I GO, I EAT, I SWOON.
MY VISIT TO ICHIGO ICHIE IN CORK.
5 Sheare’s Street
Phone: 021 427 9997
Irish Daily Mail
14 July 2014
I’m unbearably proud of having been the first to review Takashi Miyazaki’s takeaway on Evergreen Street in Cork but I waited a while to have a look at his new and very different restaurant in what used to be Fenn’s Quay. It has a kappou table at which the man himself prepares dishes as six diners look on. But there are other tables, too, and that’s where we experienced a remarkable menu.
And to cut to the chase, it was delightful.
The problem with reviewing Ichigo Ichie is two-pronged. Being no expert on the wonders of Japanese cuisine I can only tell you what the dishes did for me. And I’m afraid I can’t do full justice to them within the space available. It’s not often I have this problem here.
An amuse bouche of seaweed, yam and roe set a kind of pattern. Slightly glutinous but with crunch and deeply savoury freshness it prepared the palate for what was to come.
Then came two pieces of nigari, thinly sliced raw seafood on rice at the same temperature as your lips: a scallop and a slice of salmon, both melting in texture and cut with sharpness of freshly pickled ginger.
The next course was if you like, multi-factorial. There was ume plum tofu, shaped like a cool, gelatinous dome, with baby chives, the salty, maritime tang of nori seaweed and wasabi, the hot Japanese horseradish which burns for a moment and then vanishes deliciously.
In another little dish, as part of this course, was a slice of pink, juicy Thornhill duck breast with the mineral savouriness of white asparagus and the fragrant cut of cucumber vinegar.
And finally, for this course, slices of meaty Faroe Island prawn with a little yam and cucumber and a profoundly savoury but faintly sweet barley ko-ji miso.
The next course involved a combination of plum tomato, sun-dried tomato and dried porcini mushrooms, smooth and fruity but with the cut of acidity and mushroomy meatiness, sitting in a clear bonito broth, made from a special form of dried tuna flakes. On top were tiny, crisp filaments of mitsuba stalks, a Japanese form of parsley. I’m trying to avoid the word “umami” as much as possible but this was a rather fabulous exercise in just that.
Then came three sashimi, or raw seafood. There was a kombu oyster, tasting even more strongly of the sea than I’m used to, some aged halibut that was too much for me in terms of intensity, and some aged tuna that tasted intensely of itself. Needless to say, there were more jewel-like details that pinged off different tastebuds, but, to be honest, it was getting hard to keep track.
Next up was a little piece of immensely tender pork belly with powdered miso on top, but also with the crunch of very finely shredded hakusai, which we know here as Chinese cabbage, the crunch of daikon radish, the savoury, citrus tang of yuzu miso, a little dried chilli for heat and, rather wonderfully, an import from Spanish tapas, a grilled padron pepper.
Then came a piece of cod sitting atop a little malted – and, I think, fermented – rice (umami again), the softness of all this nicely cut by more daikon and okra.
Next was a complete first for me: dashi egg custard, a dish which, I’m told, is a Japanese home cook’s pride and joy, a deeply comforting, slippery, very savoury experience, in this instance enhanced by a little piece of meltingly tender chicken thigh and the bitter crunch of a gingko tree nut.
To prepare the palate for what was to come, there then came some little slices of pickled vegetable: cucumber, carrot and daikon I recall. Crunchy and attractively sour.
Next came the intriguingly titled “rice, corn, eel, sansho pepper” in which rice and corn was mixed, supporting a slice of filleted eel beneath a mahogany varnish, so to speak, of something (again!) deeply savoury and slightly sweet. Good as it was, and beautifully presented, this was the only dish that didn’t work for me. I think I reacted against the sweetness meeting fishiness.
However, the next course really cleaned the palate and returned to a theme of lightness: red miso with chives and little nuggets of fried tofu all brought together by dashi.
The pre-dessert, so to speak, was yet another new experience: watermelon mousse, just a little, brilliantly flavoured, quite impossible to pin down had I not known what it was, creamy, light, intriguing.
Finally, a little piece of kanten, the Japanese take on jelly, made from agar-agar, came with strawberries, a sweet adzuki bean cream and a hint of Japanese black sugar syrup.
The bill, with bottled water, three glasses of wine and one of sake, came to €225. Worth every cent.