To dine at Narisawa, a two-Michelin-starred Tokyo restaurant that has popped up in Singapore, is to have a front-row seat to the theatre of nature.
Their famous Bread of the Forest 2010, which uses sakura wheat flour fermented with wild yeast from Japan’s Shirakami mountains, visibly rose on the table like a mushroom, cooked in a blistering stone pot, and served with a slick, grassy butter dusted with spinach chlorophyll and actual soil. Baby sweetfish, battered and fried until delicately crunchy, and surrounded by a clear glaze of sake with cherry blossom petals, was uncannily close to actually watching fish dart around the waters in spring. Kagoshima wagyu, which was wrapped in banana leaf and charcoal bamboo, sliced open by founder Yoshihiro Narisawa, and finished on the grill, felt like a celebratory meal by an indigenous tribe.
Narisawa calls this “innovative satoyama cuisine,” which looks at fine dining through the eyes of environmentalism. In Japan, the restaurant is heralded for showcasing ingredients foraged from the land between mountains and villages, an area called satoyama, cooking them with French and Japanese techniques, and presenting them as if they were plucked straight from the forest.
What makes it different?
This idea is applied literally in Scenery of Garden, Narisawa’s local rendition of its iconic Satoyama Scenery dish. The starter is resplendent with herbs, leaves, and flowers on top of eggplant purée, sprinkled with earthy soybean powder, and accompanied by a wooden cup of water infused with the clean flavours of plants and earth.
At Narisawa’s Tokyo location, Satoyama Scenery is made with vegetables gathered from the land, but this is Singapore, where people are fined for picking fruits that have fallen from a tree, so they have to source them from Edible Garden City. For other dishes, the restaurant in Japan gets its produce from around the country. Only coffee, chocolate, and some peppers are imported. For the Singapore pop-up, most ingredients are flown in.
Taken away from its home, Narisawa’s hyperlocal concept runs up against many limitations. It is admirable to show how people can live off the land, but in Singapore, we are relegated to what a hobby farm gives us. Our aquatic farms produce seafood that Michelin-starred restaurants deem good enough to serve, yet Narisawa ignores them. And when a chunk of the S$848++ bill goes towards paying for carbon emissions so you can eat Hokkaido uni, satoyama cuisine starts to make a lot less sense here.
People from organiser Mandala Masters, food suppliers, and the entire Narisawa team need to have their cut, and it is understandable. Throughout the lunch, the hospitality was utterly warm and attentive. But high-minded restaurants like Narisawa need a rethink when they come over here.
The Narisawa Singapore pop-up is part of the Mandala Masters series at Mandala Club, 31 Bukit Pasoh Rd, Singapore 089845. It is on now until 30 April 2023.
(Hero and feature images credit: Narisawa / Mandala Masters)