Giving back to society has always been a Japanese way of life, even within the commercial sector, and this concept has a name. Sanpo-yoshi, which literally means “three-way satisfaction”, emphasises relationships, prizing trust and giving back, especially through acts of reciprocity.
It was a way of life for merchants back in the Edo and Meiji periods of Japanese history, who honoured the delicate ecosystem between seller, buyer and consumer by pouring back the wealth they gained directly into the community that gave it legs.
No stranger to this time-honoured tradition, chef Akane Eno of Ichigo Ichie has been practicing her own form of sanpo-yoshi by retailing a small but growing collection of Japanese art in her own kappo restaurant to support artists back home.
This month, she’s launching her first official sanpo-yoshi menu to give thanks to industry partners for her successes. This inaugural project will focus on supporting the local community of Yamagata. Using the funds, Eno will purchase rice from rice farmers in Yamagata to be sent to nearby Azumano Fumoto Sake Brewery, which will use the harvested rice to create private-label sakes exclusive to Ichigo Ichie, which will be ready in 2022.
Ichigo Ichie is also collaborating with art students from Yamagata’s Tohoku University of Art & Design to custom-design a sake label for her bottles — another way to give back to the local community.
Guests who have made bookings for the current sanpo-yoshi menu will receive a complimentary bottle of the exclusive sake at their next visit, plus a complimentary serving of the drink.
A moment on the lips
A dining experience at Ichigo Ichie, translated as “one life, one moment”, promises to be filled with cherished moments and gastronomic pleasures featuring Eno’s own brand of uncomplicated yet refined kappo cuisine driven by the season’s best harvests.
The best seat in the 16-seater restaurant, which was opened in February 2020, is at the bar counter where you can fully immerse yourself in a show of high-quality produce sliced up and grilled or smoked right in front of you — which is what truly defines kappo cuisine.
We had the privilege of sampling the dinner menu, which opened with a refreshing amuse bouche of Hokkaido scallop, Murasaki uni, fried eggplant and yuba sauce tastefully served in a hollowed-out persimmon.
One of our favourites, the appetiser featured premium golden ikura from the yamame fish, layered on top of shredded Hokkaido hairy crab meat blanched in dashi. Next to it is a delicate and melty piece of Japanese silver pomfret coated in crumbs of shiso leaf and deep-fried.
Since it’s the season for Matsutake mushrooms, Eno served a light chawanmushi filled with aromatic Matsutake and topped with a clear type of thickened dashi. That little treat paved the way for the next course — a beautifully-plated sashimi platter featuring smoked bonito served with 10 types of fish and seafood, and garnished with fresh flowers, raw eggplant and minced yuzu.
The Chef’s Signature Dish is an Ichigo Ichie favourite and one that Eno used to serve during her pop-up days at Sushi Kimura. It combines Botan ebi, premium Murasaki uni and tonburi (caviar-looking seeds of the summer cypress plant) served on a bed of Miwa somen noodles, and flavoured with a light prawn broth. While the dish looks simple enough, a lot of effort went into creating the stock, which is prepared with Japanese tiger prawns that are first grilled until fragrant before adding sake and mirin, and boiled to reduce. Even the bowl to serve the dish was custom-made by artisans based in Imari, Saga Prefecture.
For the next dish, Eno impressed us with another simple yet elegant grilled Japanese tilefish from Shimane, served with boiled buckwheat seeds, lightly flavoured with thickened dashi sauce.
The star of the night was the Grilled Wagyu Beef composed of buttery Iga sirloin slices served over an umami-rich sauce of miso mixed mushrooms and foie gras, and sweetened with a slice of pan-seared fig. Fun fact: Iga beef, derived from only virgin female cows, is also known as ninja beef as the Iga region in Mie Prefecture is the birthplace of ninjas.
Following the succulent wagyu was the penultimate dish — Donabe rice, a claypot-style rice that pays tribute to Hokkaido. Nagano rice is cooked in Hokkaido water with Hokkaido abalone, Hokkaido corn and two types of seaweed. It’s topped with an addictive liver sauce made from the innards of the abalone, and served with a refreshing miso soup filled with Shijimi clams.
There’s enough Donabe rice to fill your bowl three times over but we had to stop at two in order to save enough space for dessert, the last course. Thankfully, it wasn’t heavy at all, featuring seasonal fruit and house-made houjicha ice cream with houjicha jelly and roasted puffed rice. To wash it all down, dessert comes complete with a serving of lightly-roasted hojicha tea.
A woman’s touch
Before Eno entered the world of culinary arts, she was a major in fine art, more specifically art history. Her dual passions for art and food are brought together at Ichigo Ichie, not just in the way she curates the cutlery or the restaurant’s warm and welcoming interiors, but also the way she understands ingredients and techniques. Each dish becomes a painting to which she applies inspired strokes to flavour pairings grounded in Japanese traditions, yet original.
We appreciate that Eno stays true to the casual vibe of kappo cuisine by not overthinking the presentation of every dish. Her styling is very instinctive and she cooks what she enjoys eating, drawing from her cultural roots and experience in kappo, sushi and izakaya cuisines spanning 20 years.
She may be small in stature and softly spoken, like most Japanese women, but we definitely see her, and the talent, confidence and perseverance she brings to the table. This kappo connoisseur is certainly one to watch.
The month-long sanpo-yoshi promotion is available till Oct 15 and offers a seven-course lunch at $188++ per person or nine-course dinner at $338++ per person.
Ichigo Ichie 1 Nanson Road #02-07 InterContinental Robertson Quay Singapore 238909
Contact Tel: 9018-2897 | Email: [email protected]
Operating hours Monday - Saturday | Lunch: 12.30pm – 3pm | Dinner: 7pm – 10.30pm | Closed every Sunday and first Monday of the month