The Kokoro Files

The Kokoro Files: Erika Haigh

Japan represents many things to many people. For some, it’s the history. For others, it’s the unique food and drink. For Erika Haigh, it’s a passion for sake and elevating the industry. Erika is the co-founder of Moto, an artisan sake bar that’s opened up in London.

Yamato Magazine recently caught up with Erika about the message behind Moto and how it differs from other Japanese hospitality spaces in the UK. From stocking rare sake, to functioning as a retail space, Erika reveals what’s in store for anyone who steps into Moto in future.

Thanks for taking the time to talk Erika and congratulations on setting up Moto. The concept behind the bar sounds brilliant. For those who are unfamiliar with the bar, what sets it apart from other Japanese venues?

Thank you so much, Jamie!  Myself and Brandon, our co-founder, love everything about Japanese beverage drinking culture – from the convivial and boisterous spirit that envelops you as you walk into an izakaya, to the wide variety of aromas and flavours offered by sakes, shochus, and other traditional beverages that hits the spot for any mood or environment. Not to mention paying tribute to the hero producers behind every bottle that are keeping centuries-old brewing traditions alive!

We hope that through Moto, more people can get to know this one-of-a-kind world as well.

There are a couple of factors that set us apart from other Japanese venues here in the UK. First and foremost, we are committed to delivering our brews directly from the source, which involved countless trips to Japan to make those valuable relationships with producers that are producing premium products but have never had the opportunity to tap into the British market as of yet.

Moto’s emphasis on education is also a differentiating factor. Every member of our Moto family is a subject matter expert in their own right that can help out any customer with whatever questions or concerns they may have.

For customers who want to dive in deeper, bespoke tastings will be available too. Finally, we are not a Japanese restaurant where sake is served as an afterthought but a bar and retail shop where the drinks are the main act, and nibbles are served as accompaniments to elevate the beverages.

What is your background in the sake world and where did the idea for Moto first come from?

Being born and raised in Japan, I obviously knew about the world of sake as it is deeply ingrained in the culture. Yet oddly enough, I didn’t start to become quite the sake aficionado I am today until after I started living abroad. What first pulled me in was the realisation that studying about sake (and drinking it of course) was a great way to be reacquainted with my Japanese roots and identity.

The idea for Moto came from my love of Japanese beverage drinking culture, as mentioned before, and simply missing it as I wasn’t finding any equivalents here in London! And if something doesn’t exist, why not create it yourself? 

With the inspiration behind the name coming from the fermentation starter that’s so crucial to brewing sake, what do you feel makes sake appealing as a drink?

More than any other alcoholic beverage, sake pairs beautifully with food, and that is one of my favourite things about this drink as I believe food and alcohol should be enjoyed in unison. I also love how much sake embodies the virtues of craftsmanship.

While terroir and the quality of ingredients do make a difference, the final brew is primarily the direct reflection of the skill of the brewery workers who created it, especially the toji (head brewer).

What really stands out to me about Moto is the decision to work with independent and unique sake breweries. Who are some of the breweries that you’re collaborating with?

That’s awesome to hear as we take great pride in partnering with such talented producers. Please have a look at our website under the ‘Our Producers’ page for a deeper dive into each brewery.

What kinds of rare sake and shochu will Moto be stocking?

Some are very premium, including ones made by the brewery for the sole purpose of sending off to sake competitions in Japan. A few use natural flower yeast in the brewing process, which is only done by a handful of producers in the sake community. There’s one that even uses a white (instead of the industry standard yellow ) koji, which is a very important mold used when brewing sake, resulting in a fresh, white-wine like sake.

A Japanese drink I’d love to see more of in the UK is awamori. Do you have plans to stock it as well?

Couldn’t agree more! It hasn’t quite made our starting lineup but definitely stay tuned…

I also think it’s a great idea to offer food pairings to specifically compliment sake. What are some of the pairings that you’re excited to launch?

A hot glass of Gunma Izumi Yamahai Honjozo (a rich sake bursting with flavours of prunes and umami notes) paired with premium goat cheese on an oatcake. For something less rich, perhaps the Buyu Sakagura Tokubetsu Junmai Muroka Genshu (a tongue twister of a name, I know) that is cognizant of a summer breeze, with flavours of limes and pears, to have alongside our hiyayakko, or chilled tofu.

In addition to a bar, Moto will also be functioning as a retail space. Do you feel this could help to spread more appreciation about sake by giving guests the opportunity to take bottles away with them?

Most definitely! Especially since each bottle purchased will be accompanied by a tasting card with suggestions for food pairings, serving temperatures, and more, to ensure an elevated experience whether a purchase is enjoyed at Moto or at home.

Are there any plans to host Japanese themed events and tastings at Moto in the future?

From chef take-overs, where we will invite renown chefs throughout London into our kitchen to cook up some dishes that will be paired with our beverages, to a New Year’s Eve party (the most celebrated event in Japan), we are hoping to host many special evenings, something for everyone!

 If you were interested in being in the know regarding our upcoming events, I suggest following us on Instagram and Facebook and/or subscribing to our newsletter. 

If there was one thing you could change about the sake industry, what would it be and why?

The barriers of entry into the world of sake. Even for Japanese people, there is a lot of terminology thrown around and a false sense of exclusivity to the sake world, that are intimidating people from taking part.

I believe these challenges become even more pronounced for non-Japanese, as there are not too many informative sources to turn to in different languages. If Moto could help in any way to break down some of these barriers for anyone that visits us, that would be our mission accomplished. At the end of the day, sake is a delicious drink, meant to be enjoyed in merriment with family and friends, so we should all be doing just that!

What’s your best advice for anyone who’d like to open their own food and drink venue?

Having a lot of coffee at hand to compensate for those sleepless nights. No in all honesty, and as cliché as this sounds, I think passion is the key to success within this realm.

While too many things will go wrong and your patience will be tested countless times, as long as you are passionate about the products you are representing and find ways to properly convey this passion of yours, and what makes your venue so unique and necessary within a space that is already extremely saturated, I’m positive anyone can ride through each and every wave. That’s what we tell ourselves, at least.

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