Crossing Food Cultures With Sake Pairings

We speak to:

Nicole Roche

Head sommelier & Beverage Manager of Restaurant Nouri and Appetite SG

What’s exciting about sake pairings?

  1. In our pairings I like taking guests on an exploration of sakes from all over Japan and of as many styles as make sense. From sparkling nigoris to powerful Yamahai styles and even Nigori Muroka Nama Genshus.
  2. Conversations across the dining room with guests are becoming more exciting as they are getting more into sake and we can share about new styles and discoveries.
  3. It’s also amazing to see more established breweries with female Toji (master brewers) at the helm. I particularly adore the works of Maiko Tsuji, the 7th generation brewer of Tsuji Honten from Okayama and Rumiko Moriki from Moriki Shuzojo in Mie.


Nicole Roche is a rising star in the sommelier scene at just 24 years old. Currently pursuing her DipWSET, she has notched up experiences at both casual and Michelin-starred outposts such as Whitegrass and now at Nouri, where she oversees the beverage programme.

Nicole reckons that Singapore has always been a welcoming and open community when it comes to beverages of all kinds, from cocktails to spirits and sakes. Similarly, she found that there were no impediments for women to enter the industry. She says, “There were no ‘barriers’ to entry even 7 years ago. Difficulties which I faced included a lack of educational courses, and inability to read Japanese. However, there were many books and mentors in the country to show the way. Today it seems a lot easier to learn about sake and understand the many labels with tools such as Google translate, Sakenomy and Hello Sake apps.”


At Restaurant Nouri, its crossroads cuisine that encompasses meeting points between global cuisines makes beverage pairing a little more tricky than usual. “I was first introduced to the world of sake by Nouri’s chef Ivan Brehm and then-general manager Matthew Chan as we were opening Restaurant Nouri. Since its induction, Restaurant Nouri has always boasted a sake pairing to be enjoyed with our lunch and dinner menus,” Nicole recounts to us. For both Restaurant Nouri and Appetite SG, she and her team look at the dining experience as a whole, prioritising quality of product and how it elevates the meal.


“What I enjoy most about sake is its natural versatility with food. It's a wonder what umami can bring to a beverage and pairing. Despite most styles of sake having more alcohol than wine or cocktails, the balancing acidity found in sake is crisp and refreshing making it easy to drink,” Nicole explains.

Two dishes to illustrate the sake pairings at Restaurant Nouri:

  1. Barbarians’ Head, a dish based on a shared appreciation of dumplings or “meat in bun” are Turkic dumplings made with confit chicken skin, beef consommé, wagyu ‘nduja roll and jambú. It is paired with a highly polished sake from Miyagi Prefecture - Miyakanbai ‘Ginzui 19% Junmai Daiginjo made from Miyamanishiki rice and water from a well containing subsoil water from Naruse river. This opulent and floral sake is filled with umami while leaving the palate with a silky mouthfeel. It helps to soften the spices and highlight the floral aromatics of the dish.
  2. Chocolate Fish Bal is a savoury-sweet dessert which has chocolate sorbet, ikan bilis (salted dried anchovy), wild pepper leaf and colatura di alici. This complex dessert is paired with Kameman Junmai Genmaishu from Kumamoto which is made from brown rice that’s been soaked and double steamed giving more honeyed, brown sugar and roasted cocoa flavours and some sweetness.

To keep up with the sake scene, Nicole recommends Sake-world, an excellent blog by John Gauntner, who is the author of Sake Confidential. She also follows Joshua Kalinan, a local sake expert, on Instagram. And of course - don’t forget to attend tastings and visit cool sake bars all around Singapore to meet fellow sake lovers!

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