A rich variety of Hiroshima’s regional sake served with the highest quality Japanese cuisine.
Sensui comes under the direction of Kazuo Takagi, the chef and owner of the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Kyoto Cuisine Takagi. Sensui contains three Japanese dining zones within the restaurant: the kaiseki restaurant Shun, the teppanyaki restaurant Kon, and the sushi restaurant Kan. Rie Maehara, a sommelier with a sake diploma from Japan’s Sake Sommelier Association, is always on hand to suggest delicious pairings of local sake to go with the restaurant’s dishes made from carefully selected local ingredients.
“Hiroshima’s climate ranges from the warm Seto Inland Sea to the cool mountains in the north,” says Maehara. “Sake is brewed across the whole region, and this creates a rich variety of tastes. Hiroshima’s sake can vary between sweet and dry, light and rich. This greatly increases the possibilities when pairing Hiroshima sake with food.”
Visiting Hiroshima’s sake breweries, tasting sake and communicating that knowledge to the customer.
To determine which local sake is best suited to the dishes created at Sensui, Maehara and her staff regularly visit breweries in Hiroshima Prefecture (such as breweries in Saijo and Akitsu) to taste sake and choose the best for the restaurant.
“As with wine grapes, sake rice needs the right natural conditions to turn into delicious sake. The rice needs to grow somewhere with a balance of cold and warmth, and a good amount of daylight,” explains Maehara. “Whether it is a sake made in Akitsu that is famed for creating the soft water brewing method or other regions in Hiroshima, we consider the environment where the sake was made and the brewer’s philosophy towards the sake before we make our selection.”
Maehara’s belief is not to merely serve sake, but to know it inside out. They taste it, study its background, understand the motivations of the brewer, before conveying that information to the customer. Always trying to provide a better service to her customers, Maehara eats out and studies food and sake whenever she has the time.
“For example, if a dish is sweet or spicy, I might serve a mellow sake and raise the temperature to nuru-kan (lukewarm sake) or hinata-kan (sun-warmed sake)," says Maehara.
The recent rise in popularity of Japanese cuisine has led to an increase in demand for sake. In the Kura Master sake competition, where top sommeliers from leading European hotels serve as judges, local Hiroshima sake brands like Sempuku and Fukucho are gaining international recognition.
“We place importance on telling the story behind the sake to our international customers," says Maehara. “When we explain how a specific sake rice and kobo yeast creates a certain flavor, it usually sparks a lively conversation. Then the customer begins to take an interest in the process of brewing sake.”
Although many foreigners still think sake has a high alcohol content, recently, the number of lighter sake brands with an alcohol content of 11% to 13% is increasing.
As a sake professional, Maehara wants to see sake continue to evolve and improve to a point where more people understand just how delicious Japanese sake really is.
Preserving the traditions of Japanese cuisine while always seeking to innovate
The head chef at Sensui is Shuji Sakamoto, a chef with 31 years of experience in Japanese cuisine including a period as the head chef of the Japanese restaurant at Hilton Osaka.. In kaiseki cuisine, Sakamoto tries to communicate Japanese culture, traditions and the changes in the seasons through his menu. He finds guests (especially those from overseas) react very positively if he incorporates aspects of Japanese culture in the dishes and explains them carefully to the customer.
“I believe it is important to preserve the traditions for the next generation, while always trying to introduce something new,” says Sakamoto. One example of this is the light taste of a steamed turnip topped with salty caviar, a surprising but delicious combination.
The menu is carefully composed. Sakamoto makes the most of Hiroshima’s delicious local ingredients such as seafood from the Seto Inland Sea and kuwai arrowhead from Fukuyama City (60% of arrowhead produced in Japan is grown in Fukuyama). The entire menu is created while considering how the food will pair with Hiroshima’s local sake.
Local sake and delicious cuisine will take you on a sensory journey around Hiroshima.
“Overseas guests often say how Hiroshima as a city with a great balance of urban centers and natural beauty, a city with access to delicious produce including seafood, vegetables, fruits, and local sake. They also find the people here are very friendly,” says Maehara.
Simply tasting the sake made in Hiroshima’s coastline, villages, and mountains, is like taking a sensory tour of these different regions within Hiroshima. Through pairing Hiroshima's local sake with delicious dishes prepared with skill, Sensui provides guests with an insight into the depth and beauty of Japanese cuisine. Come to Hiroshima if you would like to experience a culinary journey in a region with the perfect balance of urban and natural beauty.
Hilton Hiroshima 6F, 11-12 Fujimicho, Naka-ku, Hiroshima City
[Business hours]11:30am - 2:30pm,
last orders at 2pm. 5:30pm – 10pm, last orders at 9pm.
[Closed]Open all year round
[Seats]Kaiseki Cuisine Shun - 24 seats (including three private rooms for 6-8 people) at Kaiseki Cuisine Shun, Teppanyaki 31 seats (1 private room for 8 people) at Teppan-yaki Kon – 31 seats (including one private room for 8 people), and Sushi Kan - 10 seats.
TEXT BY TJ Hiroshima