Painted matt black, no name above the door, no window to the outside world, arrival into Ichigo Ichie is calculatedly low key, still, calm. The space is divided into sekitei (stone garden), Nagomi (harmony dining) and and Miyabi, the chef’s “kappou” counter, where five of us perch on stools
before chef-proprietor Takashi Miyazaki as he prepares most of our multi-course kaiseki menu, a traditional Japanese dining ritual with near-spiritual aspects. At €135 a skull, if you are a body after a good feed and a stack of pints with change from a €50 note, this review is probably not for you; if you are at all curious about one of the most compelling new arrivals to the Irish hospitality scene in recent times, read on.
Whereas many chefs will attempt a sucker punch with their opening gambit of any tasting menu, an amuse bouche —creamed tofu “mousse”, dashi-poached rhubarb, endamame beans — is a gentle, almost “homely” introduction of sufficient volume to at least reassure CW she won’t starve.
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The sucker punch or its close cousin is next, the oshinogi course, which Miyazaki, beavering away before us, translates as “avoid to get drunk”; it takes a moment to realise he is referring to what drinking Gaels more commonly call soakage. It is an ebulliently plump scallop, sesame-seasoned, blow-torched, bearing caviar and salted green chilli; alongside, a nori cone of salty-sweet aged tuna topped with truffled egg emulsion. Maybe not typical soakage but it certainly tallies with my notion of the utterly sublime — game on.
With Hassun (starters), the meal proper commences: broached sea urchin shell cradles julienned carrot and daikon radish, and crabmeat topped with urchin meat; a glistening silken cube of green pistachio tofu contrasts with sweet-salty funk of beetroot miso, apple blossom and gold leaf completing the extravaganza; soba sushi is sweet buckwheat noodle parcel with egg roll, stewed shiitake, chive; leggy stalk of purple sprouting broccoli with brassica mustard vinegar miso is sheathed in yuba (bean curd skin), topped with white “clouds” of intoxicating sesame oil powder.
One of the crucial pillars of Miyazaki’s success in his initial Cork outlet is his dashi, clear broth usually made with kombu (dried kelp) and katsuobushi (shavings of preserved, fermented tuna), the liquid essence of umami. Here, brightened with grassy mitsuba (Japanese parsley) and tart sudachi lime, it is also contains Lough Neagh eel, hen of the woods (maiitake mushroom) and gingko nut, triggering a near-primal response.
A selection of superb sashimi follows, my highlight being intensely meaty cuttlefish with an emulsified foam and fermented chilli.
Dishes continue to arrive, far too many to even mention, let alone parse: grilled aged fillet beef is good but far from the best Irish beef I have tasted and, thickly sliced, making for overly meaty mouthfuls after so much preceding piscine delicacy; we gaze enviously at non-carnivorous CW’s slab of halibut.
A comparatively simple off-menu maki — juicy finger of fresh lobster, mustard leaf, pungent, creamy notes of chamomile and lavender, balm for its peppery bite, all sheathed in nori — is close to my favourite dish of the night.
Though pickles are essential in Japanese cuisine, an assortment served here are pedestrian, and Head’n’Bone Dashi-cooked rice is simply too much ballast for this delicate soul after such an epicurean voyage but these are caveats of the lowest order, akin to the princess bemoaning one of Findus’s finest underneath her pile of king-sized memory-foam mattresses.
Addressing dessert is another matter entirely, an oddity, diverging cultural crossroads: mochi is smooth round rice flour “cake”, glutinous texture an austere cousin of Turkish delight, encasing sweet Azuki bean paste and out-of-season, imported, bland strawberry — even the dashi-poached rhubarb of earlier would have contributed more to this decidedly downbeat, even penitential closer.
Tonight’s meal isn’t perfect but on multiple occasions sails close, a multiplicity of intricately worked elements and complex tastes delivered with elegant purity. What’s more, I have a sense
Miyazaki has far from completed his ongoing immersion course in finest Irish produce — what about incorporating his “off-duty” adoration of Irish lamb? — which could see him yet deliver an innovative Hiberno-Japanese culinary hybrid of truly world class dimensions, one step closer to perfection. And I didn’t even get to mention the sake, oh, the sake!
€135 per person Kappou tasting menu; (other menu, €120pp)
How to Tuesday-Saturday. First sitting, 6.15pm; second sitting 9pm