Applying Japan’s kodawari to a European restaurant

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Epilogue Experience Global Travel Cuisine

WHILE THE Japanese have made many contributions to world cuisine, few people realize the intangible contribution of kodawari, the Japanese concept of the relentless devotion to mastering a craft. In a new restaurant by the Food Revolution group in S Maison called Epilogue, the concept is translated into European cuisine by a group of Japanese chefs.

During a tasting earlier this week, guests were treated to various dishes derived from cuisines originating mostly from the Mediterranean region. Prepared by Japanese hands, we sat down to an appetizer sampler of watermelon gazpacho, escabeche (a marinated fish dish), and a focaccia bread sandwich.

The watermelon gazpacho, with onions, zucchini, and tomatoes and a poached prawn, proved to be a refreshing balm from the heat, the cold mush contrasting with the crispness of the vegetables, while maintaining a balance that did not highlight a too-fruity flavor, nor having the flavor die from its chilly nature. The escabeche, with anchovies, calamansi (a local citrus), and curry cauliflower mousse, had a texture close to custard, with a gentle tenderness as reflected in its silky texture. The sharply flavored anchovies prove to be a nice accent to balance out what could have been a safe dish.

The focaccia, meanwhile, was unpretentious, served with mozzarella di buffala, prosciutto, and arugula, but the magic is in the bread’s texture: moist, fluffy, with an easily penetrable crust, all with a texture adding up to care.

The next dish, a Consomme Royal, was served with a few slices of Gyutan (beef tongue), chayote and egg pudding forming a base in its cup, with a layer of mushroom foam, swimming with soft pillows of foie gras ravioli and topped with gobo chips (made of burdock root). The result was an explosively creamy flavor, elevated step by step by the progressive delicacy of its ingredients, but never overwhelming and aggressive. Think of it as a series of caresses as opposed to a full embrace, and the bitter gobo chips provide a sort of balance. It’s a luxurious experience that felt sad to end, when you take the final spoonful.

The catfish croquette served next was more familiar territory, the flaky soft fish tasting and feeling light, but given power by a watercress and moringa coulis, and gravitas with a Pernod-saffron sauce.

The next course, a slice of smoked duck draped across a red wine-dalandan (a local citrus) sauce Bearnaise, was powerful, aggressive, and snooty in its approach, and rightfully so, because for lack of a better word, that bird was good. It carried its own weight against the Bearnaise, which tasted almost like foie gras.

Dessert, meanwhile, was Nougat Ice sandwiched between Pain d’Epice (spiced crusts), accompanied by a flirty raspberry coulis and a tart passionfruit sorbet with exotic fruits and lemongrass gelee, a great lift after the earthy duck.

Unfortunately, none of these dishes are actually on the menu, and were made solely for its opening in S Maison.

While we heaped praises on Japanese culture as mentioned above, you’ll notice that none of the dishes described were remotely Japanese. What is given here in this restaurant is a translation of Japanese excellence, which could be applied in anything. There is hardly any other way to describe the chefs onboard the Epilogue train:

Head baker Tomohide Ono, has been a pastry chef for 20 years, and has worked in famous bakeries in Japan, Indonesia, and Hong Kong — which is why the focaccia had a touch of magic in it. Chef Hayato Mitsuhashi, on the other hand, specializes in Italian cuisine, and has trained extensively in various Italian restaurants in Japan, Indonesia, and Italy for over 14 years. Trained in Umbria, Italy, his gnocchi is apparently something to look forward to. Epilogue also has two outstanding chef directors, Kenji Ishihara and Minoru Sorimachi. Mr. Ishihara is an award-winning pastry chef who has 30 years of experience in France, Japan, and Indonesia.

Meanwhile, the Steak Master at Epilogue, Mr. Sorimachi has over 20 years of experience working in well-known teppanyaki steakhouses in Japan, and now runs his own steakhouse in Jakarta, Indonesia. Rounding it up is Hiroyuki Meno, whose expertise lies in French cuisine. He has honed and perfected his craft working in various Michelin-starred restaurants such as the Domaine Les Haut Roches in Loire, France, Le Pont de Ciel in Osaka, Japan, and L’Auberge De L’ill in Tokyo, Japan. He was also the executive chef of Brasserie Paul Bocuse and the one Michelin-starred Maison Paul Bocuse in Tokyo.

The restaurant, though located in a mall, bleeds excellence, even in its interiors, showing faded interpretations of tile, a stickered ceiling appearing like stained glass, and walls of brick, then mirror and polished marble, combined with wooden beams designed to look like industrial framework. The interiors were designed by Japanese architect Kazumasa Wakabayshi, whose designs have a step towards immortality, for one of his restaurants inspired a scene in the movie Kill Bill. The result, surprisingly, is a restaurant perfect for a third date, or for a third decade together, when you’ve gotten past the jitters but still want to impress.

The restaurant is owned by The Food Revolution group, which has under its belt numerous Japanese restaurant franchises such as Tsukuda Nojo, a Japanese-style hotpot. While they’re not included in the same umbrella, the company also has the franchise for Katsusora and Hokkaido Santouka ramen, all collectively owned by the Uy siblings. A restaurant called Prologue is slated to be opened by the group. The name was inspired by a planned franchise from Indonesia, called Monologue, which did not push through, according to Food Revolution Marketing manager Erika Lim.

In any case, Ms. Lim, said that the Japanese chefs were collected from one link, a general manager from one of the franchised restaurants, who introduced them to one of the chefs, who introduced them to another, then another. Collectively, the chefs embody kodawari, perhaps due to the way they were raised in the precepts of Japanese thought.

“They’re very dedicated to learning and creating beyond what’s normal. For us, Filipinos tend to be, ‘Ah, okay na ’yan (That will do)’, but… they want it to be the best version that they can do.” — Joseph L. Garcia