Restaurant review: Japanese garden... ichigo ichie
Ichigo Ichie, 5 Fenns Quay, Sheares Street, Centre, Cork City. (021) 4279997, ichigoichie.ie
A stellar tasting menu at Ireland’s first kaiseki restaurant.
The comparison may be disrespectful, but in Cork this year Michelin stars are like buses - none for ages and then three at once. Mews in Baltimore, The Chestnut in Ballydehob and ichigo ichie in Cork City have all been anointed, although chef Takashi Miyazaki says he missed the moment when the name of his restaurant flashed up on the screen (the ceremony was excruciatingly boring) because he was too busy reading texts (along the lines of "Why is it taking so long?", but perhaps not phrased quite as politely) from his friend Wade Murphy of 1826 in Adare, which holds a Bib Gourmand.
Not that everyone in the city is bursting with pride at the recognition. Our taxi driver, for one, says that he's never heard of ichigo ichie as we head into town for dinner from the friendly Vienna Woods hotel, located out the road in lovely Glanmire. His loss.
We are booked in for dinner at 6pm - the only slot that we can get. Once inside the time doesn't matter; the beautiful interior is so dimly-lit and cocoon-like that we have no sense of the world outside. And it makes sense to start early when you have 11 courses ahead of you. We are sitting up at the Miyabi counter - made of sycamore - where Takashi presides and serves the five lucky guests who have nabbed these coveted seats. (The other 20 diners sit at tables in the Nagomi and Sekitei rooms.) Takashi is so engrossed in his work when we arrive that for a few moments he doesn't notice us.
It's a pleasure to watch the dexterous manipulation of fish and rice, the skilful use of knives that in other hands would result in serious injury. (One, a handsome beast with a handle carved from bog oak and a blade of Damascus steel that looks like shimmering water, was a congratulatory gift from Fingal Ferguson of Gubbeen, whose knives have a cult following. Takashi tells us later that it is so sharp that he cut himself when he was positioning it to take a photo for his Instagram.)
The tasting menu changes monthly, but its structure remains the same. Our first amuse is a little morsel of monk-fish liver, swiftly followed by two pieces of sushi - a torched scallop and blue-fin tuna topped with a cloud of grated truffle, and then another of fatty belly imparting luscious mouth-feel.
Three starters come on one plate: a rabbit cut from purple potato adorning a harvest moon of pumpkin and satsuma, a high-class chicken wing flavoured with shrimp and sesame, and whipped tofu with spinach, white sesame, persimmon and walnuts. The dashi broth of bonito and mushroom with king crab and cep that follows is deeply savoury.
Our favourite course is the sashimi that follows: a Harty's oyster with ponzu jelly, stonebass with yuzo miso, aged halibut, squid with shiso vinegar, the umami hit of monkfish cured in kombu, scallop with Gubbeen chorizo and saffron, and tiny cubes of cured swordfish that taste almost like bacon. Then there's black sole with burdock and ume plum, chargrilled duck with a buckwheat 'gnocchi' that is the only blip (it's tasteless) in an otherwise faultless meal, a savoury egg custard with salmon roe that burst delightfully in the mouth, pickled vegetables, and rice with mushrooms and a red miso broth. Dessert is a lovely concoction of pumpkin and white chocolate that sounds as if it shouldn't work but does.
Only open since the spring, Ireland's first kaiseki restaurant - the word means a traditional form of Japanese cuisine, involving a succession of intricate dishes - is an utter delight, the food exquisite, gorgeous to behold. There are so many elements to each dish that this account barely scratches the surface of describing them - just go and experience it for yourself.
The bill, with three glasses of sake, recommended by Takashi and progressing in strength and complexity with the meal, plus one of white wine, comes to €249.90 before service, which is both friendly and assured.
ON A BUDGET
If you're on a tight budget, head to Takashi Miyazaki's other Cork restaurant, Miyazaki, where the food is less elaborate and the premises more modest.
ON A BLOW OUT
The tasting menu is €95 per head, plus drinks and service.
THE HIGH POINT
Watching the master up close sitting at the kappou counter.
THE LOW POINT
Trying to remember all the mesmerising detail of our meal.