At a luxury hotel in an affluent corner of west London, Rajan Ragesamy, a certified sake sommelier based in the United Arab Emirates, raises a wooden mallet above his head in preparation to crack open a fresh barrel.

With an almighty swing, he brings down the mallet on the wooden lid of the ornate sake barrel and the audience full of sake enthusiasts, alcohol suppliers and journalists breaks out into appreciative applause. Ragesamy has just won the 2013 sake sommelier of the year competition, held by the British-based Sake Sommelier Association (SSA).

Against the backdrop of increasing international interest in Japanese food, and with "washoku" (traditional Japanese cuisine) attaining Intangible Cultural Heritage status from UNESCO, sake finally appears to be making its mark on the world stage.