Last weekend I had the pleasure of dining in the artfully psychedelic Izakaya Japanese restaurant in JW Marriott Marquis, Dubai. Apart from its groovy interiors and the ever-popular Wasabi Girl (who serves up freshly grated Wasabi at the shout of her name, has bright green hair she credits to Wasabi-eating, and even has an Instagram page of her own @izakayawasabigirl), I was quite enchanted with their Sake Cart.

We met the beautiful Kampai, who hosts the Sake Cart at Izakaya. Apart from giving us tasters of some of the world’s finest sakes, she was brimming with knowledge on this age-old Japanese rice wine, and I had to make notes to share these gems with you…

A week ago, my sister posted this absolutely stunning image of the cherry blossom trees, in full bloom at the International Pacific University in my hometown of Palmerston North, New Zealand.

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The annual Sakura Festival is one of the most anticipated events on the calendars of the Japanese migrant community of New Zealand. Being Down Under, the cherry blossoms come to bloom there in early September, but in Japan it takes place between March and May.

Sakura is Japanese for ‘cherry blossom’, and it is quite a coincidence that a week later, I find myself in a Japanese restaurant by the same name.

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Located in the very central Crowne Plaza Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, Sakura takes the Japanese culinary experience to another level with its dedicated Chashitsu room, an interactive sushi-making counter and a very fired-up lineup of authentic Teppanyaki barbecues, cooked and served right at the table with a great deal of pomp and pizzazz.