier Rosé. (£35)
Bringing a welcome dose of Japanese elegance to Broadgate Circle near Liverpool Street Station is all-day affair Shiro, the latest opening from the Aqua Restaurant Group. Set over two floors, the buzzing venue boasts a sushi counter, robata grill and outdoor terrace. Look out for their ‘crystal’ sushi rolls draped in gossamer-thin layers of flavoured jelly, which have taken their Hong Kong outposts by storm. As is only proper, Shiro will be marking sakura season with a limited-edition cocktail, the Wild Blossom, a fruity twist on a sour made with Kettle One Vodka, sake, lychee, crème de fig, Chambord, lemon and egg white. (£14)
Three Perfect Cherries
Currently competing in the national finals of Great British Menu, ebullient chef Adam Handling is a perfectionist by nature, so we’re not surprised to see that his forensic attention to detail stretches to his cocktails. At Eve Bar beneath his flagship Frog restaurant in Covent Garden you’ll find Handling’s cheffy twist on his favourite cocktail: the Perfect Manhattan. The zero-waste pioneer lets no part of the cherry go to waste in Three Perfect Cherries, toasting the stones to release their almond notes, then infusing them into sweet vermouth for added cherry depth. His dry vermouth is infused with cherry blossom and the elixir is served with a trio of boozy cherries steeped in whisky, in a hat tip to his Scottish roots. (£19)
This plush pleasure palace nestled inside the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge offers an innovative twist on the omakase experience that puts cocktails in the spotlight. Devised by dapper bar director Pietro Rizzo, his seasonal sips are astutely paired with moreish Japanese delights, including lime yellowtail sashimi and waygu gyoza. Two of the cocktails feature cherry blossom, and we’re rather taken with both. Try the Peacock Room (£19), an aromatic twist on a Whisky Highball named after Whistler’s decorative art masterpiece and featuring Sakura Mancino vermouth, sweet potato Shochu, yuzu and tonic. Then work your way up to the Roshi, a full-throated roar of a cocktail that blends rum, pear cordial, dry vermouth, chocolate bitters and smoked sakura perfume. (£15)
KOYN, a contemporary izakaya in Mayfair inspired by the ‘duality of Mount Fuji’, is going all out this sakura season with a series of photographs by Rohan Shrestha on display in its front windows that capture Kyoto during cherry blossom season. The snaps are inspired by the Japanese concept of ‘hanami’, which pays homage to the fragility and beauty of life. The restaurant’s mascot – a red mini parked outside the entrance – has been filled with blooms for the occasion, and a limited-edition menu will offer sakura-inspired dishes such as Japanese A5 wagyu with cherry nakitori. The transitory beauty of the season will be captured in liquid form via the Blossom Negroni, a tart, smoky, bittersweet marriage of Ojo de Dios Hibiscus Mezcal, Mancino Sakura vermouth and Campari, which is finished with rose petals. (£17)
Located on level 52 of The Shard, you’ll be in need of a stiff drink after your ear-popping journey into the clouds to Gong Bar. Seek out the Java Sour, which wears its cherry inspiration lightly in the form of blossom bitters. The bitters play an important supporting role in this smoky, aromatic take on a sour that fuses Woodford Reserve Bourbon with Lagavulin whisky, Genever, dry curaçao, ginger and lemon. If you’re feeling flush then the rest of the cocktail list is worth exploring, taking imbibers on a magical mystery tour around Asia, with pit stops in China, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. (£24)