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Douglas Blyde discovers joy of Japanese wine, Koshu, at SeeSushi

Published:  30 May, 2013

Opened in 2006, Japanese-inclined, SeeSushi unites a modern version of flock wallpaper, high, curtained ceiling and glass walls overlooking the rippling waterway.

Opened in 2006, Japanese-inclined, SeeSushi unites a modern version of flock wallpaper, high, curtained ceiling and glass walls overlooking the rippling waterway.


Un-seasonally drab drizzle soon becomes a distant concern after a shot of invigorating, extraordinarily aromatic 52% Chinese grain spirit, Baijiu. The gold-tinged bottle (Shui Jing Fang, £6/25ml; available retail exclusively in Selfridge's) glows on an LED perch. Realising the drink's flavours (sweet-sour plum/mature riesling meets livestock) may not automatically suit a Western palate, SeeWoo's marketing director, Lucy Mitchell mentions she is working on a range of cocktails to tame it.


Formerly a customer relations manager in an US software firm, then financial marketer, the freckled and graceful half-Chinese, half-English Mitchell, joined the family firm eight years-ago. "Being a Chinese company, the cultural difference is massive," she notes, ambiguously.


We segue to much lighter, rare, traditional method sparkling wine from fifth generation producer, Lumière. Their 2010 Petillant (£75/bottle) is harvested from a collage of vines sown in volcanic soil, partly over pergolas. The latter means higher resistance to monsoon-induced rot, but also higher yield. Due to the pleasantly confected, even candyfloss-like fragrance which develops in glass, clean, notably delicate acidity and mild but present tannins, it works throughout the meal, proving an unexpectedly adroit a match with sushi of duck and Hoisin (bubbles cutting through the dipping sauce's richness).


Mitchell recalls how her 69 year-old father, Stanley Tse, current president of London's Chinatown, emigrated from a former village in Hong Kong's new territories to marry her British mother. One of Tse's first ventures, North London restaurant, Lantern House (Bushey) attracted a well-heeled clientele including George Michael, Sir Roger Moore and Dame Barbara Windsor for its' Cantonese and Pekinese fare.


Determined to ensure consistent and varied supply of quality ingredients for both his eatery, and spotting opportunity, those of his peers, Tse began importing provisions direct from Asia into a lock-up under a Bermondsey railway arch.


Forty years on, SeeWoo has evolved into an empire employing 400. It spans three supermarkets in Soho, Greenwich and Glasgow, restaurants here and also in Glasgow (the latter, at 500 covers, is Scotland's largest), and a substantial distribution arm supplying respected wholesalers and retailers including Wing Yip.


Trinaidandian-Tobagan-Australian-Chinese, Daryl Avery-Smith (who is utterly deft with chopsticks) is no ordinary "sales representative" but one of Amathus's 12-strong "BDE's" (Business Development Executives) he says. As the firm expands into Birmingham and Scotland, the "crack team" is due to rise by four. Previously working with The Ruby Lounge London bar quartet, Avery-Smith has worked for Amathus for 11 months - a sharp learning curve. "I held my hand up straight away in the interview with MD, Harry Georgiou," he says of his initially basic vinous expertise.


"But being keen for Amathus to develop wine, spend time with producers and restaurants (Harry is an investor in Ceviche, for example) he thought Amathus and I could learn together." Currently, 71 pages of Amathus's catalogue are devoted to spirits, mixers, purées and beers versus 43 for wines.


Avery-Smith describes Koshu as "the thickly, pink-skinned grape variety carried over the Silk Road from the Caucasus and sown in Japan since the 8th century." However, the "former table grape" was only recently validated as a wine variety by the EU (July 2010) with the first listing occurring that September.


The next wine is Koshu 2010 (£50/bottle) from Soryu, one of the first and largest commercial wineries in heartland, Yamanashi. It is an area not dissimilar to New South Wales, says Avery-Smith. This expression is Mitchell's favourite, bearing initially reticent scents of apple blossom, then exotic spice and mineral notes on the palate which bring complexity to contents of a sort-of-boat laden with pristine cargo of sashimi and attractive radishes, starred as to evoke Magic Roundabout-like mushrooms.


Mitchell suggests replacing soy sauce with sea-salt flakes - proving particularly successful a gesture with white fish. "You have to have confidence in your fish," she says of the more subtle condiment.


The Soryu is also refreshing and non-inflammatory when faced with capsicum of chilli-specked tuna as well as excellent "dragon" rolls of eel and avocado.


The second still wine, Lumière Koshu Kikari 2010 (£55/bottle) has more intensity, tannic bite and ripeness - interestingly complimentary attributes for this Chablis of the Orient. I prefer it as it at room temperature and am grateful for the absence of oak. It works best with hot food, particularly fried gyoza dumplings, Vermicelli-crusted prawns, silken aubergines and what Mitchell calls "SeeWoos finest salmon". This is served with SeeWoo's own brand of rich chilli oil, Way-On which includes ingredients, gammon and dried shrimp.


In the future, aside from refining the Baijiu cocktail selection, Mitchell plans to refurbish and extend SeeWoo's "one of a kind Greenwich cash and carry." More restaurants are also planned. Although she has only visited China once, Mitchell is proud that her two children are studying Mandarin at school, and hopes, one day, to eat her way around mainland China.


Meanwhile, Amathus, which now has two customer-facing shops in Soho and Leadenhall market (the latter took "£35,000 in one day near Christmas," says Avery-Smith) continues to enthusiastically promote Koshu, their "new adventure..."

* You can read more from Douglas Blyde at