Add These Ingredients to Give Your Cocktails a Japanese Twist


Brought to you by Saké Restaurant & Bar

When you think cocktails, a few things spring to mind: jewel-coloured concoctions, hurricane glasses garnished with jaunty slices of pineapple and classic, understated mixes. But add some Japanese fruits and spices and you can transform your old favourites into drinks with a slightly savoury edge – even an umami quality – making them perfect to sip with your next sushi order.


This seven-spice mix, also known as shichimi togarashi, is used to flavour rice and noodles with a splash of soy sauce. The blend includes chilli, dried citrus peel, nori, hemp seeds, white and black sesame seeds and ginger (though there are regional variations). Added to Saké’s housemade grenadine, shiso herb and lemon peel, it’s a key ingredient in the Maple Leaf, a twist on the traditional daiquiri that leaves a spicy tingle on the palate.


This citrus fruit tastes like a mandarin-lemon cross, says Ryan Gavin, national bar manager at the Rockpool Group, which includes Saké Restaurant & Bar. The tangy yellow fruit adds flavour to dishes in a similar way to lemon and lime juices but the taste lasts longer and stands up to other strong ingredients. At Saké, it’s used to make yuzu saké, which is mixed with loganberry jam and sherry to create the Japanese Shoemaker cocktail.

Five Japanese Cocktail Ingredients
Five Japanese Cocktail Ingredients


Gavin places this Asian herb somewhere between basil and mint, with a fragrance that’s “dry, earthy and herbaceous”. It’s often used as a palate cleanser between bites of sashimi. For a cocktail, Saké bartenders crush a whole leaf between their fingers to release the oils and, in turn, the fragrance. The subtle flavour is part of the Maple Leaf and Grilled Ume Smash cocktails.

Sesame oil

Just as this golden liquid can transform a dish, it can turn a drink into something special. A drop of dark sesame oil garnishes the Sesame Yaki, a slightly bitter mix of red-rice saké, vermouth, vodka and bitters (Gavin calls it a “reverse Manhattan”). Cocktails with sesame pair well with rich proteins and dishes that have similar oil content – think red meats and grilled udon.


If you’ve spotted this pickled plum before – perhaps at the bottom of an umeshu (plum liqueur) bottle – you’d be forgiven for thinking the shrivelled fruit wasn’t a premium ingredient. It’s often eaten in small amounts with rice but Gavin uses it to give cocktails a slight saltiness. “It adds complexity, just like using salt and pepper in the kitchen,” he says. The key is his light touch: umeboshi can be quite pungent so the tiniest amount will create the salty character. You can taste it in the Grilled Ume Smash, a combination of grilled mandarin, whisky and shiso.


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