Sakagura A1

Sushi, noodles and East-meets-West Japanese fare

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Sakagura A1

Being a well-known chef, for better or worse, means great expectations for new ventures. So when the Japanese chef Shin Koike, of Aizomê fame, launched Sakagura A1, his Itaim sake-den-meets-sushi-bar, in November 2012, living up to the hype was always going to be a tall order.

Koike started out in São Paulo in 2003 with A1, a much missed small izakaya (sake tavern) in an Avenida Paulista shopping mall, later moving on to open the higher-end Aizomê, which still holds its own among the city’s best Japanese restaurants.

The chef’s new venture, Sakagura A1, is a luxurious setting, with patterned dark wood partitions, brown silk sofas and an intimate, low-lit sushi bar downstairs. The staff, in dinky berets and waistcoats, are all smiles and charm.

To drink, a sake menu designed to suit a range of budgets is helpfully organised from premium daiginjo (R$230-$350 per bottle) down to the more workaday futsu-shu (R$11 per measure) varieties. The wasabi martini – tangy, with just enough punch to raise an eyebrow – is perfect. So far, so good. Until the food arrives.

Featuring ‘japas’ (Japanese tapas), cold and hot starters, hearty mains and a back page dedicated to noodles – ramen, soba and udon – the menu takes an East-meets-West approach, blending Brazilian and Japanese ingredients. The ‘kit Sakagura’ – a daily-changing rotation of five bite-sized nibbles – is an excellent way in. Ours included a tapioca-coated chunk of tuna. But from there on in, things got a little less effortless. Some of the dishes were woefully lacking in explanation, others simply not available (the aguedashi tofu in broth, on our visit at least), and a few were just plain ‘misses’.

A grilled salmon main was overpowered by its passionfruit sauce, and the kakiague udon (mixed vegetable tempura with udon) void of flavour – its thick noodles swimming in a dashi that lacked the requisite deep, comforting savouriness, while the tempura vegetables were a soggy mess within minutes. Not to mention the lone shrimp lurking at the bottom. I love seafood, and I love surprises, but not in the same bowl.

We also tried the tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) – tender and crunchy though a little on the fatty side. Perhaps the sushi would be a safer bet. On the plus side, the portions are generous and the bill refreshingly low for this part of town. 

By Catherine Balston

Sakagura A1 details

Address Rua Jerônimo da Veiga 74

Itaim Bibi, São Paulo

Telephone (11) 3078 3883

Sakagura A1 website

Main courses R$25-$64; lunch R$40-$70

Open noon-3pm, 6pm-midnight Tue-Fri; 12.30pm-midnight Sat; 12.30pm-10.30pm Sun


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