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Ichigo Ichie review: Casual reinvention of Michelin-star restaurant serves up bowlfuls of deliciousness

Japanese noodles handmade by chef Takashi Miyazaki are the star of the show

Ichigo Ichie Bistro & Natural Wine
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Address: 5 Sheares St, Centre, Cork, T12 RY7Y
Telephone: 021 427 9997
Cuisine: Japanese
Cost: €€€

At 7am, six days a week, Takashi Miyazaki heads into his Cork city restaurant to make fresh soba, the thin Japanese noodles that can be served hot or cold. It is a contemplative, 12-step process with many variables at work. Buckwheat, the flour that gives soba its nutty taste, has no gluten, so wheat flour is blended with it to get the right elasticity. Temperature, humidity and water are important factors. After months of trials, he landed on the optimal ratio – 60 per cent French buckwheat to 40 per cent wheat flour and Fior Uisce water from Co Mayo.

The flours are sieved into a konebachi, a traditional wooden bowl for making soba, and water is added gradually. The dough is kneaded, flattened and rolled out with a wooden rolling pin, then cut into noodles using a pasta machine. Fresh noodles are best, and you really want to eat them the day they are made.

It is quite different from what Miyazaki had been doing in his Kaiseki restaurant, which landed a Michelin star in 2018, six months after it opened. Sensing it was time to change, he served his last €140, 15-course menu in December and reopened in January with a more casual bistro approach. The Michelin Guide inspectors were quick to visit, liked his new direction, and awarded the bistro a Michelin Bib Gourmand in February.

The room has barely changed, with an additional counter bringing the seats from 22 up to 35, but the food is quite different. Gone is the sushi, sashimi and chawanmushi, now it’s an a la carte menu of more casual dishes, with starters, donburi (rice dishes), hot and cold soba, and a few daily specials chalked up on a blackboard.

I swerve the tonchan, which is a Fukuoka-style tripe stew with cabbage and bean sprouts, because yes, I am a bit of a coward when it comes to tripe, but this is the only polarising dish you are likely to encounter.

Hot edamame (€6) which have been splashed with olive oil and dusted with garlic, chilli, flakes of sea salt and black pepper are a delicious way to start our meal with a tokkuri of hot sake; although at €27.50 for a 175ml flask you could run up quite a bill if you were to stick with it for the evening.

A starter of assorted tempura (€15.50) is just a shade on the small size – one prawn, a lacy disc of fine strips of carrot and corn kernels, and a Japanese green leaf, garnished with spring onions and grated daikon. The batter is feather light and is very tasty dipped into the tentsuyu dipping sauce of soy sauce, mirin (rice wine) and dashi (Japanese broth).

More substantial is the cod nanban don (€18.50), a bowl of piping hot rice that has been nicely seasoned with mirin and a bit of spicy heat, topped with pieces of fried cod that have been doused with a sweet and sour nanbansu, made from rice vinegar, mirin, soy sauce and sugar.

Perhaps the most classic way to eat the soba is cold (hiya soba), with wasabi, scallions and tsuyu, dipping the noodles into the sauce, but it’s a wintry, wet evening, and hot noodles feel like the perfect comfort food.

We have switched to beer and wine to accompany our main course dishes – Ichigo Ichie’s original pale ale €7, and Vino Di Anna Palmento Bianco €11.50, a Sicilian, skin-contact wine from an accessible low-intervention wine list.

The kamo nanban soba (€21.50) is a steaming hot bowl of broth, loaded with soba and slices of Skeaghanore duck. The noodles are everything that I expected, slurp after slurp of long thin strands of earthy, nutty buckwheat, interspersed with delicious bites of rare duck breast, with a clear mahogany duck-infused dashi broth to be drained from the bowl when I finish.

For dessert, we share a rectangular slice of the Gubbeen baked cheesecake with plum ice-cream (€8.50). The unlikely inclusion of a smoked, washed-rind cheese works heroically, so I’m not surprised when I discover that it originated on the Michelin menu.

Ichigo Ichie brings the casual dishes of Miyazaki (Miyazaki’s takeaway restaurant) to a smart room, where you can sit at a nice comfortable table rather than take a chance on landing one of the few high stools. Service is very pleasant and, although it doesn’t feel rushed, you are likely to be in and out in an hour.

Dinner for two with drinks was €116.

The verdict: A casual reinvention of a much-loved restaurant.

Music: Moby and Jimmy Whoo in the background.

Food provenance: English Market, Caherbeg free-range pork, Skeaghanore duck, and Cork Rooftop Farm.

Vegetarian options: Mushrooms a la plancha, agedashi tofu, vegetable tempura, edamame, kakiage and soba; can be adapted for vegans.

Wheelchair access: Accessible room but no accessible toilet.

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